Consider the play, A Doll’s House and the story “Chrysanthemums."Compare the social commentary in these two plays in order to describe the common theme or idea is being presented by these two...

Consider the play, A Doll’s House and the story “Chrysanthemums."

Compare the social commentary in these two plays in order to describe the common theme or idea is being presented by these two authors.

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen, and "Chrysanthemums" by John Steinbeck, the common theme in these two stories deals with a "woman's place” in terms of society's expectations of women and their behavior in the time in which each story is set.

Nora, in A Doll's House, is the main character, always controlled by the men around her; she leaves her father's house to go directly to her husband, without gaining any sense of self. In a non-traditional fashion, even Krogstad, the man she borrows money from, controls her behavior.

The era in which Nora lived had specific rules for women: they were expected to be obedient, polite and "correct" in their actions; they were not to question the authority of spouse or society; and, at no time should a women step outside of the bounds of proper behavior— to embarrass oneself was to also (and more importantly) embarrass one's husband.

Years earlier, Torvald (Nora's husband) was seriously ill; the only thing that could save him was a trip to a warmer climate. Nora, to save his life, illegally obtains the financing for the trip. Krogstad exposes her actions. Torvald does not cares at all that Nora has sacrificed all, including her peace of mind, for his sake; he is only afraid that society will shun him. At the end, Nora realizes how little he cares for her, and she leaves. In this way, she turns her back on society's expectations of her. (This caused quite a stir when the play was first performed in 1879; Ibsen had to [unhappily] write an alternate ending to use when required, where Nora stays for the sake of her children.)

In "Chrysanthemums," Elisa is a caring and hardworking wife. Her husband is a supportive man; they have a home, property and a good life together. A traveling "tinker" (a man who sells things—or services, such as repairing broken household items out of his wagon or truck), alters Eliza's view of the world and herself. The tinker, in order to drum up business, manipulates Eliza by pretending he values the work she does with her treasured chrysanthemums. She generously offers him some new plants when he leaves—ostensibly for someone he knows.  Later, when Eliza and her husband go into town for dinner, she sees the pot of plantings she had given the tinker discarded by the roadside.

In both stories, our female protagonists are undervalued by some aspect of their male-dominated society. Not only is Nora not permitted (by law) to sign a promissory note (IOU) to save her husband, her husband resents what she has done because it may reflect poorly upon him. He misses the point that he might have died if not for his wife.

Eliza's husband treats her well. Eliza's "awakening" comes not at his hands, but through the tinker's behavior. The tinker is the one that exposes the truth of much of society's view that women, in general, are inferior individuals. In addition, Eliza realizes that because she is a woman, she will never have the freedom the tinker has to go where he wishes.

In both stories, the women are restricted by the social norms. Nora chooses to leave, striking out on her own. Eliza sees herself and differently, and more acutely than ever before realizes the silent boundaries that control her. At the story’s end, it seems that nothing in her life will change, regardless of how she feels.

The theme in both cases is that women are expected to know—and stay—in their place; both women are prisoners of their society's expectations of them.