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Henrik ibsen s a doll s house struggles

So in reading responses to and interpretations of this play, one frequently comes across statements like the following: Patriarchy's socialization of women into servicing creatures is the major accusation in Nora's painful account to Torvald of how first her father, and then he, used her for their amusement.

Excluded from meaning anything, Nora has never been subject, only object. Furthermore, if we go to see a production of this play at least among English-speaking theatre companies, the chances are we will see something based more or less on this interpretative line: The sympathies will almost certainly be distributed so that our hearts are with Nora, however much we might carry some reservations about her leaving her children.

Now, this construction certainly arises from what is in the play, and I don't wish to dismiss it out of hand. However, today I would like to raise some serious question about or qualifications to it. It is, by contrast, a tragedy, and Nora has for me far more in common with, say, Oedipus or Antigone than she has with Major Barbara or the Goodbye Girl.

  • So there is no common ground in their understanding of the issue;
  • There is, I would urge, no simple answer to this question;
  • Her immediate responses invite us to ponder an obvious question;
  • Patriarchy's socialization of women into servicing creatures is the major accusation in Nora's painful account to Torvald of how first her father, and then he, used her for their amusement;
  • She flouted society's laws, worked hard, and is now about to reap the success of that action by handing over the final payment.

Her exit, thus, is much more a self-destructive assertion of her uncompromising and powerful ego, a necessary expression of her Romantic quest for freedom, than it is an intelligently earned insight into how best she can learn to function as an individual amid a conforming and oppressive society. My aim here is, as I say, to challenge any response to the play which might too quickly and complacently file it in an rubric labeled orthodox feminism fiction and move on to something else.

In making my case, I shall move from things about which we can agree quite easily towards more complex and contentious issues. For there seems to be widespread agreement that Ibsen's portrayal of that society emphasizes how middle-class life here is limiting, brutal, and unforgiving. The society appears affluent and agreeable enough for those who can operate in it successfully.

The Helmers have a very nice home and are looking forward to even more commodious living once Torvald gets his appointment. Many of the most cherished ideals of middle-class life, then and now, are clearly on display. But we learn that such benefits come at a price: This society values money, contracts, and conventional respectability over anything else and has no room for people who do not fit comfortably into its expectations.

Such people, the outsiders, live desperate lives. This aspect comes out most obviously in Mrs. Linde and Krogstad, not merely in their stories but, more importantly, in their appearance.

The savagery they have to endure on the outskirts of society manifests itself also in their desperate desire to get back into the ranks of accepted middle-class citizens. The cruelty of that society is not simply economic, although that is the most obvious manifestation of what happens to outsiders, as we learn through Krogstad's situation.

Kristine's experience here is important because when we first meet her she has what Nora chooses at the end of the play--independence from any immediate social responsibility--and she finds in it no satisfying living purpose.

The use of animal imagery in henrik ibsens the doll house

She wants to get back into the society. Her experience on the fringes has taught her that she must, if possible, live her life in society more about this point later. In this respect, an important element in this play may well be the weather. Outside the warmth of the house, the world is bitterly cold, full of snow something film versions of this play can and have brought out more emphatically than stage productions.

There is here no consoling sense that nature offers any alternative to society: The other eloquent testimony to what this society adds up to is the figure of Dr. He is, by any external measure of things, very successful, rich and well respected. He is a doctor, a man who heals. Rank is dying from the inside, from syphilis, a disease which henrik ibsen s a doll s house struggles not affect his well-groomed, prosperous, and respectable exterior but which eats away at his vital organs.

He acquired this progressively debilitating and ultimately fatal disease, not from any wrong doing on his part, but from his father as his inheritance, just as other citizens have acquired their way of living and judging others from their past from their fathers. Rank whose name in English means, interestingly enough, both a high status and a foul smell we have encapsulated the destructive ironies at the heart of this middle-class ethic, presented to us as an inherited, incurable, fatal infection.

