‘A Doll’s House’ - Henrik Ibsen Genre: Victorian Literature/Fiction Pages: 93
I first read Henrik Ibsen’s play ‘A Doll’s House’ three years ago, and remember it as a short yet empowering piece of writing. This is an excellent play to use if you’re looking for a text that covers themes of gender, friendship, deceit and class.
This play can be seen as a feminist text as it makes a statement about gender roles and the expectations of both men and women. Published in 1879, it would have been unexpected for a male playwright to publish a text that empowers women. The play focuses on Nora, one of the main characters of the play, whom is married to Torvald Helmer and they have three children together. Nora is introduced mostly through Torvald, who refers to her as his ‘little squirrel’ and ‘my little skylark’, thus implying from the start his opinion of her to be timid and anxious. The use of ‘my’ could be argued to suggest that he seems possessive over her, further reinforced later in the text when he refers to Nora as his ‘dearest treasure’. It could also be argued that Nora could be seen more as a child rather than conforming to the typical Victorian wife ideal. This is because her use of language is repetitive and childish, such as when she is begging Torvald ‘mayn’t we? Just a tiny wee bit!’, implying that she must ask permission before beginning a task. Torvald may also see her this way – ‘The child shall have her way’, which could be seen as demanding, yet also respectful of his wife’s desires.
Although Nora isn’t quite as submissive and quiet as she portrays. She’s secretly been repaying someone their money, without her husband’s knowledge. Arguably, it has been suggested that the macaroons which Nora often reaches for, are symbolic of her deceitful ways. From the beginning of the play, it is stated that she ‘eats one or two’ after deceiving him of the use of the money which he gave her. The macaroons are mentioned a few times within the text, as she ‘Takes the packet from her pocket’ when she feels to have control over her secret, and also reaches for more ‘a few macaroons… -lots, just for once!’, when she becomes more desperate to deceive and keep her secret hidden from her husband.
Towards the end of the play, however, we see a sudden shift in Nora’s character, particularly through her language use. Nora becomes more aware of her own identity and questions her place in the home. She exclaims to Torvald ‘I have been your doll-wife, just as at home I was papa’s doll-child’, which links in the title of the play ‘A Doll’s House’ as Nora only saw life and herself as a toy to Torvald. She questions who she is and where her duties lie, not as a wife or mother, yet her ‘Duties to myself’, thus empowering her to form her own individual identity. Therefore implying that Nora now sets out her own duties, and no longer relies on the duties defined by her gender.
As often with texts at the time, the idea of choosing to marry for love or to marry for wealth/status is touched upon. Nora’s old friend, Mrs Linde, admits that she didn’t love her husband and married only because she ‘had to provide for my two younger brothers’, and therefore she married for money rather than love. Thus, Ibsen could also be making a statement about marriages of the time.
In conclusion, I enjoyed this play and found it very easy to picture the scenes as the stage directions were easily understood and imagined. I would recommend this text if you’re looking for a feminist piece of writing, especially as it’s written by a male playwright. I would rate ‘A Doll’s House’ a 6/10 as it’s empowering, yet a little too short for me.
I hope you enjoyed this review and analysis, feel free to get in touch with your thoughts about the text.
Take care, Sophie x
Summary for Students (Contains Spoilers!)
This section contains themes for students, with some additional quotes to use for your essays:
- ‘I am a reasonable human being… I must try and become one.’ – Said by Nora to Torvald
- ‘I must stand quite alone’ – Said by Nora
- ‘But it was tremendous fun all the same, sitting there working and earning money like that. Almost like being a man.’ – Said by Nora, women were limited as they didn’t have the same opportunities as men
Leaving a Lover:
- ‘you are delirious; I almost think you are out of your mind’ – Said by Torvald to Nora, she is seen as delirious when she wants to leave her husband