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A similarity exists in both the author's writing which is in disagreement to the dominant culture and the 'standard' societal ideas of their time. This is shown by the two modern works which I will be analyzing; Isabel Allende's The House of Spirits and A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen which develop the conflict of gender roles in their works. Both authors use in my opinion an authentic female character(s) and that by the end despite the male domination are able to rebel against societal 'norm' only to be viewed as the protagonist of the play or novel.
Allende's novel recounts the story of Estaban Trueba, his wife and children. With the story spanning three generations it is about political corruption, feminine oppression and the movement from old to new. Allende examines and reveals the internal conflict of turmoil, oppression and torture of the female characters in particular. A Doll's House chronicles the attempts of one woman to find freedom in a patriarchal society and the feminist issues in A Doll's House seem almost contemporary, despite it being written more than a century ago.
In this essay I will be looking at the experiences of the main female characters in both the works but also how cultural influences establish the ways in which the protagonist are viewed - as atypical characters.
The House of Spirits being a novel and Doll's House a play it is obvious that there will be contrasting linguistic features and writing styles. The House of Spirits is a novel written as a biography of the lives and events which occurred in the Trueba family. While much of the novel appears to have a very straight forward third person narration, there are in fact three distinct narrative voices. The first voice belongs to a narrator whom the reader does not discover is Alba until the Epilogue. The reader is immediately aware from the opening paragraph that this account is a reconstruction from Clara's notebooks. The second narrative voice is 'all knowing' and is able to relate what the characters are thinking and feeling. This method of telling a story as a reconstruction is common except that is it interrupted at times by another narrative voice - Estaban Trueba who serves as the third voice. The retelling in 1st person serves to express both his intense passion and his sharp suffering. Estaban's first person accounts reveal the emotions he does not express in front of others and it is in this way the reader can understand that without these narrations it would be easy to dismiss Estaban as a cruel tyrant. Through his narration we find him to be a complex character who struggles to battle his anger and sadistic passions.
In contrast to this, A Doll's House cannot adopt a narrative technique as such and so Ibsen uses the correct linguistic style in order to convey the correct message across. In Ibsen's time the use of common speech was shocking as characters from plays were expected to use noble and heroic language. However, Ibsen's intention with A Doll's House was to write a realistic play his middle class audience would understand. By allowing the characters from the play to use everyday vocabulary and colloquial expressions the audience would relate to the play and understand the Ibsen's message.
Women have generally been considered silent figures, obedient to the patriarchal powers that govern their society. Neither Allende nor Ibsen attempt to reproduce the culturally ordained silence; instead, both re inscribe female 'silence' as a means for female empowerment which leads to their eventual freedom. The period in which the novel was written teaching and family life were the traditional gender roles women were confined to. Isabel Allende strongly believes that empowerment leads to the strength and freedom of a woman; and these views were shared by Henrik Ibsen as this concept echoes throughout their works.
Both Clara and Nivea's participation in the Suffragette group would have been considered socially unacceptable as the right of voting would only be given to the male members, establishing from the very start that Chile is a patriarchal society. Allende tries to establish that empowerment comes through force of conviction, and uses Nivea as an example to show this. We see that women such as Nivea who have acted against society's norm by fighting for political rights go further than those women who accept their traditional role and remain staunch in their conservatism.
They are shown to have died alone or forgotten as is seen with Ferula and Nana. The portrayal of Nivea and her funeral which was attended by many is in direct contrast with that of Nana and Ferula. Like so, Allende uses these characters to reflect on those women who submissively accept their roles defined by society.
Allende does not only express empowerment through conviction but also through business as seen with Transito Soto. Estaban aids Transito Soto with 50 pesos which allowed her to begin her own career and business, however by the end of the novel the tide turns and the arrogant controlling male (Estaban) comes to the woman to beg help for Alba's release. Again, by women taking chances and setting goals and dreams which society restricts them from having end up being successful. Allende shoots her views to the reader through her writing by using these female characters to represent Allende's own brand of feminism.
Like Allende A Doll's House challenges these patriarchal views and shows the audience a fresh perspective on a woman's life. Many women could relate to Nora's situation and like Nora, felt trapped in a doll's house by their husbands and fathers; however, and the rules society had prevented these women from stepping outside the shadow of the men. Through this play, Ibsen reinforces the importance of women's individuality and like Allende Ibsen uses his characters of the play help to support his strong opinions.
For Nora, her inferior, doll-like nature is a facade for a deeper passion for individuality that begins to surface during the play and eventually fully emerges in the ending. An example of this deep yearning for independence is shown when Nora tells her friend, Kristina Linde about earning her own money by doing copying. Nora explains, "It was tremendous fun sitting [in her room] working and earning money she says; "It was almost like being a man" (162) Such comments reveal Ibsen's presentation of women to be positive; Nora enjoyed working because it empowered her, and whilst accepting the situations of the time, Ibsen portrays women as active, and struggling in an unequal system.
She soon comes to realize the she must take the path that is right for her and no one else. She discovers that Torvald is not the man she thought him to be and that he knows nothing of who she really is. In her sudden awareness, she says to Torvald, "you don't understand me. And I've never understood you - until tonight". Nora progress by the end of the play is off an opinionated and independent woman which Ibsen hopes will represent the future progression of women in society
These male figures in Nora's life not only limit her beliefs and actions, but also limit her happiness. Like Allende Ibsen uses Torvald's character, and discards the public view of man to expose a more realistic depiction of male superiority. Ibsen attempts in criminalizing the male protagonist; Torvald, his behavior becomes increasingly more erratic near the play's end, affirming an idealistic self-importance, believing that she has become "wife and child to him".
Overall, we see that Nora is now free from her obligations, and rejects Torvald's further assistance. Moreover, Nora the "doll" now leaves her house, and is free to "seek a fuller life as a human being", no longer a malleable doll under the control of her "master". No women at the time would have dared to do what Nora has, and just like the characters in Allende's novel it is only by 'daring' or committing actions socially unacceptable like Nora did or even as Nivea displayed that these women can truly feel empowered which leads to their freedom or gain of what they needed. Again Allende and Ibsen echo their thoughts through the characters and portray the males as the antagonists of the play which leads to the audience or readers to understand and sympathize with their views that their needs to be a change in the way society views women.