Discuss the theme of feminism in reference to Ibsen's play, A Doll's House.
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Ibsen's A Doll's House is often seen as a play about feminism. This is because Nora Helmer comes to realize that she has been married to a man who cares nothing for her—or her sacrifices to save his life—but only for his reputation. With this discovery, Nora decides to leave at a time when society could not conceive of the act of a woman abandoning her family. When Ibsen wrote the play, the idea was so horrific that he was forced to rewrite the ending if he expected the play to be performed in some parts of the world.
Although he would later be embraced by feminists, Ibsen was no champion of women's rights...
Nora Helmer's circumstances seem to elucidate society's poor treatment of women; however Ibsen was concerned about all human rights in general, and this would have included several characters. Krogstad is a man who has broken the law and continues to be treated as a social outcast even as he struggles to make amends for his mistakes and support his children (alone). There is also Mrs. Linde—she has taken care of her ailing husband until his death, and then her family—but now, she is alone in the world, with little hope of survival in this male-dominated society. While Ibsen may not have written the play to support women's rights, women embraced its message, even as men were alienated by it. A husband (at the time of the play's writing and production) controlled his wife's life. She could not have her own money or legally borrow money. To save Torvald's life, Nora secretly borrows money; she is prepared her to die to prevent Torvald from shouldering the blame for her actions. When she realizes her devotion is not reciprocated, Nora chooses to leave. It is important to note that it is not an easy decision:
The play's ending makes clear that Torvald would object to divorce, so Nora's alienation from society would be even greater.
It is noted that leaving Torvald...
...is a particularly brave and dangerous act.
However, once Nora realizes that she has been living her life completely for Torvald—treating her like a child and arranging her life as a child might arrange a doll—Nora defies not only her husband, but society as well. And in doing so, Ibsen's message seems to focus of women's rights.
As Nora's eyes are opened—as she realizes that she has never been taken seriously as a person by any man in her life—she accuses Torvald (and her now-dead father) of doing her a grave injustice. In this final scene, Nora points out that she and Torvald have never had an adult conversation; worse, every moment of her life has been precisely manipulated, carefully ordered, by the men in her life:
When I was at home with papa, he told me his opinion about everything, and so I had the same opinions; and if I differed from him I concealed the fact, because he would not have liked it...And when I came to live with you [...] I was simply transferred from papa's hands into yours. You arranged everything according to your own taste, and so I got the same tastes as you—or else I pretended to...You and papa have committed a great sin against me. It is your fault that I have made nothing of my life.
At first, Torvald is confused and disbelieving. Then he calls Nora unreasonable and ungrateful; finally he wonders if she has ever been happy. Nora realizes that she is unaware of what true happiness is, and believes she must go out on her own to discover who she is. There is a message her for feminists, intentional or not.
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