Womenand Feminism in `A Doll`s House`
“ADoll’s House” by Henrik Ibsen is one of the most famous playswritten in the 19thcentury. The play has remained relevant because it hits one of themost important issues in the society, social roles and how women aretreated in a male-dominated society. It can also be viewed as anexpression of the author’s feelings about roles in the society andthe relationship between men and women (Moi, 2006). The mainprotagonist in the play is a woman, Nora Helmer who has a lovingmarriage at the beginning of the play. However, Nora loves herhusband because the society demands that a woman should love herhusband. As a result of the social context in which the play is set,Nora is imprisoned, denied freedom and she is not allowed to prosper.Her intellectual desires are suppressed by the roles of women in themale-dominated society (Templeton, 2007).
Themain actor in the play is Nora Helmer who struggles in themale-dominated society to achieve the ideals and realize herpotentials. Her struggles are as a result of the social context shelives in and the influence of her husband, Torvald. Nora is displayedas a special woman in the play, with extraordinary qualities comparedto other female characters. She appears to be trapped in her home,which is represented by the “dollhouse” (Erika, 2012). Torvaldhas worked very hard to build a physical home for her wife andchildren. However, he was too suppressive and treated her like achild. For example, in the first scene, while referring to her wife,he asks “is that my little lark twittering out there?” Thisstatement illustrates the relationship between Nora and her husband.It also reveals the demeaning nature of Torvald and how it negativelyaffected Nora’s potentials. Towards the end of the play, Nora’slife undergoes a transformation when she slams the door of herdollhouse and ventures into the world in search for new opportunitiesand struggles to achieve her potentials. This results into aself-realization where she discovers her responsibility towards herown self. It created a new beginning for the woman, one of the mainideas presented by Ibsen in the play. The new beginning occurs whenNora opens her eyes and realizes her potentials and freedoms whichwere limited by her relations with the husband (Ibsen, 2010).
Norahusband, Torvald, lived like a typical man in the male dominatedsociety in the 19th century. His reasoning and rationality arefounded on order and power, especially the power of men over women.He considered his reputation more important that his own family. Hisrigid view of morality and the view that Nora, being a woman, cannotenjoy her freedom and be herself in the society is the source of hersuffering and oppression. The mannish laws perpetrated by Torvald areevident when Nora argues that “we have never sat down in earnesttogether to try and get at the bottom of anything” (Ibsen, 2015).This marked a new beginning in Nora’s life after she had arevelation that she is not treated as an equal human being by herhusband. This is the climax of the play where the author expresseshis views about injustices and oppressions against women in thesociety (Siddall, 2008).
Anothercharacter whose role is important in the development of the maintheme of the play is Annie Marie. Annie works as a nurse to Nora’sfamily, but her character contrasts the character of Nora. Tosurvive in the oppressive male-dominated society, Annie is willing totake any sacrifice, including surrendering her own daughter foradoption. In her opinion, “I was obligated to, if I wanted to belittle Nora’s nurse” (Ibsen, 2010). However, in Nora’s opinion,Annie giving her daughter for adoption in order to be a nurse is atragedy. Annie is willing to sacrifice her own family and happinessin order to fit in the social roles. Although Nora criticizes Anniefor allowing her roles in the society to be a disgrace to her life,she is also influenced by her social roles as a mother and wife totake actions that are a disgrace to her life. For example, she leavesher precious dollies and allows her husband to choose her place inlife and controls all aspect of her life. This happened before hertransformation (Ibsen, 2010).
