Henrik Ibsen’s Play “A Doll’s House”

Subject: Literature
Pages: 7
Words: 1929
Reading time:
7 min
Study level: College

A Doll’s House, a play by Henrik Ibsen, is a nineteenth-century drama that startled several theatre groups and literary readers at the time. It focuses on women’s responsibilities and expectations, particularly those of housewives. Ibsen goes into detail about the physiological responsibilities of those in the time. He depicts the characters’ mental, behavior, and social mindsets, representing the moral rules that society has placed on them and the law that controls them. The play at the end reflects how women are placed in the society and position they hold.

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The Victorian era was also known as the nineteenth century. This was due to Queen Victoria’s sixty-year reign in Britain, representing a golden period in history. Despite this, women were still seen as the current societal weaker link. Women were given lighter duties in this period as there was male dominance. They were thought to be a sociable or familial person who was weak and dependent. Nora Helmer is conscious of such labels and accepts them, and feels they describe who she is. She has made herself at home in her “doll” house. Something is wrong with Torvald and Nora’s relationship right from the start: the husband treats his wife like a dolly, while the doll, oblivious to her status, stretches herself to please her husband as his “squirrel” and “bird” (Frois 3). This is the play’s first indication of male power; because of this, most people mistook “A Doll’s House” for a feminist play.

Nora Helmer is far from innocent as the author’s activities reveal her deceptive nature. Ibsen utilizes metaphorical expressions like concealing the Christmas tree, concealing the macarons, and playing hide and seek to depict the abundance of masquerade in the house (Frois 5). Her motivations were mostly a presentation of a beautiful woman who cared for her man. Nora gave everything deep from herself to please and make sure her husband was comfortable. Lauren Kieler, an acquaintance of Ibsen’s, takes out a disguised debt to travel to Italy with her spouse, and Ibsen bases his play on this genuine occurrence. According to Frois, the loan went bad; she faked a cheque; and when the lender refused payment, her spouse sent her to a public asylum and demanded a separation such that her kids would not be tainted by her presence. This was the same scenario that revealed Nora Helmer’s truths when she was finally able to see.

When the story finished with Nora closing the door and abandoning her spouse and kids, the term “selfish” screamed out loud in most critics’ minds as the best way of describing her behavior. It was never expected to be done from Nora as from the first, and she looked innocent of her deeds. Most people have overlooked the generosity required for such a commitment. Nora’s marriage was not terminated, according to Ibsen. “Is this your idea of marriage?” he asks the culture. Is this even a relationship?” and clearly explains that it is not. The “marriage” in “A Doll’s House” was a sensual partnership in which one of the two is an oblivious or perhaps unaware subject (Ibsen 157). Nora is the one who suffers the most in the Helmer marriage, but it is Torvald who suffers the most as a result of Nora’s lying. Her humble manner stands in stark contrast to her actions, which are carried out against his will.

Nora’s fear of confronting her lies was not selfish because she was so determined. What worries her the most isn’t what Torvald will make of her once he learns the truth but the remorse he’ll presumably suffer to protect her. At the close of the middle of the play, Nora only sees two ways out of the problem she has created: either she will commit herself and spare her husband from humiliation, or “the miraculous” will occur. Torvald will assume complete blame for her crime (Ibsen 120). Nora had no idea how her spouse would respond when he read the letter. Torvalds, she thought, was just as unselfish, if not more so, for him. Nora exhibited no signs of change from the beginning, giving the audience a peek of the dedication, she expected from him but never received.

Torvald also aspires to be the house’s leader and prominent force to meet societal standards. Torvald has become a toy of society himself, although Ibsen does not state it as plainly as he did with Nora (Ibsen 94). “My lovely wife, I feel as if I can’t embrace you tight enough…,” Torvald declares his ardent love for Nora. I’ve frequently wished you were in terrible peril so I could risk everything, including my life, to save you” (Ibsen 94). It was as if he had never thought, much less imagined, such a situation when his wish occurred, and Nora was in danger. His primary concern is how his image will be affected by the dominant society moral rule that governs everyone’s psychological attitude.

Torvald keeps forgetting that Nora has a soul, and he pretends and believes that he loves her completely, not knowing Nora’s teachings are far different. The Helmers’ psychological contentment is derived not from their love for each other but from how the public deems their relationship. The Helmers grew up in a society that had a “clear divide between discourse and practice” (Permata). Because “the veneer of uniqueness was buried beneath the Victorian concept of economics,” there was little or no discussion of personality (Permata). Torvald demonstrates this argument when he discovers that Krogstad will not act against them. He forgives Nora without hesitation because of what she did. If no one had anything bad to say about the Helmer, Torvald wouldn’t care about the secrets his wife hid from him for decades.

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Ibsen’s work was largely praised by nineteenth-century feminists, who saw the dangers women would face if they continued in his path and saw it as a wake-up call to the injustices perpetrated against them (Permata & Jessica). In such a traditional society, Ibsen also noted how hard it was for a woman to be herself. He stated that men “flamed” the laws and that a court system that viewed everything from a male perspective judged women’s actions (Akter 24). Forward, one of the critics, claimed that they were listening in on their own lives (24). The incidents of A Doll’s House were relatable to the audience since they paralleled their own lives.

