What are the main issues in A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen?

One main issue in A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen is the continual dismissal of the importance and strength of women, particularly in their relationships with men. Another main issue is revealed by audiences' reactions to the end of the play, particularly demonstrated by Nora's choice to leave her children. Many find this shocking, yet they likely would not find it shocking for Torvald to walk away from Nora and their children.

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One of the key issues inA Doll's House is the tendency of men, particularly in this historical context, to dismiss the ideas and the value which women hold in their societies.

From the beginning, it is clear that Torvald considers Nora a plaything of his own. He finds his...

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One of the key issues in A Doll's House is the tendency of men, particularly in this historical context, to dismiss the ideas and the value which women hold in their societies.

From the beginning, it is clear that Torvald considers Nora a plaything of his own. He finds his wife silly and amusing and never considers that Nora might have unique and independent dreams. Instead, Nora is expected to serve his needs and fulfill a certain flighty role.

Torvald calls her a "spendthrift," teasing her about her propensity for wasting money; yet Nora has actually illegally obtained a loan to save her husband's life. Torvald is oblivious of this act, and he continually speaks to his wife with tones of condescension, referring to her as his "squirrel," "pet," and "singing bird." He also often modifies such terms by placing the word "little" in front of them, further highlighting Nora's diminutive place in their relationship.

Torvald never considers the strength of Nora, and he certainly doesn't think she has the power to leave him. When faced with this truth, Torvald desperately begs his wife to stay, but it is too late for Nora to salvage any sense of hope for rebuilding a relationship with a man who has never valued her worth.

Another issue this play raises is evident based on the way audiences perceive the ending. Frustrated with Torvald and feeling hopeless to change her role in their marriage, Nora walks away from it all—even her children. The viewing audience at that time was so shocked by Isben's ending that he was forced to create an alternate ending to make it more acceptable. The New York Times declared Nora an odd woman whom no one could sympathize with. Furthermore, the paper went on to blame Nora for Torvald's sense of unhappiness.

Modern audiences continue to be shocked at Nora's decision to leave her husband and children, nearly 150 years after the play first was first viewed. Yet this reaction begs audiences to question why they would almost certainly not be as shocked if Torvald had left in the end, leaving Nora to care for the children by herself. Women, both then and now, are expected to be wives and mothers and to sacrifice their own dreams and happiness in order to fulfill these roles. Yet these same sacrifices are often not expected of the men whom they marry.

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One of the main issues of the play revolves around the unjust and unequal legal status of women. Nora faces possible legal consequences because she forged her father's signature on loan documents because it was illegal for her to simply take out a loan, herself, as a woman. She took out the loan to pay for a trip that would save her husband Torvald's life, and the only reason she forged her father's signature illegally is because of the unjust and discriminatory law that denies women the legal status to take out a loan by themselves.

Another, related issue has to do with women's lower status in marriage. In the end, when Torvald learns of Nora's forgery and loan from Krogstad, he threatens to completely prevent Nora from interacting with their children and to maintain a sham marriage for social reasons. They won't really act like husband and wife except in public. He berates and insults her, saying that she totally lacks principles like her father did, and he completely fails to recognize that Nora only did what she did out of love for him.

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One of the play's themes is the objectification of human beings, that is to say treating them as objects rather than people. That's certainly how both Nora's husband and father have treated her. To Torvald, Nora's nothing more than a trophy wife, something to be shown off to other men as a status symbol. At no point do we get the impression that Torvald ever thinks of this wife as a fully-grown woman with a mind of her own, with her own needs and desires. Because Torvald looks upon Nora as little more than an object, he infantilizes her, treating her like a child, or even worse, a doll. The title of the play is well chosen because Nora is like a living doll trapped in a gigantic doll's house, played with and manipulated by Torvald for his own selfish needs.

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A Doll’s House is the story of the end of a marriage in late 19th-century Norway. It is also the story of the radical changes experienced by middle-class European women in this era. The end of the play famously has Nora walking out of her home—often called “the door slam heard ‘round the world.”

The main issue is women’s restrictions in the repressive social system of the period. Nora is an appealing but hardly flawless protagonist. Her life seems good: she has a nice home, a nice, well-employed husband, and children. Why can't she be satisfied?

Two closely related issues are the hypocrisy of marriage and the impossibility of happiness without romantic love. Marriage was virtually required of a woman of Nora’s class, as working outside the home was not an option. Nora has to face the fact that the affection she feels for her husband is not love. Her marriage is a sham.

Related to the hypocrisy is the falsity of appearances. Nora and Torvald seem to be well off, but in fact, Nora has borrowed money and forged papers to do so. This sets in motion a chain of events that involve Nora in further deceit and ultimately reveal that Torvald is interested more in appearances than in morality. Nora’s decision to leave is not just a rejection of social hypocrisy but also a rejection of Torvald in particular.

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The play raises several issues. Here are a few:

1. The roles of women in Nora's male-dominated society

2. The nature of real love

3. The importance of dignity and self-respect

4. The power of money in our lives

5. Personal growth and awareness

6. The lack of communication between people

7. Selfishness vs. selflessness

8. The dynamics of power

9. The emotional price paid for dependence

The play deals to some degree with each of these. See the eNote links below for a discussion of the major conflicts and themes in the play.

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