What are the moral dilemmas in Ibsen's A Doll House?

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In this play, Henrik Ibsen piles one moral dilemma atop another. The fundamental hypocrisy of Norwegian bourgeois society is an underlying principle that shapes all the characters’ actions. When the play opens, Nora ’s transgression is in the past, but she is still paying the price; until she finishes repaying...

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In this play, Henrik Ibsen piles one moral dilemma atop another. The fundamental hypocrisy of Norwegian bourgeois society is an underlying principle that shapes all the characters’ actions. When the play opens, Nora’s transgression is in the past, but she is still paying the price; until she finishes repaying the illegally obtained money she will be controlled by Krogstad. When she falsified the loan note, she had already experienced the moral dilemma of whether to do so or allow her husband’s health to deteriorate. Now, her decision of whether or not to to continue being extorted, and consequently increase Krogstad’s level of control, is her first moral dilemma presented within the play.

Torvald, likewise, is placed on the horns of a dilemma. Once he knows the truth about the extortion, he must decide whether to protect his family’s reputation or to be a honest, upright person. Furthermore, he has to decide how to treat his wife, considering his deep disapproval both of her forgery and her concealment. In the end, Torvald’s attachment to appearances wins out. Ibsen clearly considers this a moral failing, as he is acting out of hypocrisy rather than conviction. He also puts all the blame on Nora, and behaves as if he is morally superior, which is the sin of pride. Although Nora has legally committed a crime, her decision to leave Torvald gives her the moral high ground, a dramatic solution to her dilemma.

Kristine Linde has moral qualms of her own. She wants Nora to be honest, but she also does not want Krogstad to persecute her. Between them, they agree on a compromise in Krogstad’s treatment of the Helmers, as well as rekindling their old romance. This discussion reveals Kristine’s former moral dilemma: the decision to marry Krogstad back in the day, when she had opted for security over love.

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One of the moral dilemmas revealed in A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen surrounds Nora, who takes out a loan to save her husband’s life. Nora decides to keep her financial woes a secret, because she took the loan illegally with the assistance of Krogstad, one of her husband’s employees. Nora then faces the moral dilemma between upholding the values of marriage by being honest with her husband and keeping her secret and avoiding the consequences of her actions.

Another moral dilemma in the play revolves around Nora’s thoughts on whether to stay with her husband. Leaving her husband, despite his selfish and oppressive ways, would go against the values of the institution of marriage. However, doing so would guarantee her the freedom to live as she wishes. Nora decides to leave her husband.

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Well, I would say the biggest moral dilemma that seems to encompass and envelop the rest of the many moral dilemmas that are explored in this play comes down to honesty and self-knowledge. The ubiquitous theme of appearance versus reality, which is so important in so many works of literature, comes to play here as we are shown a marriage that, on the surface at least, appears to be perfect, yet as the play progresses, we realise that Nora is anything but the perfect wife that her husband thinks she is. Torvald is a character that wants control over his wife and believes that he has it. His appearance is incredibly important to him, and he views his marriage as another part of how he is viewed by others. Nora, on the other hand, shows in her "other life" that she is not so easily controlled and dominated by Torvald. The biggest moral dilemma of this excellent play therefore seems to be between the ease of playing a part that will not challenge either ourselves or others and allow life--even a fictitious life--to carry on smoothly, or to try and bring reality to the fore and express who we really are rather than living a lie. This is the moral dilemma that Nora is forced to face, and also gives her a moment of epiphany as she reflects on her life:

But our home has never been anything but a playroom. I've been your doll-wife, just as I used to be Papa's doll-child. And the children have been my dolls. I used to think it was fun when you came in and played with me, just as they think it's fun when I go and play games with them. That's all our marriage has been, Torvald.

Note the way that this speech links to the title of the play and the limited life that Nora has lived, being first dominated and patronised by her father, and now her husband. Nora's choice to challenge the fiction and childishness of her life is symbolised in her decision to leave Torvald and the children and in the slamming of the door at the end.

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