The sickness in this play is incurable, endemic, and traditional. It is a fatal condition imposed upon the community.

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He seems to like his job and, so far as we can tell, he has earned his success. We need to bear this in mind, because it is all too easy to dismiss Torvald as a fool, some unworthy adolescent foisted on Nora by circumstance.

All this endorses the notion that he is by no means henrik ibsen s a doll s house struggles. Torvald's problem if that is the right word is that his intelligence is entirely determined by and limited to his awareness of the social rules around him.

We get no sense until the very end that he has any vital inner life of which he is aware: His reasons for wanting Krogstad gone are clear enough evidence of this.

Past connections with the man or even the man's character and abilities are irrelevant to say nothing of any sympathy with his situation: We should not underestimate the strength of Torvald's feelings here--his identity, how he thinks of himself, is so bound up with what people will think of him in relation to what is expected that nothing else matters.

Hence, Torvald thinks to the extent he thinks at all in simplistic formulas. His moral code is entirely derived from society's expectations, and we get no sense that he is in any way a reflective man, wondering about any problems which might arise from such a simplistic approach to life.

The rules matter to him more than the the people whom they hurt, and for Torvald the business of life is a matter of following those rules scrupulously, regarding those who break them for whatever reason as immoral and dangerous.

In a A Doll's House try to state the theme of the play. Does it involve women's rights?

For these reasons, Torvald has no sympathetic understanding of or interest in people other than in their social context. For example, he treats Mrs. Hence, she is hardly worth noticing. Rank does not include any complex and understanding sympathy for what that man is going through although we learn that they were best friends as children.

Given this aspect of Torvald's character it seems clear that Torvald has an acute sensitivity to what society requires and little sensitivity to anything else to suggest that he is a totally insensitive man is, I think, to miss an important point.

  1. For there seems to be widespread agreement that Ibsen's portrayal of that society emphasizes how middle-class life here is limiting, brutal, and unforgiving.
  2. So, in effect, Nora has, in his eyes, destroyed him. And his motives here register as deeply felt feelings from within, not a concern for keeping up appearances.
  3. What I mean by that phrase is that at the heart of great characters is a mystery, an ambiguity, something that finally eludes rational interpretation.
  4. The cruelty of that society is not simply economic, although that is the most obvious manifestation of what happens to outsiders, as we learn through Krogstad's situation.
  5. Let me, in closing, anticipate one serious objection to the interpretative line I have suggested in this lecture, an objection which is not uncommon among those who sometimes find a tragic view of life suspiciously like an ideological defense of an oppressive status quo. Her exit, thus, is much more a self-destructive assertion of her uncompromising and powerful ego, a necessary expression of her Romantic quest for freedom, than it is an intelligently earned insight into how best she can learn to function as an individual amid a conforming and oppressive society.

Presumably he has always been like this, and society has rewarded him handsomely for that approach to life: More than that, he appears incapable of even imagining another dimension to life. Torvald is a thoroughly conventional man. Torvald has thus little-to-no sense of personal independence.

It might also mean that he is as many have argued as much a victim of this society as anyone else a doll perhaps. He may be reaping the rewards this society has to offer, but the price is extremely high. At the same time, it also makes him correct in a good deal of what he says. Torvald is a man who understands how to function in society, and he is well aware of what happens to anyone who breaks the rules.

The truly complex question in relation to Torvald concerns the nature of his feelings for Nora. We can see clearly enough that an important component in these feelings is the social satisfaction he derives from having a beautiful young wife all to himself, someone he can parade around in front of other men as his trophy, arousing their jealously when he takes her away from the party to gratify the sexual stimulation he has gained by her public dance.

All this is clear enough. The important question, however, is whether there is any more to his feelings than that. We may like to imagine that excessively conventional social men cannot possibly be anything other than wimps in bed, but if experience is any guide that is surely an unjustified generalization.

