The Lady from the Sea

by Henrik Ibsen

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How far does The Lady from the Sea represent Ibsen's concept of women liberation?

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The Lady from the Sea represents Ibsen's conception of liberation in recognizing that Ellida has a decision to make which is entirely her choice. Although she opts to stay with her husband, instead of seeking freedom as Nora does in A Doll's House, her life is transformed. She has now chosen how she wishes to live for herself, rather than merely having this life thrust upon her.

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James Joyce wrote that Ibsen's plays were realistic because he had a profound understanding of women, and wrote his female characters with believable personalities and motives. Ibsen's concept of women's liberation develops over time, but it is always depicted in his plays as descriptive rather than normative. As with every other aspect of human behavior, Ibsen presents what he thinks women would actually do to gain their freedom, rather than what he thinks they ought to do.

One of Ibsen's best-known plays, A Doll's House, ends with the female protagonist abandoning her husband in search of freedom. The Lady from the Sea, written nine years later, might be seen as a companion piece, since the heroine, Ellida Wangel, is presented with a similar dilemma and makes the opposite decision.

Instead of choosing a life of freedom with the Stranger, she opts to remain with her husband. The play is often seen as a paradigm of existentialist drama, since Ellida decides on her essence when she makes this decision. Even though things appear to remain the same, they are in fact transformed because she has made a choice. A key element is the attitude of Dr. Wangel, who instead of raging at and then pleading with his wife as Torvald does with Nora, recognizes that it is her choice to make. It is this that makes the play a depiction of a liberated woman. Ellida is no less free than Nora because she made the opposite choice. The point of being a liberated woman, Ibsen shows, is that she has a choice.

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