Please list five ways in which women were legally or socially relegated to a secondary status. How does this inferior status manifest itself in the Helmer household?
Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House was first published in 1879. At this time in Norway a woman lived under her father’s authority until she married, at which time she lived under her husband’s authority. As Nora explains to Helmer that she’s leaving him in the final scene of the play, she says, “…I passed from father’s hands into yours” (120). At that time it was illegal for a woman to borrow money on her own, which is why Nora forges her father’s signature on the I.O.U. Her childhood friend, Mrs. Linden reinforces the fact that a woman is unable to obtain credit when she says, “Why, a wife can’t borrow without her husband’s consent” (29). Nora acknowledges that women are valued for their looks when she fantasizes about an older wealthy gentleman leaving everything to her in his will, for “When one is so… attractive as I am…” (29). When Helmer refuses to give in to Nora’s request that he keep Krogstad on in his position at the bank, he explains to her, “…so long as a willful woman can have her way…! I am to make myself a laughing-stock to the whole staff, and set people saying that I am open to all sorts of outside influence?” (68). It’s Helmer’s belief that taking council from a woman will paint him as weak in the eyes of his subordinates. In one of Nora’s last lines to Helmer she says, “…when a wife leaves her husband’s house, as I am doing, I have heard that in the eyes of the law he is free from all duties towards her” (127). This shows her understanding that the home they shared does not belong to her and that because she’s choosing to leave her husband, she isn’t entitled to benefit from the wealth they built during their marriage.
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