What do you think Ibsen meant when he wrote that A Doll's House is more about human rights than women’s rights?

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playsthething | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Assistant Educator

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I think that Ibsen was using Nora almost as an "everyman" - not just representative of all women, but representative of all humans.  The issues she grapples with are not just about female.  Her search for identity is one we all go through.  Both men and women have to figure out how to separate themselves from their parents' identities, as well as making sure that their identity doesn't disappear into their spouses.  

The other themes in the play are also universal, and not just about women towards the end of the 19th century.  One of the big ones, in my mind, is the conflict between appearance and reality.  What we see on the surface is not always the truth of the matter.  In Torvald we see a devoted husband and in Nora we see a childish wife.  But, in reality, Torvald is controlling, maintaining a position of superiority over Nora.  And, in contrast, we see Nora as capable of taking steps to save her husband's life, and hiding the ramifications of those steps for many years. Krogstad also offers some contradictions.  On the surface, he is seen as morally corrupt, but as the play unfolds, the audience discovers his quite ethical center.  

Of course, the theme of appearance vs. reality is really just a manifestation of the overarching theme of identity.  Who we are and who we present ourselves to be are often in conflict.  Resolving that conflict leads us to the development of a mature and cohesive identity.

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Perhaps because I am a woman, I have always tapped into the women's rights angle more than any other. Perhaps because Nora is a main character and does something totally out of character for a woman of the time draws our attention to her, as well.

However, if we look at Krogstad, his rights are being trampled upon as well. He made a mistake in the past. He has lost his wife and is trying to turn himself around in order to provide for his children.

He is treated badly by Torvald because Torvald has issues of insecurity and superiority: he dislikes Krogstad because he acts too familiar (too friendly) because they have known each other from their younger years. This is no reason for Helmer to make the Krogstad's life more miserable than it is, and this is without knowing about the IOU.

Society is slow to give Krogstad a second chance, even though he is now doing everything the way he should. He loses his job when Nora puts in a good word for him because, once again, Torvald is skewed, off-center. He is not well adjusted, he is not kind-spirited. Krogstad seems malicious, but how do adults act when they must protect their children from starvation and poverty? He is desperate.

And we must not forget Kristine Linde. She has had a difficult life, one dedicated to the care of others. She has known lean years with too little to eat and not enough money to live comfortably. She has scraped by on her own, without receiving (it would seem) any charitable gestures from those who have more.

On that note, the Helmers are well-to-do, in general (although Nora is secretly paying off the IOU to Krogstad), but there is never a sense of charity or empathy for those who have less than they. Torvald cannot forgive Krogstad for who he is and has been, and doesn't seem to know or care enough for Dr. Rank to defy his friend's wishes and go to him as he is dying.

When Ibsen describes this as a human rights story, I think it is because there are several individuals in need that those living in comfort have no time for. Ibsen would certainly have been aware of a "woman's place" within society (and this play cause quite the stir when it was first performed on stage), however, he sees beyond that to the needs of fathers and widows, also. He makes a solid argument for showing more concrete concern and support for those in need by lifting up the problems of those less fortunate in the play.

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

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Nora's struggles are no different than those experienced by all human beings. Period. Which is interesting considering that Ibsen was not writing in a historical period that would have matched our own schema of life. Hence, he was quite futuristic and daring in stating that women were no different than males when it came to selflesness, sacrifice, and duty- in fact, I think Ibsen placed women at an even higher echelon. In a different country, or society, this may have been banned or seen as too controversial. Yet, he managed to fliter the theme in with such care and charisma that the public of his time was able to accept and understand his work.


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Susan Hurn | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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In his observation, Ibsen elevates Nora and her struggles even further and imbues them with the greatest degree of respect. Terminology does matter. The term "women's rights" is in itself dismissive, serving to segregate a particular group of people from the mainstream of humanity. Nora deserved dignity and freedom, not because she was a woman but because she was a human being. The social inequity in the play did not result from men denying rights to women, but from one group of human beings denying power to another group of human beings. The distinction is an important one, important enough for Ibsen to point it out.

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chelsyank | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

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Ibsen talks about more than just women's rights in the play. Everybody has rights in the world and although the play specifically forcuses on the rights of women, there is a much bigger picture to be seen. Torvald gets deprived of his rights too. By society's rule, Torvald cannot show weakness. He has succumbed to the way society wants him to be, thus stripping him of his rights and individuality.

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kdavis112291 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

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When Ibsen said that the play "A Dolls House" is more about human rights than it is womens rights, he meant that womens rights are human rights.  There is no such thing as womens rights, nor mens rights, there are simply rights, that apply to both men AND women, not exclusively to one or the other.  Every once in a while, we forget this, and try to strip these rights from each other, only to find ourselves creating a monster we cannot control.  That is why Ibsen wrote about human rights, to remind the world that we all are born with, and will die with, the same rights as the man to our left, and the women to our right.

