In A Doll's House what obligations do both husband and wife share psychologically as well as materially when it comes to the rearing of their children?

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M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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In A Doll's House, Henrik Ibsen works with characters whose behaviors are a symptom of their time in history and place within society. Following the rudimentary ideal of the male as the head of the household and the woman as the nurturing companion, the marriage of Nora and Torvald Helmer is rife with stereotypical ideals that are proper of the Victorian mindset. This mindset is quite based on the biblical principle of "Federal Headship" found in 1 Corinthians 11:3

"But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ"

Whether a Victorian couple was or was not the most "Christian" embodiment of virtue, this was a paradigm under which many marriages operated.

However, the same Victoria mindset that calls for a prudish and biblical marriage is not as virtuous when it came to the rearing of children. Children were not seen under the same psychological parameters that we have today. Far were the days when children would have been considered developmentally and psychologically different than young adults. Instead, children were to be "seen and not heard". Moreover, it is a known fact that Victorian children were also prone to early deaths partly due to the poor sanitation existing during this historical period, partly due to disease, and partly due to high stillborn rates. As a result, parents made sure not to get "too close" to them. A typical Victorian childhood in the upper classes, though fortunate enough in terms of educational opportunities, was quite lonely and deficient of affect.

When we consider that Nora and Torvald are totally dissonant of their respective realities in their marriage, we cannot conclude that they have any plan whatsoever as far as how to raise their kids. We do see that Nora is who summons them the most from their rooms, where they spend most of the day with their governess. Like Nora says herself, she loves her children but she mostly loves the idea of having them as her play things, whom she can spoil whenever she wants. 

In an ideal scenario, Nora and Torvald would both be responsible for spending as much time possible with their children. They would elicit communication and conduct interactive activities with them the way that effective parents would do in our modern times. They also would be equally responsible to provide for their children's sustenance, for their education, and perhaps even for as much entertainment as possible in the form of musical lessons, academia, reading, sports, and the arts. Surely Nora and Torvald had the chance to provide this for their children, since their situation allowed those benefits. Yet, what we find is that, like Nora herself, the Helmer children seem to be invisible most of the time.

Conclusively, Nora and Torvald should have the same responsibilities as far as raising their children. The time and place where they live sort of impede them to conduct themselves with the proper guidelines that we find in modern times. As a well-to-do couple, they surely were able to provide for them in a very generous way. However, it is obvious that the children of this particular marriage suffer greatly because they are rendered as "items" by their mother and as "dependents" by a very busy father.

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