And there is no doubt that Torvald feels a strong sexual attraction for Nora something which has induced a few directors to include the marriage bed in the scenery. Why should this matter? Well, it does to this extent: If, however, there is a sense that the Helmers are sexually passionate with each other and derive great mutual satisfaction from their sexual natures within their marriage, the dynamics of Nora's transformation acquire a significantly different texture.

Whatever is forcing her to leave, sexual oppression is not a part of it. In fact, she may well be turning her back on her sexuality in her quest for independence. My sense is that Ibsen goes out of his way to bring out Torvald's sexual nature in his feelings for Nora and gives every indication that those feelings are reciprocated.

For all her apparent childishness, Nora is a sexual creature who radiates and uses sexual power over Torvald in the dancing and over Dr. Rank in that strange business with the silk stockings.

It may well be that the apparent childishness is itself a sexual ploy, part of the erotic richness in the relationship. There is even a sense that Torvald recognizes what she is doing in this way and welcomes it as part of the sexual roles they play as does Nora.

Obviously, there is more to be said about this relationship. And no matter what one says about her, there will be counter-arguments, rival interpretations, as there are with all great dramatic characters who are always, in a sense, underdetermined.

What I mean by that phrase is that at the heart of great characters is a henrik ibsen s a doll s house struggles, an ambiguity, something that finally eludes rational interpretation.

henrik ibsen s a doll s house struggles We do what we can to make reasonable sense of their motives, but we can never be entirely successful and remain true to the character as presented to us, because, as one critic puts it in relation to Shakespearethe greatest dramatic characters have the "freedom of incongruity" Bayley 47and hence the power to evade the neat compartments we want to place them in. Part of my objection to what I have called above the common interpretation is that it denies this mystery.

It overdetermines Nora, seeing in her a character whose actions are fully and entirely comprehensible in the light of a modern ideology, making her, in effect, typical rather than extraordinary, unique.

After all, in a sense I am contending that Nora is a great dramatic character because she eludes final definition, any neat compartmentalization. So I propose to make some observations and suggestions about Nora, elements which arise from the text and which we have to take into account.

What these and other things I shall not be mentioning all add up to is the challenge facing us in our seminar discussions. This invites us to apply a metaphor to the play, to see what is going on in the Helmer household as somehow analogous to a child's game featuring an artificial life of dolls manipulated by the doll master or mistress.

The title invites us at once to wonder about the issue of power: Just who is in control here? But the opening scenes surely call this interpretation into question. For we see, in action, Nora controlling Torvald expertly.

He may adopt a conventionally controlling tone, what with the rules about money and macaroons, but Nora is the one who is getting her own way, eating macaroons and spending money and getting more as her wishes prompt the first thing we see her do is give the porter an over-generous tip.

  1. The indictment of her previous life, after all, may be more a justification for what she has decided to do now than a just assessment of what she and Torvald experienced together. In this respect, an important element in this play may well be the weather.
  2. Who is in charge of the script?
  3. In fact, we need to treat Nora's accusations with intelligent honesty. Rank, a long-term friendship based upon roles.
  4. How can one woman make so many unexpected transitions?

There may even be a sense that Torvald knows this: And the staging of the play strongly suggest that the living room in which the action takes place is Nora's realm. Much here will depend upon the stage setting, of course, but throughout the play Torvald seems much keener to move off into his study than to linger in that room.

And, even if Torvald is determined to stay in his study, when Nora wants him to appear, she knows exactly how to bring him out as that word "bought" on p. There is certainly no sense that Nora finds these labels unacceptable--at times although not here she uses them herself to get her way with Torvald.

But, one might be tempted to remark, all this is surely very demeaning. Yes, Nora may appear happy enough and getting her way, but she's playing a silly role, acting the child-wife when she is, in fact, a mature married woman and mother in her late twenties.

Yes, of course, she is playing a role, as is Torvald.