A Year of Feminist Classics

Because they're better together :)

A Doll’s House: Discussion Questions

Hello again, everyone! I know that this was a short text, and that many of you have already written up your thoughts on the play, perhaps long ago (if you haven’t yet, don’t fret: there’s plenty of time before I collect all the links to write-ups and post them at the end of the month). But I, for one, have not yet stopped thinking about it and have a few questions I’ve been working on.

1. The first comes by way of Lauren of Underneath a Book. In comments on my introduction post, she voiced concern about the fact that the character Nora and her experiences were largely based on a woman whom Ibsen knew in real life and the troubles she’d had in her marriage; a woman who was not particularly pleased to have her story appropriated in this way for public consumption. What are the politics of fictionalizing an individual’s story to make a universal point?

2. Throughout most of the play, Torvald treats Nora, his wife, like an overgrown child or a care-free pet, and she does kind of act like one. But by the end we realize that Nora is not the shallow, vapid creature she appears at first to be; she has been, at least in part, consciously playing a role. Why? Has it been to her benefit or her loss?

3. Nora expects that when her husband finds out that she has broken the law to save his life, he will take credit for her actions and she will commit suicide to save his reputation. He surprises her by refusing to do so. Why doesn’t he? What is the relationship between his refusal and the role that he plays in their marriage?

4. Torvald tells Nora, in the end, that “I’d gladly work for you day and night, Nora–go through suffering and want, if need be–but one doesn’t sacrifice one’s honor for love’s sake.” Nora responds by saying that “Millions of women have done so.” This line gave me chills. It was this, above everything else in the play, that resonated with me and felt still too relevant today. What resonated with you?

Please feel free to answer one or all the questions, or to contribute your own!

9 responses to “A Doll’s House: Discussion Questions

  1. Wendy March 18, 2011 at 4:30 pm

    Great questions!

    1. What are the politics of fictionalizing an individual’s story to make a universal point I think this question will always be one that writers have to struggle with – most fiction writers do not write in a vacuum…they write from experience. Historical fiction writers almost always use actual individuals’ stories in writing their books, or someone in history or has inspired them. I guess the question would be for me, how obvious would it be to readers (or viewers of the play) to recognize the woman on whom the play was based? Our lives are all about the stories – even non-writers tell stories; we use them to make points, to entertain, to underscore a larger theme or theory…they are what make us human. So, I don’t see a problem with what Ibsen did, really!

    2. Nora is not the shallow, vapid creature she appears at first to be; she has been, at least in part, consciously playing a role. Why? Has it been to her benefit or her loss? Yes, she was playing a role – and sadly, many many women of that time did play roles they were expected to play – the dutiful wife, the stupid woman who could not function without the guidance of a man, the feminine lightweight who was weak or helpless. Women who did not play those roles were viewed poorly – many could not expect to snag a husband which in those days was almost a necessity for survival. Women were so dependent on men that to step outside their roles was a strong act of bravery (which is why I loved that Nora does just that at the end). I think Nora uses her womanly wiles (for lack of a better world) to get what she needs – but I think in doing so, she sacrifices who she is as an individual. In the end, she decides her individuality and dignity are more important than material gain.

    3. What resonated with you? I agree with you – that one line about the fact that women have been sacrificing their honor for love is the major theme of the book – and it resonated with me also. I know that some critics have argued this is not a feminist play, but I do think it is because Ibsen elevates women above the stereotypes in this play – he shows that Nora is not just the airhead female, but someone with grit and resourcefulness…and finally, someone who will no longer subjugate who she is for the sake of a man. Pretty heady stuff!!

    • Annie March 21, 2011 at 5:44 pm

      I agree really with you ! I think that this situation was the same for my mother (she is now 83 years old).
      I ask me if now, thinks are totally different ? We all know “girly” little girl and young women too. My young niece, aged 5, explains me she couldn’t be a fire-man (in French we have only a word “pompier” for fire-man or woman) because she was a girl (and agree with that) !

  2. Nymeth March 19, 2011 at 8:49 am

    I mostly agree with Wendy about question number one. I do think that making an individual’s story recognisable is problematic – take the recent controversy about The Help. I guess sensitivity is the key. And of course, there’s the whole issue of an individual in a privileged position (such as Ibsen as a Victorian man) speaking FOR an oppressed/voiceless group. We see the same today when it comes to race, the developed versus the developing world, gender identity and sexual orientation, etc., and I do think those questions are all worth considering. I don’t want to adopt too prohibitive an approach and say I dislike the idea of writers ever writing about groups they don’t belong to or that are less powerful than they are, but I also don’t want to live in a world where those groups aren’t allowed to tell their own stories.

    I’ll muse on the other questions and come back later!

  3. Trisha March 19, 2011 at 5:26 pm

    I answered two of the questions in my review of the play here.

    As for the second question, I found Nora’s performance seriously detrimental. She was complicit in her own subordination, unhappy in her life, and ultimately her performance left her with very few choices in the end.

  4. SilverSeason March 20, 2011 at 2:18 pm

    Both Nora and Torvald are flawed characters (and so are the rest of us, Dear Reader) but the essential difference between them is that Nora recognizes it and Torvald does not.

    What resonated for me throughout the play was the assumption — initially shared by both Nora and Torvald — that he was the person, the standard, and she was the appendage. She played to up that quite deliberately as the best way to survive. By supporting him she also supported herself. The turning point came when she recognized that she had her own moral and psychological claims, whether he recognized them or not.

  5. Christina March 20, 2011 at 8:03 pm

    I really don’t have any answers, but I’m enjoying pondering the questions. 🙂 And I’m learning more every time I read a review or discussion of this play. So thank you all for providing insight! Speaking of insight, can anyone explain Dr. Rank’s purpose? He seemed superfluous to me, but maybe I’m missing something.

  6. Annie March 21, 2011 at 5:31 pm

    I just posted my second review about “A doll’s house”. I’m sorry not to be able to write better in english, but I enjoy to read your posts- It’s far more easy for me to read than to write !- This experience is really a rich one !

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