What is the purpose of A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen?

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In A Doll's House, Torvald Helmer treats his wife, Nora , much like a child, and this is a reflection of society at the latter end of the nineteenth century. During this time, women were not allowed to vote and were not deemed responsible or fit enough to manage...

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In A Doll's House, Torvald Helmer treats his wife, Nora, much like a child, and this is a reflection of society at the latter end of the nineteenth century. During this time, women were not allowed to vote and were not deemed responsible or fit enough to manage their own financial affairs. Therefore, society was constructed in a way that made women almost entirely dependent on the men in their lives; most often, the financial role was fulfilled by husbands, as it was also not considered proper for middle-class women to work outside their homes. If women dared to leave their marriages, they likely had no possible means of supporting themselves and therefore also lost their children. Women were fairly trapped in circumstance.

In the play, Nora seeks medical treatment for her husband and finds a way to pay for it herself. This takes some creative liberties with the truth, but she sacrifices all she can to save his life. When Krogstad, another man in her life, has the opportunity, he threatens to expose her lie in order to improve his own situation. In the end, Nora walks away from her patriarchal world in search of herself. She tells her husband,

You neither think nor talk like the man I could join myself to. When your big fright was over—and it wasn't from any threat against me, only for what might damage you—when all the danger was past, for you it was just as if nothing had happened. I was exactly the same, your little lark, your doll, that you'd have to handle with double care now that I'd turned out so brittle and frail. Torvald—in that instant it dawned on me that for eight years I've been living here with a stranger, and that I'd even conceived three children—oh, I can't stand the thought of it! I could tear myself to bits.

Nora's comments reflect the ultimate purpose of the play. Ibsen demonstrates the inner strength of women who are placed in situations that seem to offer them no options. Needing a sense of validation and purpose, the soul of a woman will go to great lengths to fulfill the desires of her heart. In the era when this play was first performed, Nora's choice was quite offensive to the general audience, and Isben's portrayal of an independent woman who sought to discover her true sense of self separate from her husband earned the author the label of an "anarchist." However, Isben considered the purpose of his play valuable nonetheless: People should not blindly accept the social structures they support.

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A Doll's House premiered in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1879 at the beginning of the first wave of the suffrage movement in that country. Though the play is set in Norway, another Scandinavian country in which women were seeking enfranchisement, it explores concerns among women that were common in the West at the time, particularly legal rights and identity.

The play's conflict arises over Nora Helmer's crime of forgery. To pay for her husband, Torvald, to go to Italy to recover from an illness, she borrows money from Krogstad, who later becomes her husband's employee. The law at the time required that a man cosign for any financial transaction. To avoid asking her ailing father for the favor, she forges his name. Krogstad, a disgruntled employee, threatens to expose that she has borrowed the money, which, in turn, would expose her crime. She partly expects that her husband will sacrifice himself in response to her selflessness or, at the very least, be moved. On the contrary, he is upset with her. Nora, astounded by his unkind reaction, leaves him and their children. She realizes that Torvald cannot see the importance of her act because he has always viewed her as one would a child or a pet—not as an individual capable of making decisions for the benefit of both of them.

The incident exposes the problem at the root of their marriage: Nora does not know who she is outside of other people's definitions of her—primarily those of Torvald, who sees her only as a wife and mother and, therefore, a subordinate. Nora leaves to find out who she thinks she is, which she can only do through her individual experience of the world.

Ibsen's purpose in writing this play was to explore the ways in which women's identities are constructed in relation to their roles as wives and mothers, which can be insufficient in forming a self. The play also illustrates how laws made it nearly impossible for women to make decisions without the approval of a male relative. This resulted in a state of almost complete dependency. Nora leaves her home—the "doll's house" in which she is merely a pretty object for Torvald to adore—to escape this state of dependency.

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