Drama as Literature (EL 250)

7 Sep 2005

Ibsen, A Doll House (Act 1)

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Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House experiments with new and never before publicized ideas for the end of the nineteenth century. This 1879 work toys with themes of feminism coupled with the thematic undercurrent of inherited sexually transmitted disease – which surely is a taboo subject for the time.
Ibsen cleverly uses feminine hero Nora to appear as subservient, fawning, and vulnerable to her husband Torvald. However, it is Nora who concocts a plan: borrowing money from Krogstad in order to finance Torvald’s recovery retreat. All the while, Nora lies to Torvald; she tells him the money came from her now deceased father. In life, Nora is passed from the home of her father to the home of Torvald, much like a doll is shared between playmates. To Torvald, the only players in the game of life who are worth vesting interest into are men. Torvald sees Nora as a, “little lark,” “my squirrel,” “my darling,” “my secret,” “trembling young beauty,” “frightened little songbird,” “a hunted dove,” “bewildered helpless thing,” and a “blind, incompetent child.” All the qualities he associates with Nora are qualities one might asses as childlike, or childish: he even says she is a child. Torvald sees Nora as someone to protect, to work for, to supply, to shelter, to feed, to clothe, to play with, to be in love with, but not someone he can sit down and have a serious discussion with about problems with because she “…couldn’t possibly help me” (271). When Nora asks to be included in the problem solving process, Torvald argues, “what good would that ever do you?” (272). He demeans her intelligence by not letting her express her ideas. Nora, who may not be as knowledgeable about the law, for instance, relies on her emotions – but at times, this shows a higher level of thought. She borrowed money from a lender in order to provide a trip to make Torvald feel better. Nora sees the value in motive – the motive being love, and how it should affect the long term processes doled out by the law.

Posted by: Katie Aikins at August 17, 2005 06:18 PM

A Doll's House has so far included some themes similar to those in "Trifles." Foremost, is the obvious sexism against women by the men. Helmer expects Nora to be needy and incapable, and interestingly Nora plays the part, even though she is capable of independent action. Saying things to Helmer like, "I should not think of going against your wishes," and, "I can't get along a bit without your help" doesn't lead him at all in the direction of acknowledging her cognitive ability. Also, as in "Trifles," is the notion that women are in fact able to think and act independently, even in the face of such sexism. Interestingly though, Nora characterizes her feeling of accomplishment as "like being a man." Lastly, it is important to note that the instant Helmer finds out that Mrs. Linde is searching for work, he "Presume[s she is] a widow."

Posted by: David Denninger at September 2, 2005 05:49 PM

Helmer. Just think how a guilty man like that has to lie and play
the hypocrite with every one, how he has to wear a mask in the
presence of those near and dear to him, even before his own wife
and children. And about the children--that is the most terrible
part of it all, Nora.

Nora. How?

Helmer. Because such an atmosphere of lies infects and poisons
the whole life of a home. Each breath the children take in such a
house is full of the germs of evil.

This is where I feel Laura has herself an "OH SHIT" moment. First we see her as a child like, happy go lucky woman. She seems to be so optimistic about everything. Now, the tables have definitley turned, she is in a big problem now. I'm sure now she realizes the world isn't such a grand place.

Posted by: Rachel Prichard at September 4, 2005 01:34 AM

In some sense, I do agree with David about the sexism present in the play.. Look at Nora. A woman who spends all her husband's hard earned money. I do think she is a strong character in this play. As the lead character it seems she is going to have to find her way out of this problem. Being blackmailed is a hard thing for a woman to deal with, but now Nora must deal with it. In that sense, I dont think she is shown as Karen was in "Trifles".

Posted by: Rachel Prichard at September 4, 2005 01:39 AM

Katie Lambert posted an interesting take on her own blog: http://blogs.setonhill.edu/KatherineLambert/010468.html

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at September 4, 2005 10:22 AM

Like I discussed in my blog (http://blogs.setonhill.edu/KatherineLambert/010468.html#more), Nora is a strong character and she knows how to utilize her power effectly against others. I'm struck by Katie's thoughts; do you believe Nora is playing a part? Is she acting to get her way in life? I believe Nora knows she can catch more bees with honey...

Posted by: Katie Lambert at September 4, 2005 10:49 AM

When I post things on my blog, they don't show up on my site... blogs.setonhill.edu/DavidDenninger

Can someone help me with this?

Posted by: David Denninger at September 4, 2005 02:46 PM

David, I see them just fine. Make sure that the "Post Status" of each entry is set to "Publishm" and then click "Rebuild" and select "Rebuild All."

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at September 4, 2005 03:08 PM

I figured out that since I decided to sort my posts by catagory that I needed to check that box for rebuilding. Thanks for looking into it.

Posted by: David Denninger at September 4, 2005 07:53 PM

In the play so far, I seems to me that Nora felt like she had control over her husband Helmer. Not the kind of control where she forces him to make decisions in her favor, but the she feels that she saved his life and he doesn't know it. Like she has one up on him.

It seems as if the author may have been showing that women in general may think that they have some secretive control over the males but in the end, they can't handle it. This example is shown, in the hapiness and almost pride that Nora has when she is revealing her secret with Christine.

Nora. Papa didn't give us a shilling. It was I who procured the money.

Mrs Linde. You? All that large sum?

Then it suddenly changes when she gets blackmailed and realizes that she may be in trouble.

Krogstad. But did it never occur to you that you were committing a fraud on me?

Nora. I couldn't take that into account; I didn't trouble myself about you at all. I couldn't bear you, because you put so many heartless difficulties in my way, although you knew what a dangerous condition my husband was in.

