A Year of Feminist Classics

Because they're better together :)

Wrap Up: A Doll’s House

A Doll’s House is a very short text, but one which raised some interesting questions and, of course, some wonderful responses. I want to thank you all for your thoughtful participation. I was nervous about my first month of hosting, but you made it a most enjoyable experience :) Here’s what you had to say!

Silverseason noted the literal meaning of the title and the implications thereof:

I begin by thinking that punctuation matters. A “dollhouse” is a plaything, a way to help little girls fantasize about the perfect home they will have some day. The “doll’s house” in Ibsen’s play is a real house in which a doll lives now, and the doll is Nora, the perfect self-sacrificing wife. This wife is less than a real, grown-up person, as the descriptive language used by both Nora and her husband Torvald makes clear. She is a little squirrel, a skylark, and irresponsible bird.

Lauren related the play to both John Stuart Mill and Mary Wollstonecraft:

I was strongly reminded of The Subjection of Women as I read A Doll’s House, as well. Mill went into great deal detailing the number of ways in which the marriage contract could hurt or damage women, and the reader sees two of them play out in A Doll’s House. Christine, the friend of Nora, the protagonist, has been left destitute as a direct result of her husband and father’s deaths…

Nora, on the other hand, experiences Wollstonecraft’s gilded cage: she is continually condescended to by her narcissistic husband, who confines her to the domestic sphere.

Caribousmom discusses the relationship between economic independence and gender parity:

Money is one means by which power is obtained – and in Ibsen’s play, that idea becomes central. Nora appears to be completely under the control of her husband who stands to become very wealthy when he is promoted to a top position in a bank. Ibsen allows Nora to regain some of her autonomy through her ruse to obtain a loan – and then further empowers her by giving her the means to pay back the money. By putting money into Nora’s hands, Ibsen turns the table on tradition and allows a woman character to enjoy her own independence. In 1879, this would be a revolutionary idea.

Emily was bothered by Nora’s character, but was also felt caring towards her:

Nora and I do not have much in common.  She is not a character I feel particularly drawn to, and honestly, for most of the play she annoyed the snot out of me.  But when she tells Torvald that she has a sacred duty to herself, when she says, “I think that before all else I am a human being just as you are, or at least I will try to become one,” I saw myself opening my door for her, providing her with a haven for as long as she needed it.  I don’t know if that’s just my port-in-a-storm side coming out – that part of me that insists on being a source of stability and comfort for people who need it – or whether, in resolving to become the person she truly is, I finally connected with her.  I suppose the reason doesn’t really matter.  Either way, my door is open, Nora.

Iris notes that Torvald is conditioned and constrained by his role as husband/breadwinner, too:

The characterisation of the treatment of Nora as a doll in a doll’s house is so spot on for everything that went on in the play. And that last line shows how Torvald is trapped as well. Can we really agree with Nora that it is all Torvald’s fault? I think what Ibsen was trying to say was that it is society’s conditioning that was/is at fault.

Cathy Geagen, unrocked by the ending of the play, looks at the the foreshadowing that occurs with what seems a trained analytic eye:

Of the most fundamental importance to A Doll’s House are the onstage movements of the characters. In the body language of the Helmers we see the truth of their marriage played out while the Helmers pay lip service to happy families. The pathetically cutsie first interplay between the couple shows the male breadwinner, pen in hand, lecturing his picture perfect wife on the virtues of household economy. While the doll plays the role of a “little bird” with her speeches, the audience can see the first earmarks of the farcical element of her role.

ChasingBawa also wrote about the way in which Ibsen built tension slowly throughout the play and how she was both glad and suprised to see Nora realize her potential:

In the introduction to the Oxford World Classics edition, Ibsen is quoted as saying in his notes

A woman cannot be herself in contemporary society; it is an exclusively male society with laws drafted by men, and with counsel and judges who judge feminine conduct from the male point of view.

It seems that for a woman, there can be no win-win situation and that is what Ibsen was trying to address. I was actually rather worried that Nora would consider taking her own life and dreaded finishing the play but was pleasantly surprised when she showed her strength and finally awakened to who she really was. I’m sure she knew all along who she was, but I feel that she played along to what was expected of her and in doing so constructed her own prison.