Mrs.Linde, another female character in the play, portrays another pointof view of women in the society. For a long time, she was jobless anda window. Ibsen uses her character to illustrate that despite thedominant role of men in the society, women can survive without men(Ibsen, 2010). In addition to being a hopeless window, she has aresponsibility of taking care of her sick mother as well as heryounger brothers. She played an important role in helping Norarealize her real potential and free herself the oppression. Shealluded that Nora’s life was simple, by saying “how kind you areNora… For you know so little of the burdens and troubles of life…Mydear. Small household cares and that sort of thing. You are a child,Nora”. Mrs. Linde also helped Nora in several other ways. She washer confidant and assisted her to secure a loan from Krogstad. Shealso ensured that Krogstad did not get involved in the conflictsbetween Nora and her husband. She, therefore, played an importantrole in helping Nora find her way out of the suppression and lack offreedom (Ibsen, 2010).
Themain theme of the play “A Doll’s House” is the role andquandaries of women in the society. The play explores the status ofwomen in the 19th-century society and how they were treated in thepatriarchal society. It exhibits how wives were mistreated by theirmen and the lack of respect and love associated with married women.In the general society, women did not receive justice and weretreated with no dignity. Consequently, “A Doll’s House” hasbeen an important reference for modern feminist criticism. Criticshave viewed the writer, Henrik Ibsen, as a revolutionary thinker anda social realist. Others have described Ibsen as a benefactor of theoppression and suppression of the 19th-century women (Törnqvist,2007). However, whether the play had a positive or negative impact onhow the society or the audience viewed women in the 19th century hasbeen a subject of debate (Erika, 2012). Some critiques of the playhave pointed out that the author sought to express what he believedshould be the role of women in the society. The main actor in theplay, Nora, like any other woman in the 19th-century society, enduredoppression and ill treatment because she was a woman. Despite this,she has inborn talents and abilities which she was able to developand be successful just like his husband. Her approach to traditionsand critical mind played an important role in her personality. Forexample, she was ready for changes in the society and wasopen-minded. This enabled her to have an impact on the society,despite her being a woman (Ghafourinia & Jamili, 2014).
AlthoughHenrik Ibsen maintained that the main motivation or his intentions ofwriting the play were not feminism and therefore should not be viewedas a feminist text but rather as a humanist play, women rights andthe role of women in the society are evident in the play. In hisview, the interpretation of the main theme of the play should be thestruggle for individuals to find out what are their potentials andthe kind of persons they should be. Rather than being about womenonly, the interpretation of the play should be broader to includeinjustices in the society that faces women, men, and children. Womenare human and therefore the oppression and struggles of women in “ADoll’s House” should be viewed as a human concern. For example,in addition to women, children, the poor and old men are also subjectto injustices and oppression (Wheeler, 2011). However, critics haveargued that despite the higher parlance in the interpretation of theplay is applicable, Ibsen observed that in the 19th century,injustice and oppression were mainly against women and thereforewrote about it (Finney, 2004).
Ibsenargument that his play is humanistic and not feminist is valid.However, this argument has had little influence on the feministinterpretation of his work. Ibsen argument has not impacted on theemotional impacts of the play audience (Innes, 2007). The outstandingmessage or theme that is captured by any audience is the predicamentof women in the male-dominated society, especially the disenchantmentof a wife. While the author’s intentions may have been different,feminism has emerged as the dominant theme in the play. The playexposes some of the injustices and oppressions faced by women in theNorway society. It also illustrates the cultural factors andattitudes towards women that propagated social injustices (Behnam,2007).
Inconclusion, the main point the audience or reader is likely to pickfrom the play is the awakening of Nora which enabled her free herselffrom her suppressive husband. This represents the triumph of a womanin a male-dominated society which despises and suppresses women. Many audiences will consider Ibsen play as a feminist art because itappealed to Victorian audiences in the 19th century by assuring themthat they can pursue their identity and freedom without the fear ofsocial repercussions. Consequently, Ibsen ideas and message in theplay supported the women movement that later emerged in the society. The society condemned the decision by Nora to pursue her freedomwhile abandoning family and society roles. In the 19th centurysociety, this contravened the moral principles of the patriarchalsociety. Although Ibsen maintained that his play is humanistic andnot feminist, women rights and the need for self-discovery amongwomen to free themselves from oppressions stand out in the play.
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