A Doll’s House by Ibsen has become a starting moment for a new step in the development of drama genre. Prior to this play, Ibsen’s contemporary drama consisted of behavior plays and historical theatre. But A Doll’s House added a new aspect to the problems highlighted by the contemporary drama. Ibsen in his play introduced a crucial examination of social issues, and the nature of Victorian marriage. By revealing the background of Helmer marriage Ibsen makes the intimate private and stands up for women identity. Revealing the secrecy of marriage Ibsen overturns the customary roles of a woman and a man as they were regarded by the society before.
Marriage in Victorian Society
Ibsen provides Nora with the new role different from the role of wife and mother that was an innovation for the contemporary society. As it was customary to refer to woman’s identity in the context of her marital role, Ibsen’s play appeared as a protest, and this play is still regarded as a feminist writing, although the author denied it.
The author touched a few intertwined themes, but marital relations are one of the most crucial issues, referred to in the play. Victorian age was cruel towards human identity in general, let alone woman’s individuality. The economical background buried the interest to the individuality within the society. During the period after the French Revolution the thirst for individual freedom was replaced by the economic power, and as the result, women were deprived of the power more than ever.
Nora’s changed attitude towards her marriage is not just a problem in the relations between a husband and wife; it is the symbol of the most serious problems of bourgeois values of the middle class. By rejecting the marriage, Nora also denies these values, thus demonstrating the opposition between identity and economical stability: “I should try to become a human being” (Act Three)
A Doll’s House reflects Ibsen’s own relation to the problem of woman’s self-expression. He was sure that women could express themselves, their individuality but in a real life woman’s role in marriage came to a sacrifice. Neither husbands nor society treated women as equals with their spouses. The scene of Torvald being afraid of his employers believing that he had been influenced by his wife is a perfect illustration of the relation to women in Victorian society.
Marriage in Victorian society became a kind of a social trap, worse for woman than for men. Divorce was not forbidden, but it was accompanied by such a strong social ban that it could ever be regarded as the possible way to resolve the problems in family life. That’s why Torvald shows his inner weakness by his desire to pretend that he and Nora had a happy family, rather than bear the social antagonism: “From this moment happiness is not the question; all that concerns us is to save the remains, the fragments, the appearance – ” (Act Three)
On the contrary, Nora, as the symbol of woman, who wasn’t treated as a powerful identity, shows her force by her serious intentions in finding her individuality. Nora feels a fragility of love, but she doesn’t give up and feels the power to build a new happy life instead of her unhappy marriage.
Love and Power in the Marriage of Torvald and Nora
Nora, who at the beginning was displayed as a happy woman full of love and devoted to her family, realizes that that her happiness is just her dream, but not reality. Thus, she and her husband exchange their roles – Nora is strong enough to face the reality, while her husband is afraid of everything that may damage his habitual life. Nora understands that she was treated like a child used for amusement.
The men around her, her husband and her father wanted to see her helpless, seeing her only mission in serving them: “I have existed merely to perform tricks for you, Torvald. But you wanted it like that. You and father have committed a great sin against me. It is your fault that I have made nothing of my life. Our home has been nothing but a playroom. I have been your doll-wife, just as at home I was father’s doll-child; and here the children have been my dolls.” (Act Three) This is how the concept and picture of marriage changes as the plot of the play goes.
At the beginning of the play Nora and her husband seem to be a happy family, a husband and a wife who love each other. However, this happiness and love are built on a lie. Nora pretends that she is helpless without Torvald’s protection and power: I would never dream of doing anything you didn’t want me to” and “I never get anywhere without your help” (Act One), while the reader and spectator knows that she has already rescued Torvald’s life, and Nora’s words acquires dramatically ironical nature.
When Mrs. Linde asks Nora if he ever reveals her secret about the loan, Nora shows her awareness of Torvald’s real attitude to her as to a beautiful doll, which has to amuse him: “Yes – some day, perhaps, after many years, when I am no longer as pretty as I am now. Don’t laugh at me! I mean, of course, when Torvald is no longer as devoted to me as he is now; when my dancing and dressing-up and reciting have palled on him then it may be a good thing to have something in reserve.” (Act One)
As the play starts, Nora makes an impression of a weak and powerless woman, whose life is fully devoted to her family life, while Torvald seems to be the personification of power and domination. Their relations are set against the life story of Mrs. Linde, who at first denied her strong love to gain power and financial security. But by the end of the play the situation changes, Nora finds herself and her individuality although loses her love, and Mrs. Linde turns back to her true feelings. The problems shown with the help of characters’ interaction are not resolved by the author. Ibsen demonstrates the conflicts, but does not give any ways out. He just offers the possibilities, offering the readers and spectators to find their own viewpoint and solution.
Ibsen H. (1991) A Doll’s House, Tram. W. Archer. London