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A dolls house a push to freedom

A Doll's House: A Push to Freedom

Sometime after the publication of "A Doll's House", Henrik Ibsen spoke

at a meeting of the Norwegian Association for Women's Rights. He explained to

the group, "I must decline the honor of being said to have worked for the

Women's Rights movement. I am not even very sure what Women's Rights are. To

me it has been a question of human rights" ( ). "A Doll's House" is often

interpreted by readers, teachers, and critics alike as an attack on chauvinistic

behavior and a cry for the recognition of women's rights ( ). Instead its theme

is identical to several of his plays written around the same time period: the

characters willingly exist in a situation of untruth or inadequate truth which

conceals conflict and contradiction ( ). In "A Doll's House", Nora's

independent nature is in contradiction the tyrannical authority of Torvald.

This conflict is concealed by the way they both hide their true selves from

society, each other, and ultimately themselves. Just like Nora and Torvald,

every character in this play is trapped in a situation of unturth. In "Ghosts",

the play Ibsen wrote directly after "A Doll's House", the same conflict is the

basis of the play. Because Mrs. Alving concedes to her minister's ethical

bombardment about her responsibilities in marriage, she is forced to conceal the

truth about her late husband's behavior ( ). Like "A Doll's House", "Ghosts"

can be misinterpreted as simply an attack on the religious values of Ibsen's

society. While this is certainly an important aspect of the play, it is not,

however, Ibsen's main point. "A Doll's House" set a precedent for "Ghosts" and

the plays Ibsen would write in following years. It established a method he

would use to convey his views about individuality and the pursuit of social

freedom. The characters of "A Doll's House" display Henrik Ibsen's belief that

although people have a natural longing for freedom, they often do not act upon

this desire until a person or event forces them to do so.

Readers can be quick to point out that Nora's change was gradual and

marked by several incidents. A more critical look reveals these gradual changes

are actually not changes at all, but small revelations for the reader to see

Nora's true independent nature. These incidents also allow the reader to see

this nature has been tucked far under a facade of a happy and simple wife. In

the first act, she admits to Christine that she will "dance and dress up and

play the fool" to keep Torvald happy ( ). This was Ibsen's way of telling the

reader Nora had a hidden personality that was more serious and controlling. He

wants the reader to realize that Nora was not the fool she allows herself to be

seen as. Later in the same act, she exclaims to Dr. Rank and Christine she has

had "the most extraordinary longing to say: 'Bloody Hell!'" ( ). This longing

is undoubtedly symbolic of her longing to be out of the control of Torvald and

society. Despite her desire for freedom, Nora has, until the close of the story,

accepted the comfort and ease, as well as the restrictions, of Torvald's home

instead of facing the rigors that accompany independence. Ibsen wanted the

reader to grasp one thing in the first act: Nora was willing to exchange her

freedom for the easy life of the doll house.

Ibsen shows that it takes a dramatic event to cause a person to

reevaluate to what extent he can sacrifice his true human nature. For Nora,

this event comes in the form of her realization that Torvald values his own

social status above love ( ). It is important to understand Nora does not leave

Torvald because of the condescending attitude he has towards her. That was, in

her eyes, a small price to pay for the comfort and stability of his home. In

Bernard Shaw's essay on "A Doll's House", he expresses that the climax of the

play occurs when "the woman's eyes are opened; and instantly her doll's dress is

thrown off and her husband is left staring at her"( ). To the reader "it is

clear that Helmer is brought to his senses" when his household begins to fall

apart ( ). It is important that Shaw's grammar is not overlooked. The

statements "the woman's eyes are opened..." and "Helmer is brought..." both

indicate that the subject of the statement is not responsible for the action.

Rather, some other force pushes them both into their new realization. Shaw's

clever analysis directly adheres to Ibsen's view of a person's reluctant

approach to freedom.

Although Nora is the central character of the play, she is not the only

person to cross the turbulent thresh hold of freedom and bondage. Christine

Linde leaves the symbolic harshness of winter and enters the warmth of Nora's

place of captivity early in the first act ( ). Christine gives the reader an

initial impression of Nora's opposite. She is a pale, worn woman who is

completely independent. Her conversation with Nora reveals that Christine was

left poor and alone after her husband, for whom she did not care, passed away.

Christine had accepted marriage with her husband because she reasoned her

present situation left her no other option. She felt she had to take care of

her two brothers and bedridden mother. If she had not married this wealthy man,

she would have had her freedom, but it would have been a difficult struggle.

Instead, she surrendered her freedom for an easier life. Eight years later, the

death of her husband gave her enough of a jolt to set her back in control of her

own life.

Torvald is certainly not the hero of "A Doll's House", but he is not the

villain either ( ). He is just as trapped in the same facade of a happy house

as Nora. He feigns security and unrelenting support for his wife, but this mask

is quickly dropped when he finds himself in danger. The discovery of Krogsdad's

letter leads Torvald to believe his life and social position are on the brink of

destruction. Torvald spouts out ridiculous and stupid remarks as Nora's face

draws tighter and colder with each statement. Nora is freed. When Torvald

finishes babbling apologies and forgiveness after the second letter from Krogdad

arrives, Nora takes control of the conversation and control of her life.

Moments before Nora slams the door on her former life, Torvald's eyes are opened

( ). He pleads with Nora, "I have the strength to change", but it is already

too late ( ). It takes the departure of his wife before Torvald can awaken to

his shallow existence. The shake-up in Torvald's life ushers him across the

discordant threshold of freedom and bondage.

"A Doll's House" is the most socially influential of Ibsen's plays ( ).

It shocked the public into taking a much more serious look into Women's Rights.

"Ghosts" and "An Enemy of the People" caused equally large shock waves but

repercussions were not nearly as phenomenal. The three of these plays,

regardless of the extent their social impact, have each earned the title of

Classic. Each play is the result of the one written before it. In a letter to

Sophie Aldersparre, Ibsen explained, "After Nora Mrs. Alving had to come" ( ).

The same idea two years letter spawned "An Enemy of the People". The three

plays share the common idea of characters existing in situations of falsehood

until something causes them to reevaluate their existence. Instead of exploring

their personal freedom every moment of their lives, Ibsen's characters had their

eyes cast down on the path of least resistance. This is simply a more strict

version of Ibsen's primary theme in all his works: the importance of the

individual and the search for self-realization.

Works Cited

Brunsdale, Mitzi. "Herik Ibsen." Critical Survey of Drama. Ed. Frank N.

Magill. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Salem Press 1986. pg982.

Clurman, Harold. Ibsen. Macmillan, 1977, pg223. Rpt. in Twentieth-Century

Literary Criticism. Ed. Sharon K. Hall. Vol. 8. Detroit: Gale, 1982. pg154.

Shaw, Bernard. "A Doll's House Again." The Saturday Review, London, Vol. 83,

No. 2168, May 15, 1897: 539-541. Rpt. in Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism.

Ed. Sharon K. Hall. Vol. 8. Detroit: Gale, 1982. pg. 143.

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