Michael Meyer, in his splendid biography Henrik Ibsen, says that the play A Doll's House is not so much about women's right as about "the need of every individual to find out the kind of person he...

Michael Meyer, in his splendid biography Henrik Ibsen, says that the play A Doll's House is not so much about women's right as about "the need of every individual to find out the kind of person he or she really is and to strive to become that person." What evidence can you offer to support or refute this interpretation?

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

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The play A Doll's House, upon its first staging in Denmark in 1879, proved to be a controversial play for radically breaking away from showing the traditional marriage norms that are typically exalted in other 19th century play. These traditional norms would emphasize the role of the female as the "angel of the household", as well as the 19th century’s Cult of Domesticity, particularly the ideology of feminine domesticity, and the ideal of the female role of the nurturing crux.

Rather than perpetuating this social construct, Ibsen moved away from style and focused on depth, content, and character analysis. He wants us to view Nora's main problem as universal: people who have not found themselves vicariously give up their lives for others whom they deem more important. The result is not always positive; sacrifices often go unnoticed and, in the end, that empty, lonely individual will have to realize that life is best lived alone. This is exactly the problem that Nora encountered in her life. Having been, like she says in Act III, "her father's doll", she was devoid of the individuality and character that one builds when exposed to the world outside. The extreme care and protection forbade Nora from making her own choices, and figuring out who she was. She adopted a character, as a result: she became her family's main source of entertainment, beauty, and excitement. All was a mask which she felt was real.

There is an inkling, though. She shows us twice in the play that she is willing to make sacrifices and keep quiet about them, rather than absorb herself in glory. She not only tried to save her father when he was ill, but also Torvald when he was ill as well. The deal that she makes with Krogstad took determination, risk, understanding and willingness to pay back. Nora is a strong woman. She just does not know it.

Around the time that Christine and Nora meet after many years of separation, Christine downplays Nora's pride in taking care of Torvald during the illness. Even Christine minimizes Nora and sees her as a clueless wonder. However, here is where we notice first that Nora is not willing to live with the stigma. She may not have argued Christine's observations, but she does stand up for herself and her decisions. It is clear that Nora is starting to see a side of her that she did not know was there. 

Well, then I have found other ways of earning money. Last winter I was lucky enough to get a lot of copying to do; so I locked myself up and sat writing every evening till quite late at night. Many a time I was desperately tired; but all the same it was a tremendous pleasure to sit there working and earning money. It was like being a man. (Act I)

Yet, the pivotal event that pushed Nora to "grow up" was toward the end of the play, after Torvald discovers the deal between Nora and Krogstad. Nora would say throughout the play that maybe a "miracle" will happen; this miracle consists on Torvald knowing about what she did and praising her for her huge sacrifice. That did not happen. After thinking that their reputation would suffer, Torvald insulted Nora, her upbringing, AND her sacrifice. In a shock, Nora comes to terms with what was argued previously: that she had never been her true self. That she had lived through the eyes and needs of Torvald, and that (not that she sees it is all worthless), perhaps it is time to catch up and take care of the person who she really is.

At the end, she admits as much:

Indeed, you were perfectly right. I am not fit for the task. There is another task I must undertake first. I must try and educate myself- you are not the man to help me in that. I must to that for myself. And that is why I am going to leave you now (Act III).

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