When Henrik Ibsen wrote A Doll’s House, the institution of marriage was sacrosanct; women did not leave their husbands, and marital roles were sharply defined. The play, which questions these traditional attitudes, was highly controversial and elicited sharp criticism. The character of Nora Helmer, a favorite with actresses seeking a role of strength and complexity, has dominated the play from its inception. She is the one who gains audience empathy, who grows through the course of the play. Some early critics viewed Nora as a prime example of the “new woman,” a breed seeking independence and self-definition, and the play as a polemic advocating women’s rights. Some insisted that although a woman might leave her husband, she would never leave her children. Later critics faulted Nora’s sudden conversion from a sheltered child stroking her husband’s ego to a mature woman seeking independence. Yet, others maintained that Ibsen skillfully foreshadows Nora’s departure in her behavior throughout the play in her gaiety, generosity, and unselfishness. Further, Ibsen himself declared that he was not writing solely about women but instead about issues of his society and about the need for individuals, both men and women, to be true to themselves.
Thus A Doll’s House can be viewed thematically not only as a picture of an innocent nineteenth century woman struggling to achieve self-definition but also as a devastating indictment of a...
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