In reading Ibsen’s A Doll’s House today, one may find it hard to imagine how daring it seemed at the time it was written one hundred years ago. Its theme, the emancipation of a woman, makes it seem almost contemporary. In Act I, there are many clues that hint at the kind of marriage Nora and Torvald have. It seems that Nora is a doll controlled by Torvald. She relies on him for everything, from movements to thoughts, much like a puppet who is dependent on its puppet master for all of its actions. The most obvious example of Torvald’s physical control over Nora is his reteaching her the tarantella.
Nora pretends that she needs Torvald to teach her every move in order to relearn the dance. The reader knows this is an act, and it shows her submissiveness to Torvald. After he teaches her the dance, he proclaims “When I saw you turn and sway in the tarantella–my blood was pounding till I couldn’t stand it” showing how he is more interested in Nora physically than emotionally. When Nora responds by saying “Go away, Torvald! Leave me alone. I don’t want all this”, Torvald asks “Aren’t I your husband? “. By saying this, he is implying that one of Nora’s duties as his wife is to physically pleasure him at his command.
Torvald also does not trust Nora with money, which exemplifies Torvald’s treating Nora as a child. On the rare occasion when Torvald gives Nora some money, he is concerned that she will waste it on candy and pastry; in modern times, this would be comparable to Macauly Culkin being given money, then buying things that “would rot his mind and his body” in the movie Home Alone. Nora’s duties, in general, are restricted to caring for the children, doing housework, and working on her needlepoint. A problem with her responsibilities is that her most important obligation is to please Torvald, making her role similar to that of a slave.
Many of Ibsen’s works are problem plays in which he leaves the conclusion up to the reader. The problem in A Doll’s House lies not only with Torvald, but with the entire Victorian society. Females were confined in every way imaginable. When Torvald does not immediately offer to help Nora after Krogstad threatens to expose her, Nora realizes that there is a problem. By waiting until after he discovers that his social status will suffer no harm, Torvald reveals his true feelings which put appearance, both social and physical, ahead of the wife whom he says he loves. This revelation is what prompts Nora to walk out on Torvald.
When Torvald tries to reconcile with Nora, she explains to him how she had been treated like a child all her life; her father had treated her much the same way Torvald does. Both male superiority figures not only denied her the right to think and act the way she wished, but limited her happiness. Nora describes her feelings as “always merry, never happy. ” When Nora finally slams the door and leaves, she is not only slamming it on Torvald, but also on everything else that has happened in her past which curtailed her growth into a mature woman. In today’s society, many women are in a situation similar to Nora’s.
Although many people have accepted women as being equal, there are still people in modern America who are doing their best to suppress the feminist revolution. People ranging from conservative radio-show hosts who complain about “flaming femi-nazis,” to women who use their “feminine charm” to accomplish what they want are what is holding the female gender back. Both of these mindsets are expressed in A Doll’s House. Torvald is an example of today’s stereotypical man, who is only interested in his appearance and the amount of control he has over a person, and does not care about the feelings of others.
Nora, on the other hand, is a typical example of the woman who plays to a man’s desires. She makes Torvald think he is much smarter and stronger than he actually is. However, when Nora slams the door, and Torvald is no longer exposed to her manipulative nature, he realizes what true love and equality are, and that they cannot be achieved with people like Nora and himself together. If everyone in the modern world were to view males and females as completely equal, and if neither men nor women used the power that society gives them based on their sex, then, and only then, could true equality exist in our world.