In A Doll's House, what two social conflicts harm both Nora and Torvald, and how do they relate to the play's theme?

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Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The social conflicts inherent in the play harm both Nora and Torvald individually, and the resolution of these conflicts results in the destruction of Nora and Torvald's marriage. The two social conflicts are society's view of a woman's role in marriage vs. the needs of individual women and society's view of the role of women outside of marriage vs. the rights of women as individuals.

The drama is set in a society that demands a woman live in a subserviant state within marriage. Her role as wife is limited and oppressive. She exercises no freedom or power within the marriage; she exists as an extension of her husband, living according to his will and subject to his decisions.

Nora and Torvald's marriage reflects these social conventions. Torvald consigns Nora to the role of "doll wife," assuming control over every aspect of her life, even including what she eats. As a result, both husband and wife are damaged. Their marriage is a sterile sham. Torvald lives without a real partner in life and without understanding the benefits of what partnership within a marriage could be. Nora's frustration becomes unbearable for her; when she can no longer live a life of such negation, she leaves Torvald.

The role of women outside of marriage plays an integral part in the drama, as well. According to the social conventions at work in the play, a woman has no place in society except as wife or daughter. She cannot pursue her own interests and talents, manage money, or enter into contracts. She cannot act independently of her father or her husband in directing her own affairs.

As a result, Nora forges her father's name to a loan, the only way she can obtain money, ironically, to save Torvald's life. She lives for years with the fear of her actions being discovered; anxiety becomes her daily companion as she scrimps to save money from the household budget Torvald gives her in order to repay the loan. When Torvald finds out what she has done, he is so socially programmed that his first thought is how Nora's deed will destroy his image, his life. It is this reaction that finally makes the truth of her life and marriage undeniable for Nora. She leaves the "doll house" Torvald has constructed and in which she has been living.

The resolution of these social conflicts occur in Nora, not in her society. When she makes the break and opts for freedom, despite the danger and social stigma inherent in her actions, Ibsen's theme is realized: A life of personal negation destroys the spirit; a human being must claim his or her own individuality, his or her own life, regardless of the consequences.