Posted by: Andy LoNigro at September 5, 2005 12:35 PM

I loved Nora. Her charcter makes reading, "A Doll House" enjoyable. In Act One she always had a positive attitude and always found ways to make herself feel good, even when people tried to put her down. When I was reading the lines between the husband and wife I thought that the relationship somewhat resembled the relationship between the husband and wife in "The Yellow Wallpaper." Yes, I am aware that the stories are completely different, but at times Helmer's actions towards Nora are similar to John's responses towards Jane. Overall, I think that this is a great story so far and I can't wait to finish it!

Posted by: GinaBurgese at September 6, 2005 11:30 AM

Helmer. You can't deny it, my dear little Nora. (Puts his arm
round her waist.) It's a sweet little spendthrift, but she uses
up a deal of money. One would hardly believe how expensive such
little persons are!

Nora. It's a shame to say that. I do really save all I can.

The relationship between Nora and Torvald isn't so much that of husband and wife but more like father and daughter or even master and servant. Their relationship seems very strained and I think that they would get divorced if it was ok to do so in that time period. It seems to me that Nora is still like a child that doesn't understand the real world. It seems like Torvald feels he has to keep watch over her and give her an allowance that she can spend. So that makes him feel more like an authority towards her and not a husband.

Posted by: Sean Runt at September 6, 2005 12:26 PM

I completely agree with Gina. Nora is so fun and optimistic all the time, and she means well. She reminds me of alot of people that I know. Nothing can bring them down. I've always admired that attitude and the ability to stay happy through all of the the things and people that life throws at you. I too think that Nora has control over her husband, but it's not like he fights her for it. Which also reminds me of alot of relationships with people that I know. I love how these plays are so universal and timeless. I think that's the greatest part of literature in general.

Posted by: Chera Pupi at September 6, 2005 12:46 PM

Nora is kind of like what every woman wants over her husband or boyfriend, attention and control. But Nora is not controlling Helmer by telling him to do something with out giving him a choice, she kind of persuades him into what she wants him to do. He does everything on his own freewill. Nora feels like she needs to control her husband, probably from what i read and what i think, because of her little secret on how she got the money to go to Italy. She feels that if she can persuade him to do something for her, she can do the same to what he hears and what she tells him.

Posted by: Denamarie at September 6, 2005 03:08 PM

What do you feel some of the more interesting conversations were in act one? Any tension building moments?

Posted by: Katie Aikins at September 6, 2005 03:13 PM

Nora. It's a shame to say that. I do really save all I can.

Helmer (laughing). That's very true,--all you can. But you can't
save anything!

I love that Helmer loves her so much. It's obvious in their discussion, and me being the helpless romantic that I am, find that to be so cute. I could definately see myself in Nora's position though, because I have the same problem spending money. Come to think of it, my Mom has that same problem, so maybe it is genetic, like Helmer says.

Posted by: Chera Pupi at September 6, 2005 03:16 PM

The meaning of "Spendthrift"

Nora (playing with his coat buttons, and without raising her eyes
to his). If you really want to give me something, you might--you

Helmer. Well, out with it!

Nora (speaking quickly). You might give me money, Torvald. Only
just as much as you can afford; and then one of these days I will
buy something with it.

Helmer. But, Nora--

Nora. Oh, do! dear Torvald; please, please do! Then I will wrap it up
in beautiful gilt paper and hang it on the Christmas Tree. Wouldn't
that be fun?

Helmer. What are little people called that are always wasting

Nora. Spendthrifts--I know.

Does Nora understand the finacial situation that they are in? Why is her husband just feeding the fire? Nora seems to be the one that doesn't belongs in the casino. Just to see Nora borrow huge amounts of money from people show she have an addiction to spending. It funny hoe this story can relate to the materialism around christmas time no matter what time period the play would have took palce.

Posted by: Kevin Hinton at September 6, 2005 06:07 PM

There seems to be a recurring theme in three of the plays we've read so far, (“Heart in the Ground” “Trifles” and A Doll's House) but it is rather difficult for me to put it into words...so bear with me. All three plays have some link to the law and things that seem like they would obviously be wrong (for instance, because they are against the law), but in the plays the circumstances make it seem as if what the characters are doing (or what they did that is revealed within the play) isn't actually so wrong. The plays are presented in such a way that it seems natural to sympathize with the characters, despite their "unlawful acts." (is this making any sense?) For example, in A Doll’s House, we all know forgery is a crime and it is wrong and altogether dishonest. But, you don’t finish reading Act I thinking: “Wow, Nora is a horrible criminal who should be locked away!” Yes, perhaps she was a bit naive not to realize that she committed a crime that her society seems to take very seriously, (no matter how good the intentions), but you still can’t help but feel bad for her (or at least I couldn’t).

Posted by: Lorin Schumacher at September 6, 2005 07:47 PM

Lorin, I certainly chose these three plays because I thought they went together. You've hit on several of the reasons I was thinking about. Let me know what you think when you finish Act II! (Just curious: did you sympathize with Moe at all from "Traction"?)

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at September 6, 2005 10:22 PM

A Doll's House shows a lot of sexism like "Trifles" did. Helmer often looks down on Nora as "just a woman".

Helmer: That is like a woman!

This quote is followed shorty after by Nora saying "As you please, Torvald."

He frequently treats her like a child by the way he talks to her, calling her pathetic little names like "my little skylark", "little squirrel", and refers to her as a "little [person]".

He also almost baby talks to her when asking her if she has been visiting the confectioner's. Like an adult asking a child to confess about stealing a cookie from a cookie jar, Helmer presses her if she's taken "even a macaroon or two".

Posted by: Amanda at September 6, 2005 10:36 PM
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