September 6, 2005

Ibsen, A Doll House, Act 2

NORA: Yes, it’s true now, Torvald. When I lived at home with Papa, he told me all his opinions, so I had the same ones too; or if they were different I hid them, since he wouldn’t have cared for that. He used to call me his doll-child, and he played with me the way I played with my dolls. Then I came into your house-
HELMER: How can you speak of our marriage like that?
NORA: (unperturbed) I mean, then I went from Papa’s hands into yours. You arranged everything to your own taste, and so I got the same taste as you – or I pretended to; I can’t remember. I guess a little of both, first one, then the other. Now when I look back, it seems as if I’d lived here like a beggar – just from hand to mouth. I’ve lived by doing tricks for you, Torvald. But that’s the way you wanted it. It’s a great sin what you and Papa did to me. You’re to blame that nothing’s become of me.

This is the breaking point of the couple’s relationship. Nora admits that she feels as though both Torvald and her father have played with her for her entire life. All through out the play, Torvald calls Nora his doll child and other cutesy comments, rather than honoring her as his wife. However, there are several moments through out the play where he references her getting her way with him and making him look bad in front of other men. Torvald values the opinions of other men – rather than that of his own wife.

At this point, Nora faces her feelings head on and lays them on the table for Torvald to understand. She transitions from the house of her father who seemingly programs her to agree with his opinions, and thus have only those opinions, to Torvald’s house – where she will adopt and use his viewpoints as her own. She almost compares herself to a puppet on a string, with Torvald as the master. Or a trick toy that Torvald makes work for his own personal pleasure. She goes as far as to place the blame of the fact nothing has become to her on her husband. It is interesting that Ibsen uses a more feminist prospective to write this play which is unusual for a turn of the century, male writer.

Posted by KatieAikins at September 6, 2005 12:07 AM

Ibsen was certainly unusual. He did, however, reject the term "feminist," for reasons that I'll try to explain when we get to the second half of the play. While it's clear that Nora is a victim, what about Torvald? To what extent is he free or not free, when it comes to seeing and transcending the gender barriers set before him?

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at September 7, 2005 12:53 AM

In the end, it seems as though he is trapped because Nora IS leaving - whether he calls her squirrel, rabbit, happy child, etc etc etc or not. He seems to believe that gentleness towards women will secure their capture into the future.

Posted by: Katie Aikins at September 7, 2005 7:39 AM

Torvald's world revolves around the thoughts and feelings of others around him, except Nora. Like you said, he is trapped; has been forced to conform to fit into his friends' and coworkers' idea of "rightness," similiarly like Nora. Katie, who do you consider more trapped-Torvald with the constraints he places on himself or Nora who allows the men in her life to think for her?

Posted by: Katie Lambert at September 9, 2005 6:05 PM


You always want to stump me, don't you? Haha....

Nora is, at times, a raving genius: she sells herself, (via her dancing, her playfulness, etc.); she pays off a loan taken to benefit her husband with her husband's money, she does little to no work in her house, and yet, she leaves this life of leisure for the unknown.

Big mistake. What do you think the next play would be called? A Doll's Cardboard Box?

Torvald, on the other hand, easily flies into anger - which I think is something men are given to do. They can be mad at one another, but then it is over quickly. Perhaps that is why he went from mad to not mad with Nora. Torvald is in a position of power: he is male, has a good education/background/job, and established post in life. He is going to make it - with or without Nora. He might be trapped in his role of the banker - but in other areas, he is free.

Posted by: Katie Aikins at September 10, 2005 12:01 AM