When A Doll’s House debuted in 1879, some people were shocked. A woman leaving her husband? A young woman stealing money from her father to help her husband? A woman rejecting children, domestic bliss, and a life of servitude? What kind of lady was Nora Helmer? A bit of social context is necessary.
At the time A Doll’s House debuted, women were thought of as being emotionally sensitive and delicate. A woman was expected to be pious, pure, polite, silent in the presence of men, and a good wife and mother inside the home. In A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen, Nora is none of these things.
Ibsen himself said A Doll’s House was a plea for women’s rights. However, he also wrote it as a criticism of the hypocrisy of his age. A Doll’s House leaves readers to decide which took precedence: a plea or a criticism. A Doll’s House is a wonderful play, and its story has been retold many times.
The first adaptation of A Doll’s House to film was a silent movie in 1909, but it doesn’t seem to have been preserved. A 1912 version is lost except for one sequence that still exists. The first known A Doll’s House adaptation that we can see today is a 1925 American silent version starring Constance Talmadge and Percy Marmont.
The next A Doll’s House adaptation to survive is a 1941 version starring Katharine Hepburn. A bit later came the 1959 remake A Woman Rebels with Olivia de Havilland, which was followed by the 1973 A Doll’s House Part 2 starring Jane Fonda and David Warner.
Finally, there was Nora in 1995, starring Pauline Collins and Anthony Hopkins. A Doll’s House may be a 159-year-old play, but it remains well worth watching.
A Doll’s House has been called “Ibsen’s most perfect play” (Billington 34). The main character in A Doll’s House, Nora Helmer, has often been seen through different lenses. Some have viewed her as an innocent who learns how corrupted she really is, while others think that she was never truly innocent but rather just ignorant. This paper will explore the character of Nora Helmer and discuss how she functions in A Doll’s House. Nora serves many purposes throughout A Doll’s House.
She is the main character of the play, she deceives her husband at the start of the play, she serves as a mother figure to her children by demonstrating how women are supposed to act in society, she is submissive and dependent on men for money, and she has no clue of what her husband does with all their money. A Doll’s House can be seen as Henrik Ibsen’s criticism of 19 th century bourgeois marriage. A Doll’s House challenges many aspects of society during its time including marriage conventions and societal views on gender roles.
A Doll’s House begins with Nora Helmer shutting herself into a room away from everyone else. It turns out that this is not an uncommon occurrence for Nora because it seems like “she has shut herself up every evening for the past ten years” (Ibsen 2). A few days later, Nora goes to Helmer with the idea of having her own bank account. A Doll’s House is viewed as a play that was ahead of its time because it challenged many issues that would not be brought up in most plays at the time.
For example, A Doll’s House opened women’s rights to marriage and societal views on gender roles that were seldom discussed openly before then. Henrik Ibsen wrote A Doll’s House with Nora in mind for his protagonist so he could explore some of the ideas he had about women and this is evident throughout A Doll’s House. One scholar argues “Nora will have begun to learn what being a woman in a society that devalues her means, but she will have learned it too late to save herself from being merely a doll” (Hamilton 9).
A Doll’s House was shocking because women were expected to be devoted and submissive throughout their marriage. A Doll’s House challenges these values by leaving Nora feeling trapped in her own home just like a doll is trapped behind its glass case or inside of a toy chest. A Doll’s House begins with Nora locking herself away from the world where “she could play with her imaginary world” (Ibsen 2). In A Doll’s House, Nora often retreats into this self-made fantasy land because there she is cared for and loved while having control over the situation.
A Doll’s House doesn’t make Nora out to be a bad person though because it is clear that A Doll’s House does not intend for the audience to condemn Nora. A Doll’s House depicts Nora as someone who loves her family dearly and she has the best of intentions. A Doll’s House shows how Nora isn’t able to function in society without somebody else taking care of them for her. A Doll’s House takes place during the 1800s, which was known as a time it was common for women to neglect their children while they took care of their husbands (Hamilton 12).
A Doll’s House explores this idea by showing how Nora does nothing on her own throughout A Doll’s House but then she takes on all responsibilities when Torvald comes home. A Doll’s House shows how Nora feels trapped inside her own home by having the responsibility of taking care of everything around her. A Doll’s House does not condemn Nora for being submissive because A Doll’s House simply presents this fact about Nora without judgment.
A Doll’s House shows how Nora views herself, which is innocent and pure, but A Doll’s House also shows how society views her as nothing more than a doll to place on a shelf. A Doll’s House also condemns societal values that women are expected to be submissive by demonstrating that Nora does not have any concept of what it means to be independent. A Doll’s House repeatedly demonstrates this throughout A Doll’s House. For example, Ayn Rand claims “Nora’s husband is a progressive man, he urges her to be active and productive” (Rand qtd. n Hamilton 9).
A Doll’s House shows how Nora doesn’t even know what it means to be independent because A Doll’s House demonstrates that A Doll’s House cannot function without Torvald taking care of everything for her. A Doll’s House shows how dependent Nora is on Torvald by showing A Doll’s House can’t move past breakfast without his say-so. A Doll’s House takes place during the 1800s which was a time when women were expected to stay home and take care of their children while their husbands went off to work or run errands for them (Hamilton 12).