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Remarks On A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen

March 5, 2011

A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen

A Doll’s House is a play that was published in 1879 by Norwegian poet and playwright Henrik Ibsen.  When the play first played to contemporary audiences it was considered shocking and subversive.The play revolves around the marital relationship of Nora and Torvald Helmer and the actions of Nora and her interplay with other characters.  I am not as comfortable reading plays as I am other forms of literature, so my discussions on this may be a little disjointed.  Also, I have included discussions of the entire play so be wary if you want to read it as this reveals all three acts.

Ibsen creates a simple and happy marriage between Torvald and Nora in the first Two Acts of the play.  Nora and Torvald both seem to be simple characters.  Torvald is especially in many cases demeaning towards Nora as he calls her his little “lark” or “squirrel” and she seems to flit about enacting those characteristics for Torvald perfectly.  Nora however is not as simple as she seems when her interactions with other characters come to light and we find out whet she has done to save her husband’s life.  As she reveals to her friend Mrs. Linde, Nora took out a loan to help her husband recuperate from an illness in Italy.  This may seem like something so unimportant in today’s society, but in 1879 a woman does not take out a loan without a man’s signature.  Nora in an effort to get a loan ends up forging her father’s signature and tells no one.  The revolutionary idea here is that not only did Nora take these drastic steps, but she enjoys working for herself and earning the money to pay back the loan.

“But still it was wonderful fun, sitting and working like that, earning money.  It was almost like being a man.”

Though Nora thinks lightly of work, her friend Mrs. Linde has had to work hard for her life and is another characterization of a woman in the workforce.

The most important discussions in this book come from the revelations in the last act.  Nora comes to the realization that her marital relationships have been like those with her father, where she is not attempting to be her own person, but what others dictate her to be.  I believe this act is where the true aspects of the play having a feminist value comes in as well as where it would have shocked contemporary audiences.

The introduction to my collection of Ibsen plays has an interesting take on the ending of this novel suggesting that Nora’s upset comes from the male and female differences in the viewpoint of relationships.  Where Torvald, the male in the relationship thinks of “I,” Nora thinks of “we” in the relationship.  It is an interesting point to make and is true that Nora’s revelation comes primarily from the realization that her husband is thinking only in terms of himself.  I’m not sure if I agree with the point that it is a strictly male versus female viewpoint, though perhaps that was what Ibsen was trying for.  What is important is that Nora comes to revelation and she realizes that she has allowed her husband and father to treat her as a doll, an empty vessel.  She has allowed them to fill her with their beliefs and their tastes and she has developed none of her own.  She also hasn’t been treated seriously.

“But our home’s been nothing but a playpen.  I’ve been your doll-wife here, just as at home.  I was Papa’s doll-child.  And in turn the children have been my dolls.  I thought it was fun when you played with me, just as they thought it was fun when I played with them.”

What is shocking in this play is Nora’s revelations lead her to leave behind her husband and children, a very non traditional thing to do, and go explore who she is as a human being.

“I have other duties equally sacred. […] Duties to myself. […] I believe that, before all else, I’m a human being, no less than you–or anyway, I ought to try to become one.”

Overall, for a short play this was an interesting read into the heart of marital relationships and I can completely see why it would have been considered subversive by contemporary audiences.  It is worth the read as a piece of important literature.

I read this play as part of the Year of Feminist Classics Challenge.

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. March 5, 2011 1:28 pm

    I love this play and am so glad you reviewed it….

    • March 5, 2011 1:36 pm

      It is a good one. I really liked it. I would love to actually see it performed some day.

  2. Jillian permalink
    March 5, 2011 3:02 pm

    This sounds like an awesome play.

  3. March 6, 2011 4:06 am

    Thank you for your review. I am interested in the Introduction’s statement and male and female point of view — the “I” versus the “we.” Women are socialized to perceive the we ahead of the I. (See Virginia Woolf on The Angel in the House). If a wife is economically dependent on her husband, then concentrating on the we is her best means of survival.

    • March 6, 2011 9:57 am

      That is an extremely good point and as I begin thinking about it I find that perhaps I was hasty in making the statement I made on the generalization. I think you are absolutely correct that when a wife is economically dependent then the we is the best means of survival. I love that Nora was so disappointed by her husbands “I” response that she felt the need to start thinking in terms of the “I” herself instead of the “we.”

  4. March 10, 2011 3:38 am

    Great review. I think the introduction in your book makes some interesting points but I think you are definitely right in reading it in the feminist light that she realized she wasn’t living for herself rather than simply that Torvald was selfish. Their interpretation seems rather light and uninterested. Odd.

    • March 10, 2011 6:07 am

      The whole introduction about A Doll’s House in my book was about how it’s not a feminist play and that Ibsen was writing to look at human nature in a whole (which I agree), but at the same time he ended up writing something that really contradicted the nature of his contemporary society and ended up becoming feminist. Anyways I think that is why my introduction’s interpretation ended up being rather light … because they were trying to prove that this was not a feminist play.

  5. March 18, 2011 6:23 pm

    I read it and enjoyed it a few years ago.
    I’m going to see a production of his play Ghosts in June; can’t wait!

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  1. Wrap Up: A Doll’s House « A Year of Feminist Classics

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