Perception of Women During The Nineteenth-Century: “A Doll’s House” and “The Glass Menagerie” What is “Woman”? What could – indeed should she become? Such questions preoccupied an array of social actors during the nineteen-century and the turn of the twentieth-century throughout the modernizing world. Although “A Doll’s House” and “The Glass Menagerie” were written in different eras and about women of diverse cultures, both plays explored the way in which the role of women is depicted in a patriarchal society.
In each play, the authors explain the struggles and difficulties women faced in defining their own identities separate from that of a wife, and mother. Nora and Amanda’s identities were defined by the differences between desire, vision, and reality; therefore, the authors link the plays together not only with the woman protagonist (Nora), but also the progress that both women made to their present state.
Although womanhood may have been perceived by some writers as; a woman’s maternal capacities and associated qualities of love, care, and selflessness; I strongly believed that sexual double standard should be condemned, and women should be given the right to education, employment, and full citizenship. However, if women are expected to be wives and mothers of a new generation, they must first achieve a measure of equality as human beings. Women were brought up in the nineteenth-century with the belief that their ideal role in society is opposite to men.
The role bestowed onto women by society entails being a submissive homemaker who idolizes her husband and children. W were expected to be dutiful wives who kept the house impeccable neat, tends to the children well-being, and acts obsequiously to do everything possible to please her husband. They were expected to be cheerful, sweet, and pretty, like a dainty little doll- this was established in both plays. For instance, throughout the play “A Doll’s House” Nora was called squirrel, little lark, and skylark by Torvald and was expected to perform tricks for him and make him happy.
Your squirrel will run around and do all her tricks for you… ” Torvald responded that it was her duty anyway, “Well my skylark does it anyhow” (Ibsen 887)). Norma admitted to Torvald that throughout their marriage, she has never been happy with the role’s society placed on her as a woman. “No I have never really been happy… just cheerful, … our home’s been nothing but a play room. I have been your doll-wife, the same way that I was papa’s doll-child; the children have been my doll” (Ibsen 913)).
Amanda told Laura “Resume your seat, little sister – I want you to be fresh and pretty – for gentlemen callers” (Williams 923). Women should not feel like they have to be isolated from the rest of the world with chores and children all day. Society’s concept of an ideal woman is to be pretty, cheerful, have no opinions of her own and respond only to the demands of her husband. Critics such as Paul Murphy aim to show how women in Irish society were faced with the impossible task of fulfilling the idealized role as woman, wife and mother.
He stated that the problem which women faces were that the family was rigidly defined and patriarchal (Murphy). However, Ibsen and Williams through their plays demonstrates their concerns that women have the right to develop their own individuality; this was revealed through the story, when Nora decided to leave her home and children behind. “Then I have better try to get me some sense, Torvald. I have other duties just as sacred; duties of myself” (Ibsen 914).
Amanda, on the other hand, in “The Glass Menagerie” encourages her daughter, Laura, to find her identity and not just the one planned by society. Is that the future that we have mapped out for ourselves? I swear it’s the only alternative I can think of” (Williams 928)). Women were not being treated as equal with men, neither by their husbands nor society. For women to be a good wife and mother, she needs to find her true self. During the nineteenth-century women were not educated to transact business or financial responsibilities. Therefore, women were not allowed to conduct business or be in control of money without authorization from the man of the family. “No a wife cannot borrow money without her husband’s consent” (Ibsen 868).
They were also considered as being incapable of making important decisions “You’re just like the others. They think I’m incapable of anything really serious” (Ibsen 868). Without education, women are ignorant of society. Laura’s ignorance led her to taking out a loan without her husband’s permission, by doing, so she forged her father’s signature, thinking she could have gotten away with it. Krogstad thought Nora did not know much about business when he tried explaining to her that forging someone else’s signature was illegal business “There is no harm in that” replied Norma” (Ibsen 879).
Amanda; however, thought that without education, there is no place for women in society. Therefore, when Laura had dropped out of school, she was furious “What are we going to do, what is going to become of us, what is the future” (Williams 926). Without education, women are incapable of thinking rationally and making good decisions. Other critics such as Ruling stated that, given access to education, conventional, feminine women would pursue studies more suited to their duties as wives and mothers.
Furthermore, with education women would become esteemed companions for their husbands, and not just sensual love objects, and also wives who are respected by their husbands as intellectual equals, and accordingly granted equal rights and responsibilities in marriage (Kersten). In the play, “The Glass Menagerie” females had to know the art of communication to entertain their gentlemen caller ‘We talk about things of importance going on in the world. Was nothing coarse or common or vulgar” (Williams 924). Nora, On the other hand, was not respected by her husband; he reated her like a child because of her limited knowledge.
“You talk like a child; you don’t understand anything about the world you live in. However, Weininger’s allegation is that providing women with access to education would be a mistake because they would treat it as “Fashion” and as an opportunity to “Ensnare a man” (Kersten). During the Victorian period, employment was restricted to women, and they were being underpaid. It is my opinion that men were scared that, should women be given the opportunity to work they would gain independency. With money comes power”; however, they were fearful of losing the only power that had to control women. However, if women were to have an income men would not have to bear the financial burden of the family all alone.
In both, “A Doll’s House” and “The Glass Menagerie” Torvald and Tom were the sole providers of the home. “… he had to earn more money… and that first year he overworked himself terribly. ” However, when Torvald got sick Nora had to work and keep the family together” (Ibsen 866). “What right do you have to jeopardize… he security of us all…? ” Tom had given up his dreams to work at the warehouse so that he could take care of his mother and sister, even though, he did not like working there “You think I’m crazy about working at the warehouse? … I would rather someone battered out my brains” (Williams 932). In a study conducted by Patricia Hollis during this period, the jobs available to women were in domestic services, teachers, nurses, and clerks, and they were also being paid less than men in those professions.
As seen in Mrs. Linde’s situation; she had to do whatever it takes to survive “I had to turn my hand at anything I could find; I worked at a small shop and school… or if I was lucky enough to find some regular office work of some kind” (Ibsen 866). Several other sections of the plays mentioned the limited-access women have to employment. With closer observation regarding the role of women in both play’s single women seems to have had more freedom than married women. They had the right to the money they earned, and they did not need the approval from a man to make decisions or how to spend their money.
With a job and income women would gain independency and be better providers and contributors to their family. The right to citizenship was another issue faced by women. According to Blom in the nineteenth-century citizenship was only bestowed to a particular group of people and there were certain criteria’s that had to be met. However, women and people of color were excluded from among such groups. Once again, women were only seen as wives and mothers who were incapable of making important decisions. They were also considered as being governed by their emotions and intuition, which were like children’s.
A good wife and mother were symbols and foundation of a strong nation; therefore, women were equally important in strengthening and protecting the nation. (Blom). Other critics such as Murphy’s also explained that women were excluded from the terms of Irish independence, which was decided by both Liberal government and the Irish party, denying them citizenship. Women had no power; they could neither voice their opinion nor participate in the new legislature (Murphy). For the nation to be considered as a common home and family, we should accept that the roles and duties of both women and men are equally important in society.
Both, “A Doll’s House” and “The Glass Menagerie” identify the difficulties women faced as a woman, mother and wife during the nineteenth-century, in a patriarchal society. Through both plays, the authors endorsed the advocacy for women’s right to education, employment, and full citizenship. It was made clear by the rules of society that women were not perceived as equals to male or society. Even though we are living in the twenty-first century; women are still experiencing similar problems. Women are being looked at as inferior to men and are expected to be submissive. The nation is still perceived as “A man’s world. “