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bee3325 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

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While Nora is a woman, many of the conflicts she deals with throughout the play are problems that face both men and women and therefore, both men and women can relate to "A Doll's House." For example, Nora deals with the death of a parent, a loveless marriage, financial problems (and remember that at the time the play was written finances were a male-dominated realm), struggling to raise children, blackmail, death of a friend, and love triangles. All of these are issues that face people in both sexes, so while Nora's problems are easily evaluated using feminism, they can also be seen as basic human struggles.

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bee3325 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

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Because feminism plays such an obvious, active role in the play, it can be easy to focus on women's rights and overlook the men in the play. However, the title of the play and the doll motif is clearly linked to human rights. Throughout the play, every character is used, manipulated, or treated like a doll. The different characters all pin themselves against each other and use each other. Ibsen turns each character into a "doll." However, I can't help but to think that by themselves, dolls are helpless, inactive, piles of plastic. An outside source (usually a five year old girl playing with her new Barbie) has to be present to give the dolls lives, personalities, and histories. So who is the omniscient power in "A Doll's House" that gives each character life? Who is in charge of giving us humans lives? And if some outside source or being is controlling our every move like a young child controls her dolls, what rights or capabilities do any of us have? Clearly Ibsen uses "A Doll's House" as a metaphor for human rights and personal control.

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jwengraf | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

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Even though the plot of the play focuses on Nora and her hardships, the play deals with an issue that affects men and women equally.  The idea that people should not be treated like dolls that can be used, controlled, and abused.  In the story, Nora is by far not the only doll.  Torvald is just as much a victim of being "played" with.  He is often seen by her as a tool that is easily manipulated.  It is evident by this fact that Ibsen was directing a message towards all people.

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alexandertom05 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

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If Ibsen wrote the play to advocate feminism, he would not have left her children alone with the incapable Torvald.  Frankly, Ibsen provides Rank with dialogue stating how Torvald cannot withstand "mending," or "the ugly."  Feminism clearly advocates the mother figure, not the leaving wife.  Ibsen, rather than pledge to the rights of women with "A Doll's House," writes to scope an entire spectrum of self-empowerment.  True, he casted his lead as a women but that has no reflection on the play's focus.  Remember, Nora, Krogstad, Kristine, and Rank have subtle journeys too - Torvald's static character leaves him, unquestionably, the same from beginning to end.  Again, had Ibsen wanted to promote women's rights, he would have created Krogstad, Rank, and Kristine as static characters versus flats or foils.

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klefty | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

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Truthfully, I don't believe that this play was specifically written just for the rights of women, because every character in this play strives for his/her individualization. I agree with previous posts about how Nora could be precepted as the most victimized character, but she is most definitely not the only. Most importantly, we should keep our minds open to the situations of the other characters, and that's what I think was intended by Ibsen in this play.

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bananamenagerie | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

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Ibsen once wrote that "A Doll's House" is more about human rights than women’s rights. What do you think he meant by that?

Ibsen once wrote that "A Doll's House" is more about human rights than women’s rights. What do you think he meant by that? 

I agree with Ibsen in that this play is not for feminism. I believe that Nora's acts at the end, as she chooses to leave her husband and children behind to start over for herself is extremely anti-feminist. All of her acts through out the play are very one dementional thinking. She is mainly concerned with her self. Nora occasionally mentions her children, who are a direct extension of her and her manerisms. By choosing to leave, with out even attempting to fix the problems in her life she created, Ibsen is trying to show how easy it is to walk away when things get difficult in life, leaving others behind to pick up your broken pieces. Nora should have at least attempted to fix what was messed up for the sake of her children and stop being so selfish.

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kezendra | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

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I think Ibsen means that gender shouldn't be the major aspect to the rights we have as humans. Rights are determined by how a person acts in society. Rights are also established by their moral standing. Krogstad gave up his rights when he forged a document for his wife, because to him it was morally acceptable. Ibsen places his characters into different situations where they will either gain or lose rights. It just depends on how they view the situation morally.

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ree0028 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

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I believe that when Isben referred to A Doll's House as being more about human rights than women's rights he was talking about the children specifically. Throughout the play it is apparent that the mother figure is not seen as a necessity, which in most cases very well is one. Children have the right to a family, which the Helmer's really do not posses, and have the right to happiness which they also do not acquire because the one person they really want in their life has just gotten up and left to find herself.

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joy14 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

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Ibsen once wrote that "A Doll's House" is more about human rights than women’s rights. What do you think he meant by that?

Ibsen once wrote that "A Doll's House" is more about human rights than women’s rights. What do you think he meant by that? 

Ibsen meant that feminism is not the single issue he is proposing.  Torvald and Krogstad also have rights, and Ms. Lynde as well, who is not discriminated against in a feminist way.  Torvald should have equal rights to Nora; as a result, he has perogatives to be upset with Nora for her forgery.  However, Nora should not be incapable of standing up for herself when Torvald mistreats her in a sexist way.  Therefore, Ibsen is saying the play is about all people's rights, not just Nora's. 

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