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A Doll's House

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Dustin Hartle

ENGL-112

Dr. Graham

A Doll’s House

In A Doll’s House, Ibsen presents a view of society that is unconventional, and contrary to many of his peers. Ibsen breaks from tradition to compose a play that deals with what were at the time controversial social issues, including women’s right to self fulfillment, fiscal responsibility, and gender roles. In A Doll’s House as well as in many of his other plays from his modern period, Ibsen was criticized because he dared to break new ground and to challenge the accepted values of his society.

Many critics who have read, seen, and commented on A Doll’s House have stated that it is most definitely a feminist work. However, Ibsen himself never outright stated that his play was indeed feminist, or had a feminist agenda. Even though A Doll’s House wasn’t necessarily feminist, many stage productions of the play had the ending amended in order to make it more acceptable. There is no denying the theme of women’s rights in A Doll’s House, yet I am not convinced that feminism was Ibsen’s main message. Careful examination of the play will reveal Ibsen’s true message. But first, in order to find the feminist views in the play, we must first define feminism. According to Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, feminism is defined as “the theory of political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.”
            In ACT 1, the reader is first introduced to two of the primary characters:  Torvald Helmer, the dominant, wise, caring, smart and prosperous husband, and Nora, the meek, submissive, foolish, and naive housewife. Torvald is the "man of the house"; he is the breadwinner, and works hard for his family. He is the boss and everyone obeys him unquestioningly. According to Torvald, Nora is a "spendthrift" who cannot be trusted with money. She spends her day cooking, cleaning, and helping to care for the kids. As you read on, you can begin to see that Nora fills the role of Torvald’s pet, his "little squirrel". Nora is Torvald’s Doll. After the initial exchange between Nora and Torvald, it is difficult to see that Ibsen views society and gender roles any differently than his peers. However, Ibsen next introduces Mrs. Linde, a character that begins to buck the traditional role of women. Mrs. Linde is the first sign of feminism in the play. Mrs. Linde is a widower, and has become an independent woman who provides for herself and lives off her own means. She is not submissive, nor does she feel like she needs a man to look after her, as Nora seems to. 
             After this introduction, Ibsen introduces several other characters, none of which appear to be truly feminist, but none of which are as obviously sexist as Torvald. Nora continues to play the role of the submissive wife. The reader learns that Nora has committed forgery, and must either convince Torvald to continue employment of Krogstad, the loan shark Nora borrowed from, or risk ruining the family’s (i.e. Torvald’s) good name. Nora, continuing to put her husband and family first, believes that she should commit suicide rather then risk destroying the lives of her husband or children.
             In Act 3, however, the tone changes. Nora reveals her mistake to Torvald, but instead of being submissive to her husband, Nora decides to stand up for herself. Nora comes to realize that Torvald is holding her back, and that his worldview is repressing her. Nora then does what many might consider unthinkable, and what some might call utter feminism, when she leaves her husband and children to strike out on a new life of her own.

         There are moments of feminism in A Doll’s House; however, feminism may be only a small part of the issue that Ibsen is really addressing. Perhaps feminism is a tool used by Ibsen to convey his greater message to the audience, a message of individualism. Individualism is defined as “a social theory favoring freedom of action for individuals over collective or state control.” Using this definition of individualism, feminism could be considered a component of individualism. 
             In the play, all of the protagonists seem to promote and accept individualism, and the antagonists try to prevent individualism. Nora begins the play as an unknowing victim, having little or no trace of individualism. However, as the play progresses, she turns into a self-sufficient, freethinking woman; a true individualist. From her initial introduction, Mrs. Linde is both a feminist and an individualist. She relies on herself and is limited by no one. Mrs. Linde exemplifies both of these traits when she approached Torvald and asks to restart their relationship. Dr. Rank appears to support individual thought and expression, and unlike Torvald, he does not try to control others or to limit others freedom. Instead, he is a supporting, loving, and caring friend, who shows Nora her self worth as a person. Torvald is definitely not an individualist, or feminist for that matter. Torvald tries to force others to rely on him, and takes joy in holding power over them. He does not respect Nora, he simply commands her, going so far as to tell her what to eat and what clothes to wear. Krogstad starts out as the character everyone hates. He is oppressive and cruel. He relies on others and tries to live off them. He will do whatever he must to get what he wants from others. However, with the help of Mrs. Linde, Krogstad transforms into a character that helps others develop. Krogstad becomes an individualist character, deciding to strike out on his own and to change his ways.
         Ibsen used the ideas of feminism and individualism in such a way that each idea would complement one another to create a more meaningful message than either could have on their own. Ibsen’s message of individualism would not have been as effective if a dutiful husband had decided to leave his friends and family to start on a new life. Ibsen enjoyed being controversial, as the controversy gained a greater audience and helped spread his message.

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