The role of women in family life and society has long been a controversial topic. The play A Doll House by Henrik Ibsen brings this controversial subject to light from a feministic point of view. The play is focused on a man named Torvald Helmer and his wife Nora. In general, Torvald is very diminishing towards his wife, saying she cannot possibly understand things like work, finances, and anything other than typical housewife tasks. However, a while ago Nora went behind her husband’s back and committed forgery in order to take out a loan to help Torvald when he was ill.
Nora tries to spare her husband’s pride y keeping this from him since he is supposed to be the provider for his wife and their children; however, between Torvald’s belittling treatment and Nora’s struggle with the pressure to be a perfect wife and mother, Nora plays a very sacrificial role in their family. Throughout the play A Doll House, Ibsen emphasizes feminism and gender justice for women through denigrating the role of the husband and father. First, the idea of feminism is portrayed by Ibsen in the role women play in family life and society, which is greatly impacted by the male roles.
In Act I, Torvald and Nora have a onversation about money. Torvald tells Nora if she would actually save the money he gives her and not spend it “for the house and for all sorts of foolish things”, she would not be such a spendthrift (Ibsen 787). Implying the purchases his wife values are silly and irrelevant. Throughout the conversation, the husband is also suggesting that his wife does not understand the value of money, and when she mentions they could always borrow money if needed, he responds with “Nora, Nora, how like a woman! (Ibsen 786). He despises the of idea being in debt to someone else because it is like a loss of freedom, and he s also indicating thinking like a woman is degrading and less knowledgeable than a man. However, he is unaware Nora secretly took out a forged loan to pay for traveling south when Torvald was sick. Nora tells her friend Kristine, “… with all his masculine pride-how painfully humiliating for him if he ever found out he was in debt to me. That would just ruin our relationship.
Our beautiful, happy home would never be the same” (Ibsen 794). A woman financially helping her husband us unacceptable, which restricts what women can and cannot do. Further into the conversation, Torvald proceeds to question Nora about whether or not she has had any macaroons today- she has had some even though he has asked her not to eat them because they are bad for her health-she replies, “You know I could never think of going against you” (Ibsen 788). It becomes clear early in the play that Nora is beneath Torvald in their relationship.
Additionally, according to Toril Moi-a award winning literary critic- Torvald’s control and Nora’s thoughtlessness work together to theatricalize both themselves and each other in various idealist scenarios of female sacrifice and male rescue (Moi 257), which is a prime example of eminism and unjust gender roles. Moving forward to Act II, Nora is begging her husband to rehire Krogstad-an old friend of her husband that committed a forgery crime and is also the man Nora secretly took out her loan from-so he doesn’t tell her husband about the loan and her forgery.
Torvald quickly becomes frustrated with Nora and says, “What if it’s rumored around now that the new bank manager was vetoed by his wife -” (Ibsen 813). This statement is indicating that it would be socially intolerable to have a man overruled by a woman, especially his own wife. Finally, when Nora is having a conversation with Dr. Rank, her husband’s current close friend, he confesses that he is in love with her. Nora responds to Dr. Rank, “There are some people that one loves most and other people that one would almost prefer being with” (Ibsen 818).
Meaning women do not always have a choice in who they have to love or marry, but sometimes it is just required they be with a person of convenience that can provide for them and they fit together in social status. All in all, the role women play in family life and society is inferior to men because of the little control they possess. The control is dominated by the male roles, which re portrayed in a condescending manner. Torvald further demonstrates his dominance by dehumanizing Nora and treating her like a child.
Next, Torvald often uses dehumanizing nicknames for Nora, and treats her like one of his children unable to survive without his guidance, which shows their gender unjust roles through the actions of the husband. The first evidence of this is in the first scene when Torvald calls out to Nora, “Is that my little lark twittering out there? ” (Ibsen 785). Then, he addresses her as his “little squirrel” (Ibsen 785), “little songbird” (Ibsen 805), or “secret arling” (Ibsen 831) multiple times throughout the play.
