September 1, 2005

A Doll House

Isn't it interesting that a man wrote this feminist play near the turn of the 20th century? Did the ending surprise anyone? How does the ending work for you, the viewer?

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.
Ibsen’s work also lightly deals with the syphilitic disease: Doctor Rank often talks about his sickness that is slowly decaying his body. He mentions that this comes from years of watching the infidelities on his father’s part. Clearly, while Rank calls this disease something equivalent to tuberculosis, viewers can deduce that the inherited disease is one of a sexually transmitted nature. Parental misdoing, as well as venereal disease then become other themes to examine.
In his “On Ibsen’s A Doll’s House,” Ian Johnson makes the following imperative points about the nature of society and its role in the play,

“The cruelty of that society is not simply economic, although that is the most obvious manifestation of what happens to outsiders, as we learn through Krogstad's situation. There is an important emotional component to their distress as well, for the isolation they must endure can leave them unable to create for themselves a meaningful relationship, to derive human significance from their interactions with others (the basis of Kristine's troubles). Those of whom society disapproves or who don't have a secure middle-class status are thus frozen out, literally frozen in that they have to fight for a subsistence, but also figuratively frozen by the impossibility of realizing a rich social existence. Kristine's experience here is important because when we first meet her she has what Nora chooses at the end of the play--independence from any immediate social responsibility--and she finds in it no satisfying living purpose. She wants to get back into the society. Her experience on the fringes has taught her that she must, if possible, live her life in society.” (

A Doll’s House is an intricately painted picture of turn of the century feminism. Perhaps what is most intriguing is the fact that it was written by a man.

Posted by KatieAikins at September 1, 2005 4:18 PM

“little lark” “my squirrel”: I spent half of Act 1 thinking Nora was Helmer's daughter. I wonder what the age difference is between them. If Helmer can fall ill because of overwork, he must be pretty old.

Posted by: Kayla Sawyer at September 5, 2005 1:22 PM

If Helmer is older than Nora, then his patronizing tone fits. However, imagine if they were the same age. From the work I've done with literature from this time, many husbands treated their spouses like children.

Posted by: Katie Lambert at September 7, 2005 12:09 AM

True, just think "The Yellow Wallpaper."

Posted by: Katie Aikins at September 7, 2005 7:40 AM

Helmer talks to nora condensendingly because nora is mentally a child int he beginnign of the play. and the play goes on she matures into an adult and leaves him. it is also the way society was at the time. women and men were not equal. nora also has not matured because she never had the chance to. she lived with her father and nurse and hten immediatly went to the care of helmer. and also brought her nurse along with ehr

Posted by: johnna at October 23, 2005 9:09 PM