The fundamental question that most reviewers have yet to answer is whether Nora’s actions might be justifiable. Nora Helmer, once again, isn’t suited to naivety. If anyone in this drama could be presumed innocent, it would be the children. Nora is both “victoriously correct and dreadfully incorrect,” according to (Akter 24). Nora views herself as powerful, fearless, and unrelenting while being naive, completely immoral, and detrimental to herself and others. Henrik Ibsen had a greater understanding of women than most men, maybe more than they had of themselves. Nora became a heroine in the play when she divorced her husband because Ibsen knew that no woman in the Victorian era would execute such a trick with her “right” mind. He emphasized the importance of one’s uniqueness over labels applied by others.

Nora had to return to her husband and kids, and the writer felt forced to do so. What Ibsen completed his story with was a terrible and terrible end, possibly wicked. This demonstrates how society has constructed a moral law that no one should breach because it is an image that each person must adhere to, rather than a law that directs their lives. Nora had to accept the responsibility that would teach her, her man, and society this painful life lesson: “an ideal house—not always ideal persons, but a house, a family, where there is a comprehensive community, a perfect love,” and she had to make the sacrifice that would teach her, her husband, and society this painful life lesson (Akter 44). As the forerunner of Western theatrical critique, Aristotle’s poetic remarks provide audiences with the language through which play is appraised and judged.

Ibsen’s realist is based on Aristotle’s concept of plot, which he defines as “what can occur as per the law of likelihood and inevitability to accomplish societal reaction.” It is depicted as a tragic figure between Nora and her audience (Gonzalez 172). The emphasis here is on how the play’s three-act plot structure adds to the horror and pity of theatrical tragedy, rather than Nora and Torvald’s life story of female abuse.

Ibsen is torn amongst portraying a realistic story backed by history, inner, outside, and unconscious character backing, and the need to distill the storyline down to simply the facts necessary to communicate a powerful message. Peripety, or the shifting of what is being done in the opposite of the method previously described, is another Aristotelian aspect visible in A Doll’s House (Gonzalez 176). Ibsen depicts peripety as a chain of causality with foreseeable outcomes. For example, Nora’s naiveté in accepting Krogstad’s loan in her father’s name and Krogstad’s precarious job status combine to make Nora’s secret public. The reader can see Nora’s acts coming to fruition and empathize with Aristotle’s anxieties and sympathy for her. According to Ibsen, a key struggle in the play is between characters and culture. In her opinion, Nora despises the ideals that her culture imposes on women, which have forced her to live as a “doll” to both her father and her husband.

The title of A Doll’s House is both significant and evocative of the message that Ibsen appears to have wanted to communicate through the play. The play portrays Nora, the major character, and the house represents Nora’s home, of Helmer. When we view Nora externally, the word “Doll” conjures images of positivism, elegance, and fundamentally feminine nature. From Helmer’s perspective, which is essentially a classic possessive husband, this is true. Nora, the doll, is an inanimate object with which he can interact and have fun. If we look at Nora with a typical or naive view, as Helmer would, or rather as they would like Nora to be, the word “doll” suits her. The word “house” has both a symbolic and a semantic significance. In contrast to “home,” which refers to a house one whose family lives and one receives love and care, “house” refers to a structure or shelter to live in.

Nora is mostly content with her living quarters, her house; so, I am her true ‘home.’ But, as she discovers later, it was a house, a prison, in which she had been living as a toy until her husband’s expected act of sacrifice, or “miracle,” failed to materialize (Akter 56). She learns that her spouse treats her like a child treats its doll when she is deceived about her position and worth, her dignity, and respect from him. She had a strong recollection of that house, which was like a doll’s house. That is the title’s connotation, which is both suitable and reflective of the play’s theme.

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Essentially, the play reflects what is happening in contemporary society. It shows how women are downgraded and considered as society’s weak points. Women are associated with minor, less-valued roles compared to men in society. Ibsen shows us different themes in the play, starting with gender feminism to the misery of happiness. The major aspect learned from the play relates to gender inequality. From the information analyzed above, it is evident that in society, gender feminism has negative and serious consequences, and should be abolished. People should be considered equal and given fair chances in life.

Works Cited

Akter, Saima. “Re-reading Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House: A Modern Feminist Perspective.” International Journal of English and Comparative Literary Studies 2(3), 2021, 79-87.

Forward, Stephanie. “A new world for women? Stephanie Forward considers Nora’s dramatic exit from Ibsen’s A Doll’s House.” The English Review. 2009, 24-27.

Frois, Catarina. “Introduction— “A Doll’s House.” Female Imprisonment. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham, 2017, 1-26.

González, José M. “The Aristotelian Psychology of Tragic Mimesis.” Phronesis 64(2), 2019, 172-245.

Ibsen, Henrik. A Doll’s House. Backpack Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. Ed. Kennedy, X.J., and Dana Gioia. 3rd ed. New York: Pearson, 2010.

Permata, Jessica, and Phil Dewi Chandraningrum. Nora’s Subjectivity in Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House” (1879): An Existentialist Approach. Diss. Universitas Muhammadiyah Surakarta, 2019.

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