Why can Henrik Ibsen's play A Doll's HouseĀ  be considered a problem play?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Problem plays were developed during the Realism literary movement of the 19th century. Problem plays especially presented social issues or social problems in a realistic way. The social problem that Ibsen presents in A Doll's House is the treatment of women, particularly the entrapment of women. The problem he focuses on is especially portrayed through Nora.

Nora appears to be happy in her marriage; in fact, at the beginning of the play, she even thinks she is happy. However, earlier in her marriage, Nora was faced with the problem of needing extra money to save her husband's life. Her husband expressly forbade taking out loans, and in her society, it was illegal for women to take out a loan without the signature of a man. At the same moment her husband was ill, her father was on his deathbed. Therefore, out of desperate need, Nora was forced to be a bit cunning and forge her father's signature on a loan. We learn as the play unfolds that in early years Nora secretly struggled, fretted, and worked very hard to try and produce money to pay for the dept. However, Nora now has a new anxiety--she is being blackmailed by Krogstad, her creditor, with the threat of exposing her fraud should she not convince her husband to allow Krogstad to keep his post at the bank.

Nora's personal problems portray the larger social problems presented in the play, such as the unfair treatment of women. The unfair treatment of women is first presented in the fact that society forbade women to take out a loan because society saw women as uneducated, irresponsible, ridiculous individuals. Had Nora not been forbidden by society to take out a loan on her own, she would have never been placed in a position in which she needed to commit fraud. The unfair treatment of women is also portrayed in Nora's struggles to earn money to pay back the loan. Back then, middle class women, like Nora, were forbidden to work. Lower class women, however, were allowed to work, but only low-income jobs, such as clerks, teachers, and domestic servants ("Historical Context"). Despite the fact that Nora was middle class, she did, however, manage to find work to earn money that she could perform behind Torvald's back. For example, Nora tells her friend Christine:

Last winter I was lucky enough to get a lot of copying to do; so I locked myself up and sat writing every evening till quite late at night. (I)

Most importantly, the social problem of the unfair treatment of women is especially portrayed in Torvald's treatment of Nora. While he is generally kind to her, it is also very evident that he has no respect for her. He treats her as a ridiculous person and forbids her to do many things; he even refuses to listen to her point of view. However, Torvald's treatment and opinions of his wife are not entirely his own fault; rather, they are a consequence of the influences of his society. Had Torvald been more considerate of his wife's opinions and feelings, she never would have had to take out a loan behind his back and again would not have been forced to commit fraud.