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A push to freedom

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


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.


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