A Doll’s House Controversy

When A Doll’s House first opened on the public stage, it was a very controversial act. The play sparked feminist debate, while also having negative effects on other women. Some reacted positively while others negatively, but it set the world of women’s rights ablaze. And yet, having read this playthrough for my AP Lit class, I understand why A Doll’s House was written and what message Henrik Ibsen wanted to send to his readers.

First off, what is A Doll’s House about? The play tells the story of Nora Helmer who is being taunted by Torvald about her spending habits, which are ruining her family. At first she laughs it off until he acts as if he is dying because they cannot afford medicine. This makes Nora realize that she has always done what he asked without question because he could be so loving when things were going well. However, now that their economic status is decreasing due to Nora’s spending habits, he no longer cares about her well-being.

This leads Nora to realize that she has never made a decision for herself. She has always done what Torvald told her to do without thinking where his plans left her at the end of the day. For example, when they got married he said it would be important for them not to have any children so they could enjoy their lives together as husband and wife before becoming mothers. They both agreed on this decision but later regretted it because during this time Torvald’s malady began to show signs of degeneration which now torments him constantly and puts a huge strain on their marriage (Ibsen).

After realizing that she can’t stand living life like a doll anymore, she leaves the house with her savings and tells Torvald that she is going to “save him” by paying his debts. Then, her friend Christine appears at the door looking for shelter because someone had given Nora’s name as a reference and so she has nowhere else to turn.

When they return home Torvald tries to force Nora back but she refuses and instead demands money from him so that he can’t follow them (Ibsen). This leads to an argument where Nora grows angry and demands her freedom while also trying to convince Torvald that he does not need her anymore than she needs him, saying:

“‘Do you know what our marriage has meant for me? I’ve been at your beck and call day and night. I’ve been your doll-wife, just as at home I was papa’s doll-child. At any moment you could command me to do this or that, and if I didn’t obey at once, there was always the riding whip.'”(Ibsen)

Then she tells him about how he said it would be important for them not to have any children so they could enjoy their lives together before becoming mothers. She uses this argument in saying that Christine is a living example of why Torvald does not need her anymore than she needs him. Nora also argues that his sickness has made him dependent upon her and she won’t allow herself to be treated like a slave (Ibsen).

Later on Torvald realizes his mistake and the power Nora holds over him as he begs for her to return. In saying this, he admits that she is much more capable than him in decision making and actions:

“‘I have been a bad husband to you. You have been a splendid wife. I appreciate it, I tell you frankly; I would rather see you now than ever before–or after either, for that matter.'”(Ibsens)

So though A Dolls House may appear to be about the concept of women’s liberation or feminism, it is actually about becoming your own person by living life with your own mind instead of someone else’s. 

I think that most people who read this play, or saw the movie expected her to go back and apologize to Torvald, but she just left. I know that Nora wanted better for herself and for her kids, but this was not the best way to do it. There is a reason why we have divorce now; how can you really leave your spouse without talking about it with them first? Women would never be taken seriously if things like this were done by them all of the time.

If I had come home and found my family gone because my wife “couldn’t handle being with me anymore”, there is no telling how mad I would be; probably as mad as Torvald was with Nora. Yes he may have treated Nora badly, but he is still her spouse. She should have talked to him before leaving, not be planning on never seeing any of them again.

So instead of being a strong woman for once, she is just going to run back home to her father. Torvald was not the best husband in the world, but he gave Nora everything. On top of that they were living as two dolls playing house with each other. In many ways Torvald does love his wife, but he would never let her know because he doesn’t want to lose control over her. If she knew how much he loved her it might be harder for him to keep control and if there is one thing Torvald loves more then anything its having control.

Another way this story has a fairy like feel is that both characters are very sheltered and do not know what really goes on in the outside world. Nora has been living in this dollhouse, and Torvald has been so wrapped up with his work and his ego that he too does not know what happens outside the four walls of their home. But because they are both so sheltered it is easier for them to live in this fantasy world with each other where everything is perfect.

Leave a Comment