What rights did Henrik Ibsen refer to in A Doll's House, beyond women's rights?

Quick answer:

Ibsen, an advocate for human rights, uses the plight of Nora to highlight the issues that people like Krogstad and Dr. Rank are facing.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

When Henrik Ibsen attended a meeting of the Norwegian Association for Women's Rights, Ibsen announced that he "must disclaim the honour of having consciously worked for women's rights...to me it has been a question of human rights" (Literary Analysis, Ravenscroft).

When Ibsen made this statement he was referring to the fact that it did not make sense to him to separate the rights of women from the rights entitled to all human beings. Ibsen believed that all human beings were entitled to earn enough money to make a living and take control of their own financial situations. For instance in A Doll's House, Ibsen used Christine's poverty to denounce society's control over what sort of jobs women should be entitled to, such as low paying teaching, domestic, and clerical positions(Act I). Ibsen also used Nora's difficulty in being able to acquire a loan to denounce the financial restrictions that his society placed on women(Act 1). He believed women were capable of making their own financial decisions and caring for their own financial well-being.

Beyond finances, Ibsen believed that like all human beings, women were entitled to the right of an education and the right to have and share their own thoughts and opinions. Ibsen used Nora's protests of being uneducated and against having to adopt first her father's opinions and then her husband's to show just how imprisoned women were in his society(Act III).

Henrik Ibsen saw society treating women as less than human beings and it disturbed him greatly. He saw no need to distinguish between the rights of men vs. women because both sexes were equally human beings and both should be treated with regards to their basic human rights.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What do you think Ibsen meant when he wrote that A Doll's House is more about human rights than women’s rights?

Perhaps because I am a woman, I have always tapped into the women's rights angle more than any other. Perhaps because Nora is a main character and does something totally out of character for a woman of the time draws our attention to her, as well.

However, if we look at Krogstad, his rights are being trampled upon as well. He made a mistake in the past. He has lost his wife and is trying to turn himself around in order to provide for his children.

He is treated badly by Torvald because Torvald has issues of insecurity and superiority: he dislikes Krogstad because he acts too familiar (too friendly) because they have known each other from their younger years. This is no reason for Helmer to make the Krogstad's life more miserable than it is, and this is without knowing about the IOU.

Society is slow to give Krogstad a second chance, even though he is now doing everything the way he should. He loses his job when Nora puts in a good word for him because, once again, Torvald is skewed, off-center. He is not well adjusted, he is not kind-spirited. Krogstad seems malicious, but how do adults act when they must protect their children from starvation and poverty? He is desperate.

And we must not forget Kristine Linde. She has had a difficult life, one dedicated to the care of others. She has known lean years with too little to eat and not enough money to live comfortably. She has scraped by on her own, without receiving (it would seem) any charitable gestures from those who have more.

On that note, the Helmers are well-to-do, in general (although Nora is secretly paying off the IOU to Krogstad), but there is never a sense of charity or empathy for those who have less than they. Torvald cannot forgive Krogstad for who he is and has been, and doesn't seem to know or care enough for Dr. Rank to defy his friend's wishes and go to him as he is dying.

When Ibsen describes this as a human rights story, I think it is because there are several individuals in need that those living in comfort have no time for. Ibsen would certainly have been aware of a "woman's place" within society (and this play cause quite the stir when it was first performed on stage), however, he sees beyond that to the needs of fathers and widows, also. He makes a solid argument for showing more concrete concern and support for those in need by lifting up the problems of those less fortunate in the play.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What do you think Ibsen meant when he wrote that A Doll's House is more about human rights than women’s rights?

Nora's struggles are no different than those experienced by all human beings. Period. Which is interesting considering that Ibsen was not writing in a historical period that would have matched our own schema of life. Hence, he was quite futuristic and daring in stating that women were no different than males when it came to selflesness, sacrifice, and duty- in fact, I think Ibsen placed women at an even higher echelon. In a different country, or society, this may have been banned or seen as too controversial. Yet, he managed to fliter the theme in with such care and charisma that the public of his time was able to accept and understand his work.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What do you think Ibsen meant when he wrote that A Doll's House is more about human rights than women’s rights?

In his observation, Ibsen elevates Nora and her struggles even further and imbues them with the greatest degree of respect. Terminology does matter. The term "women's rights" is in itself dismissive, serving to segregate a particular group of people from the mainstream of humanity. Nora deserved dignity and freedom, not because she was a woman but because she was a human being. The social inequity in the play did not result from men denying rights to women, but from one group of human beings denying power to another group of human beings. The distinction is an important one, important enough for Ibsen to point it out.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What do you think Ibsen meant when he wrote that A Doll's House is more about human rights than women’s rights?

I think that Ibsen was using Nora almost as an "everyman" - not just representative of all women, but representative of all humans.  The issues she grapples with are not just about female.  Her search for identity is one we all go through.  Both men and women have to figure out how to separate themselves from their parents' identities, as well as making sure that their identity doesn't disappear into their spouses.  

The other themes in the play are also universal, and not just about women towards the end of the 19th century.  One of the big ones, in my mind, is the conflict between appearance and reality.  What we see on the surface is not always the truth of the matter.  In Torvald we see a devoted husband and in Nora we see a childish wife.  But, in reality, Torvald is controlling, maintaining a position of superiority over Nora.  And, in contrast, we see Nora as capable of taking steps to save her husband's life, and hiding the ramifications of those steps for many years. Krogstad also offers some contradictions.  On the surface, he is seen as morally corrupt, but as the play unfolds, the audience discovers his quite ethical center.  

Of course, the theme of appearance vs. reality is really just a manifestation of the overarching theme of identity.  Who we are and who we present ourselves to be are often in conflict.  Resolving that conflict leads us to the development of a mature and cohesive identity.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Ibsen has remarked that A Doll's House is more about human rights than women's rights. What do you think this means?

I think that Ibsen's point is that the manner in which couples and people treat one another is something to be assessed.  While Ibsen's work speaks to how women's voice cannot be denied, there is a larger point in how the work suggests that no relationship that is predicated upon the silencing of voice is tenable:

Nora Helmer, the "doll" wife, realizes after eight years of marriage that she has never been a partner in her marriage. At the play's conclusion, she leaves her husband in order to establish an identity for herself that is separate from her identity as a wife and mother.

In this light, Ibsen's statement becomes quite telling.  The manner in which relationships are constructed are often done so to benefit one person at the cost of another.  This becomes especially true in marriage, where routine and complacency can become so silent and subterranean that individual voice is removed from such a configuration.  If Ibsen's idea of the work being about "human rights"  is taken to its natural conclusion, Nora leaving Torvald was because of the one- sided nature of their relationship.  While women's rights is a part of this, the larger and more human issue is that relationships are often constructed where one partner silences another to their own benefit.  Intentional or unintentional, this is not an issue of gender, but of power and control.  In this light, Ibsen's work is seen in a much more compelling light in that it calls for a reexamination of the roles in relationships and how partners interact with another, being more mindful of voice and assertion of that voice in order to ensure that both parties are heard and validated.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on