What is the role of women in society? This has been perhaps one of the most debated questions throughout history. Because women were traditionally seen as the weaker sex or second-class citizens with a lower social status than men, their place was often considered to be in the home caring for their children and spouse. During the Victorian era, marriage was possibly one of the most significant points in a woman’s life. Many women did not have the option not to marry because marriage was simply a necessity for survival. Society prevented women from making their own living, which cause an inescapable dependence upon men’s income. During this time it was not uncommon for women to view themselves as worthless and their situation hopeless, which left many women to accept deplorable, degrading, and disrespectful treatment in their family lives. Many characters in great literary works were created simply to give readers some insight to the struggles that many women many to endure, but yet overcome. By looking at the character Nora in Henrik Ibsen’s play “A Doll’s House”, one will see how the society’s negative view of women might have influenced Ibsen to write a play about a female heroine during a time when it would not be viewed favorably and why many generations of readers of the play choose to view it as work of feminism.
In “A Doll’s House”, the obvious themes are love, family, gender roles, lies, marriage, masculinity, money, and respect. It is very evident that the character Nora Helmer is the link connecting each of these themes. Nora is not only a woman who clearly loves and respects her husband Torvald, but she also believes that he loves her despite the way she treated. At one point in the play Nora tells Christine, “you know how devotedly, how inexpressibly deeply Torvald loves me; he would never for a moment hesitate to give his life for me” (Booth, Mays 1468). Nora’s every thought seemed to be to please her Torvald, even if it meant putting herself in uncomfortable situations; like forging her dead father’s signature so that she could take her recovering husband on a doctor prescribed vacation. Although Nora chose to lie to her Torvald about the lengths she had gone to in order to make the vacation a reality, it is clear that her main concern was to protect his pride. She understood how important it was for him or any man of this era to be able to provide for his family.
In her conversation with her friend Kristine, Nora states, “how painful and humiliating it would be for Torvald, with his manly independence, to know that he owed me anything” (Booth, Mays 1455)! No matter the sacrifices Nora made, she still would continually endure constant demeaning and hurtful treatment by her husband, perhaps that is why throughout the story she is silently defying the rules that Torvald has set for her without his knowledge. Nora most demonstrated her new found independence when she finally leaves her family. For this era, one can only assume that this was the door shut heard around the world. The fact that Nora left her husband was not terribly uncommon, but for a woman to leave her own children under any circumstance would have most likely been deemed offensive and unforgiveable by nearly all who read this play. Nora’s choice to leave her children might have seemed selfish to most, but her real feelings about leaving them was apparent when she told Torvald, “I won’t look in on the children.
I know they’re in better hands than mine. The way I am now, I’m no use to them” (Booth, Mays, 1493). The great pain she must have felt knowing that she may never see her children again; still she did what she felt was best for everyone involved. Nora’s brave sacrifice to leave her children behind to finally discover who she was as a woman made her a heroine to other feminist. Although Ibsen viewed “A Doll’s House” as humanism, many people definitely see it as a bold work of feminism (2013). Feminism is both an intellectual commitment and a political movement that seeks justice for women and the end of sexism in all forms (Haslanger). “A Doll’s House” was a bold and ground-breaking work of literature for Ibsen’s time. He cleverly makes the reader believe the play is about a husband and wife who are in love, but then the reader discovers it is a dialogue concerning social justice.
Henrik Ibsen constructs this play beautifully. He clearly not only understood how difficult marriage was for a woman in this era, but also how hard it was for anyone to thrive in an environment with such little regard for the desires and needs of another human being. By skillfully tying Nora and her quest for equality and freedom to each of the themes, Ibsen gave the play a tone of feminism that has stood the test of time. In conclusion, by looking at the character Nora from the play “A Doll’s House” we can see how society’s harsh treatment of women influenced the author to write a play that would be viewed by many generations as great work of feminism literature. Whether or not Ibsen’s had knowledge of the feminist movement, his conviction to write about such important issues undoubtedly caused people to think about how they treat others and the consequences of that mistreatment. Through the character Nora, Ibsen gave women not only a voice, but also the desire to fight for change. “A Doll’s House” is a timeless piece of literature that illuminates the ugly and messy consequences of the oppression of women. Women of all generations can accept its challenge be to be bold and defy their oppressors, and to venture off to discover a world where they can be free to seek knowledge, independence, and a sense of self.
Ibsen, Henrik. “A Doll’s House.” The Norton Introduction to Literature. 10th ed. Ed. Alison Booth and Kelly J. Mays. New York: Norton, 2010. 1173. Print. Haslanger, Sally, Tuana, Nancy and O’Connor, Peg.”Topics in Feminism”. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2012 Edition).Edward N. Zalta (ed.),URL = .Harris, Gardiner.
“Henrik Ibsen.” 2013. The Biography Channel website. Feb 10 2013, 12:11 http://www.biography.com/people/henrik-ibsen-37014.