Discuss domesticity in the plays A Doll's House by Ibsen and Tartuffe by Moliere.

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Within both the seventeenth century setting of Tartuffe and the nineteenth century setting of A Doll's House, there exists what has been called the "cult of domesticity" in which women are meant to exhibit certain virtues of purity, piety, submission to their husbands and domesticity in which they create in the home a haven against the vicissitudes of life. 

Thus, for the wives of the above-mentioned dramas, the home is a separate sphere in which they dwell. However, because of their domestic submission to their husbands, these women are held in repressed positions in which the patriarchs dictate all actions and decisions. For instance, Orgon declares Tartuffe a holy man and invites him into his home. And, after Tartuffe's inappropriate advances are revealed to Orgon, he scolds his wife, telling her that she was "partial to my rascal son's" report on Tartuffe when she should have "looked more angry, more upset" and, thus, averted any further advances.  Boldly, though, she refutes his words and convinces him to hide under a table when Tartuffe next attempts to seduce her. Still, it is not until Tartuffe nearly ravages her that Orgon finally is convinced of the imposter's true nature.

Unfortunately for Nora, Helmer remains chauvinistic to the end and demonstrates no gratitude to his wife for having taken her drastic measures in order to save his life by ensuring that his health improve in a favorable climate.  Instead, he is enraged that she has damaged his professional reputation and that she has committed such an act:

What a horrible awakening!  All these eight years--she who was my joy and pride--a hypocrite, a liar--worse, worse--a criminal!  The unutterable ugliness of it all!  For shame!  For shame!....Now you have destroyed all my happiness.  You have ruined all my future.

Like Elmire, Nora dares to demonstrate her disappointment in her husband and assert her sense of self, following what she calls her "[D]uties to myself." Her actions, then, are drastic in comparison to Elmire because unlike Orgon, Helmer has lost all faith in his wife and she realizes that he loves not her, but only the image of a passive, delicate, and virtuous creature.

In Moliere's play, domestic harmony is restored by the faith of the husband in the loyalty and love of his wife in contrast to the destruction of domestic harmony in Ibsen's drama in which the husband has only loved a mere image of his spouse.