At one point, he even calls her “my richest treasure” (Ibsen 831). All being either dehumanizing or only of material value. The only time he addresses her by Nora is when she has done something he doesn’t agree with, and he is scolding or correcting her- much like the way parents often use the full name of their child when the child is in trouble. Also, referring to David B. Drake- whose work was published in a journal of literary criticism- another symbol of Nora’s childishness is the hide and seek ame she plays with her children in the middle of Act I (Drake 32).
Within the scene, Nora is hiding, and the children are unable to find her until they hear her giggling (Ibsen 800). This directly symbolizes the plot of the drama-that Nora is continuously having to hide from her husband to prevent him from discovering her lies (Drake 33). Therefore, Nora acts like a child by hiding from her husband who has all the control. Even more so, Nora begs Torvald to help her practice her dancing for the party they are attending. She exclaims, “I can’t get anywhere without your help… Take care of me Torvald, please” (Ibsen 823).
Nora is constantly asking her husband to help her decide what to wear (Ibsen 806) or who she should and should not talk to (Ibsen 805), like a child needing a parent’s guidance and reassurance. Finally, the most obvious evidence of Torvald treating his wife like a child is right before their final argument at the end of the play when Nora is preparing to leave him and their children. Torvald says he has forgiven her for her lies and crime and he “feels as if she belongs to him in two ways now: in a sense, he’s given her a fresh start into the world again, nd she has become his wife and his child as well” (Ibsen 837).
Then, when Nora does open up about how she feels, she tells him “From here on, there is no use in forbidding me to do anything” as she has prepared to leave, Torvald lashes out at her, calling her an “incompetent child” (Ibsen 839). This shows how not only does her husband treat her like a child, but he also views her as a child that is less than him, too. Therefore, by dehumanizing Nora’s character and treating her like a child, Ibsen successfully depreciates the masculinity of Torvald and the role of the husband and father.
Following, the role Torvald plays as a husband and father is disparaging, which brings attention to the feminist notion of the play. According to Paul Rosefeldt-a published college English professor-Ibsen is seen to launch an attack on patriarchy through the play, and rather than associating the father with male stability and authority, he associates it with abandonment, illness, absence, and corruption (Rosefeldt 84). The first evidence of Torvald as a failed father comes from Act I.
When his three children enter the room to play with Nora he immediately states, “this place is unbearable now for anyone ut mothers” (Ibsen 799), and quickly exits. He has little to do with his children because he sees it as a woman’s role, which is gender unjust. Later, in Act III, Torvald tells Nora, “Time and again I’ve wished you were in some terrible danger, just so I could stake my life and soul and everything for your sake” (Ibsen 834). However, only a few lines later after Torvald reads the letter from Krogstad telling him about his wife’s lies and crime, Torvald abandons that statement.
Instead he yells at Nora saying, “She who was my pride and joy-a hypocrite, a liar- worse, worse-a criminal! The shame! ” (Ibsen 835). Torvald proceeds telling Nora she has no morals, she has destroyed all his happiness and his whole future, and she must stay away from their children so she does not corrupt them. Torvald is inconsistent and does not stand by his wife as a husband should, but rather disowns her. When Nora admits, she has been considering suicide to free Torvald from her faults, rather than being alarmed with his wife killing herself, he only cares that the action will still not help him in anyway (lbsen 835).
Again, instead of displaying Torvald as a stable husband, he is erceived as rejecting and disclaiming toward his own wife even when she is willing to sacrifice her life to help him-symbolizing the sacrificial roles women play. As soon as the second letter from Krogstad was received saying that all has been forgiven and they are free, Torvald shouts, “I’m saved! ” (Ibsen 836). Nora asks, “And 1? “, and Torvald says, “You too, of course” (Ibsen 836). Torvald appears absent and corrupt by deserting his wife in her time of need, and when all is well again, he only cares that his reputation is saved-not his wife’s.
He is also dismissive of the act that his wife did what she did in order to save him. This is because a woman is judged by practical matter in a man’s law; a male society has laws written by men and with prosecutors and judges who judge women’s behavior from a male point of view (Rosefeldt 85). Men come first and with all the power lying in the corrupt hands of Torvald, it strengths the play’s support of feminism and that women deserve more equal power. The unjust roles of gender are consistently evident through the disapproving role of the husband and father, and his mistreatment of his wife.