Dragonflyy419 locates the power of the play in the last act:

The most important discussions in this book come from the revelations in the last act.  Nora comes to the realization that her marital relationships have been like those with her father, where she is not attempting to be her own person, but what others dictate her to be.  I believe this act is where the true aspects of the play having a feminist value comes in as well as where it would have shocked contemporary audiences.

Christina wondered about the moral, political, and social ramifications of Nora’s renunciation of motherhood:

Speaking of separation, this play led me to think about how divorce and custody have evolved to be more woman-friendly. Nora chooses to actively leave her family. In doing so she automatically forfeits her children and any monetary help from Torvald. Nora doesn’t lament these losses, since she wants to make a clean break and discover herself on her own. But the societal principle here is so obviously wrong: a woman must stay with her husband if she wants to be with her children, and if she wants to have any household income to speak of. The tables have turned now, at least in the U.S. I’m no expert on the subject, but I believe the default arrangement is for the mother to have primary custody of her children after a divorce, and we all know about alimony and child support. Did early feminist literature like A Doll’s House contribute to this change? Social change usually has to happen before legal change, right?

Dangermom is also highly critical of Ibsen/Nora’s dismissal of the children:

I suppose it’s partly that the children are not major characters in the play, which is really about the relationship between Nora and Torvald, but Ibsen easily dismisses the children as if they are of no importance, and this bothers me quite a lot. Nora’s comment that she is of no good to her children is a simple lie, not the clear-eyed assessment of her own incompetence that Ibsen seems to want it to be. Her children don’t care that she has never learned to be an adult, and would probably prefer that she work on it without leaving them. Had Ibsen never seen the effects of parental abandonment, or was he just trying to keep the children out of the issue?

Nymeth was lucky enough to attend a production of the play, and here’s what she got from the experience:

The production of A Doll’s House I went to see last week was all-around very impressive: the acting, costumes and stage effects were all perfect; and not only did it bring the play to life, but it made me notice more details, as I imagine a re-read would. For example, it wasn’t until I saw this production that I realised that Christine Linde and Krogstad’s relationship provides an alternate model to Nora and Torvald’s. Krogstad’s sense of masculinity seems to be slightly different from Torvald’s – different enough for the thought of his wife working being acceptable for him. It is because of this that he and Christine come to an understanding, and begin what seems to be a beneficial relationship for them both.

Phillip wrote about how he responded to the characters from a contemporary perspective:

At the end when she leaves Torvald to learn to stand on her own feet, the thought occurred to me that that’s almost expected these days in Western society. While many of the issues I read about Vindication of the Rights of Woman are still issues today, this one rarely is.

But Amy finds it still completely relevant:

In this respect, how Nora feels she has to put herself first and understand herself before she can focus on being a wife and mother, the play would still be shocking today to many. As the introduction points out, still a concern and still shocking, and something we still have to work toward achieving – a place where it isn’t ‘selfish’ for a wife and mother want time to herself.

If I’ve missed yours, please link it in the comments! Stay tuned for next month’s selection, Herland, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman hosted by Iris. In the meantime, I’ll try to catch up on the comments you’ve left about A Doll’s House. Happy reading, everyone!

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12 responses to “Wrap Up: A Doll’s House

  1. A Slice of Hope March 31, 2011 at 7:21 am

    Hey there, just a little thing but could you correct my name in this post? It should be Cathy Geagan, not Eagen. Thanks!

  2. sakura March 31, 2011 at 10:14 am

    Nice wrap-up, Emily Jane. And can I just say that your introduction made it much easier for me to go into reading the play after having heard so much about it (it can be intimidating reading a well-known and well-loved classic!)

  3. dragonflyy419 March 31, 2011 at 8:31 pm

    I wrote a blog post on this too … I left my link in the Introduction post but I guess I’ll leave it here too … http://dragonflyy419.wordpress.com/2011/03/05/remarks-on-a-dolls-house-by-henrik-ibsen/

  4. EL Fay April 1, 2011 at 1:50 am

    A bit late, but here is mine. I’m afraid this one didn’t do much for me – it’s one of those plays that needs to be seen rather than read.

  5. EL Fay April 1, 2011 at 1:30 pm

    A bit late in the day but here is my post.

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