What are the moral dilemmas in Ibsen's A Doll House?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Well, I would say the biggest moral dilemma that seems to encompass and envelop the rest of the many moral dilemmas that are explored in this play comes down to honesty and self-knowledge. The ubiquitous theme of appearance versus reality, which is so important in so many works of literature, comes to play here as we are shown a marriage that, on the surface at least, appears to be perfect, yet as the play progresses, we realise that Nora is anything but the perfect wife that her husband thinks she is. Torvald is a character that wants control over his wife and believes that he has it. His appearance is incredibly important to him, and he views his marriage as another part of how he is viewed by others. Nora, on the other hand, shows in her "other life" that she is not so easily controlled and dominated by Torvald. The biggest moral dilemma of this excellent play therefore seems to be between the ease of playing a part that will not challenge either ourselves or others and allow life--even a fictitious life--to carry on smoothly, or to try and bring reality to the fore and express who we really are rather than living a lie. This is the moral dilemma that Nora is forced to face, and also gives her a moment of epiphany as she reflects on her life:

But our home has never been anything but a playroom. I've been your doll-wife, just as I used to be Papa's doll-child. And the children have been my dolls. I used to think it was fun when you came in and played with me, just as they think it's fun when I go and play games with them. That's all our marriage has been, Torvald.

Note the way that this speech links to the title of the play and the limited life that Nora has lived, being first dominated and patronised by her father, and now her husband. Nora's choice to challenge the fiction and childishness of her life is symbolised in her decision to leave Torvald and the children and in the slamming of the door at the end.

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