What was the role of women in the Victorian era, as portrayed in Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House?

Expert Answers
Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House most definitely portrays women as having a very strict role, especially women in Nora's class, the middle class. Women were treated as the property of their husbands and confined to the home. Their greatest defining roles were as wife and mother.

One thing Ibsen portrays is the role of inferiority. Since women were not typically granted a university education, they were treated as intellectually inferior to men. We especially see Ibsen portray this in Torvald's treatment of Nora. He treats her like a child, which we see in the beginning of the play when we learn he has forbidden her to eat sweets. We also see him treat her as intellectually inferior when she is practicing dancing the Tarantella and he says, "I could never have believed it. You have forgotten everything I taught you ... You will want a lot of coaching" (Act II). Hence, the role of wife also included the role of being inferior. Not only was the role of women as a wife to be inferior but also to please her husband, which can be seen in how frequently Nora speaks of pleasing Torvald. Even Torvald expresses the commonly held Victorian view that a woman's role was as a wife and mother when, in the final act, he declares of Nora, "Before all else, you are a wife and a mother" (Act 3).

However, we must also consider that views of women were changing in the Victorian era. In many countries, Victorian women made many gains in financial freedom, inheritance rights, legal protection in the work place, and even the right to university education. Therefore, Ibsen's play not only portrays what were the commonly held views of women but also protests these old views and portrays the budding rebellion in progress.