What is one of the biggest issues in A Doll's House and how does this issue relate to today's society? Is the play relevant to the audience?

Expert Answers
Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I would have to suggest that  Nora's search for identity and the subsequent critique of marriage become one of the largest issues in the drama. Nora is able to understand that the construction of what once was is not as valid as what the present needs to be.  She recognizes that class conditions and gender relations have reduced her voice throughout her life to that of an ornament:   "I have been performing tricks for you, Torvald. That’s how I’ve survived. You wanted it like that. You and Papa have done me a great wrong. It’s because of you I’ve made nothing of my life."  Nora's realization is that the condition of women in the world of marriage is one of property.  This becomes the reason why Torvald refers to her in condescending patronage with terms like "singing lark,” “little squirrel,” and “little spendthrift.”  Nora understands that her voice has been silenced, and that she has been dehumanized in such a process. She recognizes that Torvald's conditions of marriage have depicted a world where there is no reciprocal respect as much as a setting in which there is only his needs being met.  When Torvald repudiates her with, "From now on, forget happiness. Now it’s just about saving the remains, the wreckage, the appearance,"  Nora understands how he saw the marriage.  She recognizes that her life has been an illusion, one that she is willing to confront: "We must come to a final settlement, Torvald. During eight whole years. . . we have never exchanged one serious word about serious things."  The transformation that Nora undergoes represents the source of her characterization.  This metamorphosis also represents the power of the drama for it tears the facade from a traditional marriage bound by "the wreckage, the appearance" and reveals the need for marriage to be rooted in "serious words about serious things."  Such a statement about marriage as well as Nora's voice is where the play's power is most evident.

It is in this light where A Doll's House is relevant to today's audience.  Nora's emergent voice within the drama's critique of marriage highlights its modern connection.  The institution of marriage is one in which individual voice can be subverted and undermined.  It can become an ornament in the daily grind of consciousness.  Individuals can easily becomes like Nora, consumed with a world in which their only focus is "To have a clean, beautiful house, the way Torvald likes it."  Yet, Nora recognizes that this cannot form the sole basis of a successful marriage.  As Nora reclaims her voice, she questions marriage.  This is where the play speaks the most to the modern audience.  While the play is reflective of a particular time period, its views of marriage are universal, making it speak to generations of audiences:

You try to keep it [A Doll's House] in its box of 19th-century Scandinavia, but the things Ibsen writes mean it ceases to be about a particular milieu and becomes about marriage (or partnership) and money. These are universal anxieties, and it seems from talking to people that it resonates in the most visceral way, especially if they are or have been in a difficult relationship....It shines a very harsh light on the messy heart of relationships, and how difficult it can be to be honest with another human being even if you love them.

It is in this "harsh light" where the drama becomes meaningful to both its audience and the audience of today.

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A Doll's House

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