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

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Women were expected to be submissive and doll-like, as Nora realizes toward the end of the play that she ought not to have desires and ideas of her own. She says to her husband, in describing her father, "He used to call me his doll-child, and played with me...

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Women were expected to be submissive and doll-like, as Nora realizes toward the end of the play that she ought not to have desires and ideas of her own. She says to her husband, in describing her father, "He used to call me his doll-child, and played with me as I played with my dolls. Then I came to live in your house-- [....] I mean I passed from father's hands into yours." She feels as though she's had nothing of her own, that she's lived life as though she were a possession of someone else's, first her father and then her husband. Nora continues, saying:

You arranged everything according to your taste; and I got the same tastes as you; or I pretended to -- I don't know which -- both ways, perhaps; sometimes one and sometimes the other. When I look back on it now, I seem to have been living here like a beggar, from hand to mouth. I lived by performing tricks for you, Torvald. But you would have it so.

She feels like she's been living as a pet, performing tricks in order to please her husband, and this is evidently what Torvald wanted. When she does act on her own, outside his purview, he chastises and berates her. In the past, he's called Nora at various times, a "squirrel," his "little lark," and the like, comparing her to a diminutive animal that has little to no power. Victorian women were expected to follow their husbands, as Nora has done, or -- at least -- appeared to do. When Torvald forbade her from eating sweets so as not to rot her teeth, for example, Nora only seemed to obey, but she went right on sneaking cookies while Torvald wasn't looking. She wasn't even allowed to sign for a loan on her own, which is why she forged her father's signature in order to acquire the money for the trip that saved her husband's life. Nora has constantly tried to be submissive, or maintain the appearance of submissiveness, in order to fit the proper mold.

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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.

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