Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House presents to us Nora, the ‘doll’, who is caught up in a constricting marriage to Torvald, who represents the society of 19th century Europe through his narrow – mindedness and hard and fast rules. In this society, women are a suppressed bunch and do not have many opportunities to express or be themselves When they are ‘little girls in pigtails’, they live by their father’s rules and abide by the ‘law’ in the house. They get married and go to their nuptial homes .Here they have to live under the thumb of their husbands and meekly take on whatever is thrown at them.
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On the other hand, we have Mariama Bâ’s So long a letter, which is set in Post-colonialist Senegal. Here we have Ramatoulaye, a model housewife living under her husband’s roof and putting her family before self. She writes a long letter to her best friend Aissatou which details the events after her husband’s death and also provides a flashback of her and her friend’s lives over the time they have matured from girls to women to mothers. An unmistakable hint of feminism is perhaps what makes the novel a strong megaphone for the oppressed woman in Africa. The African woman is oppressed by her culture and by virtue of her position. Aissatou is however a rebel and goes against the societal norms and Ramatoulaye gradually realizes she cannot look to her culture for much.
Throughout both of the works that I have studied, both the characters of Nora and Ramatoulaye are similar in the fact that both their characters develop throughout the novels. This represents the emergence of the feminine in both the works. In this essay, I will be analyzing how the writers present women and the problems that they face in two different societies in two different parts of the world.
Ibsen was very concerned a about the position of women in the society that he lived in .he looked at his mother and the other women he was associated with as ‘models’ to study. He thought that women had a right to amplify their own distinctiveness, but in reality, their function was habitually self-sacrificial. The concept of gender- equality did not exist and women were regarded inferior, either in relation to their husbands or the social order, as is apparent from Torvald’s dismay of his employees thinking he has been influenced in a decision about Krogstad’s job by his wife.
It was not tolerable for women to conduct business or control their own capital. It was considered necessary that they had the authorization of the man who ‘owned’ them – husband, brother or father before they engaged in any activity involving money. Furthermore, they were not cultured for responsibility. Nora falls victim to both the injustices, by taking out a loan without the endorsement of her husband or father and by believing, out of unawareness of the world around her, that she could get away with forging a signature.
In a way, single or widowed women like Mrs. Linde had more room to breathe than married ones, in that they earned their own money and did not have to hand it over to the ‘alpha male’ of the family .They also did not have to depend on their husbands for anything. But even so, the careers open to women were constrained and hardly paid enough. They could either become clerks, teach or house-keep. What’s more, women’s work was grindingly dreary, and likely to leave an intelligent woman like Mrs. Linde disgruntled.
Women often got into another trap: Marriage. Yes, marriage was a snare in itself. They could divorce, but it carried a communal stigma not only for the woman, but also for her spouse and family. Hence, few women even weighed it as an option. Torvald preferred to a certain extent to have a make believe marriage, for the sake of appearances, rather than an annulment or an amicable separation. When he discovers the truth about the money, he tells Nora. “It must be hushed up. Whatever it costs. As for you and me, we must go on as if nothing had changed between us. In public”. This is clearly demonstrative of the fact that Torvald’s regard for his public image is much greater then his regard for Nora’s happiness, who is clearly in an unhappy alliance. He should let Nora get a divorce from him rather than being in a ‘playhouse’ marriage.
The characters of Nora, Mrs. Linde and the Nurse all have to sacrifice something or the other to be accepted, or even to survive. Nora not only sacrifices herself in borrowing money to save Torvald, but she loses the children she undoubtedly loves when she decides to pursue her own identity. Mrs. Linde loses the true love of her life, Krogstad, and is forced to say “I do” to a chap she does not love in order to prop up her needy relatives. The Nurse gives up her own child to look after other people’s in order to survive financially. Besides, she sees herself blessed to get her lowly job, given that she has committed the sin of having a child out of wedlock. In the society where Ibsen as raised women who had illegitimate babies were stigmatized, while the men responsible often escaped scorn.
Hence, A Doll’s house presents a pitiable picture in terms of the treatment and position of women in the European society of the 19th century.
On the other end of the line we have So long a letter, which is a novel written in Western Africa, most probably Senegal. This book details the lives of two women, Ramatoulaye and Aissatou, who are moving through life with nothing but each other’s support. They are both caught in the same situation as they are both victims of their husbands marrying other women and hence engaged in bigamy.
This novella shows us two sides of the same society The post/colonialism Senegal is a hugely patriarchal society, where the men are placed at the crux of family life. They are the sole breadwinners in each households. They put the food on the table and are the only source of income in any family.
The women however, cut a sorry figure. The only function they seem to perform or the only utility they seem to have is to have babies for their husbands. The only role they play is that of ‘prostituting’ for their husbands. Pardon my strong language, but it would seem that women were placed in that society only to satisfy the men and have sex with them. The only course that their lives could take was to get married and have children as soon as they finished their school. That is, if they were lucky enough to go to school. Senegal is a chiefly Islamic country and sharia law was followed.Sharia law prohibits girls who have reached maturity to go to school to avoid any contact with the outside world .Basically; they could not go school, as it would mean getting to meet people from the outside and also socialize with men other than their own fathers or brothers. However, Ramatoulaye does have the opportunity to go to school fortunately. This is one of the factors that influenced the way she looked at life compared to the older women of her time..
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Also the society was in a way hypocritical, because the men could do anything they wanted and go scot- free but the women would be criticized for doing the same. In fact, both the husbands of Aissatou and Ramatoulaye commit bigamy with women half their ages. However, the women were looked down upon if they married a second time unless they were widows. Also, Islam prevents divorce, unless the husband chooses to divorce his wife. The woman has no right to divorce her husband because, according to sharia law, they had the sole role of upbringing the children. The man was only supposed to bring in the money. Hence, the religion of Senegal also played a restricting role and was in a way responsible for the treatment of women as represented in So long a letter.
In the above discussion I have analyzed both A Doll’s House and So long a letter by looking at instances which look at the way in which women were treated in the respective societies in which the books are set in. It is to be noted that A Doll’s House and So long a letter were not only written in different countries, but also during different time spans. However, these two books both paint a gloomy picture of the way in which women were placed in society and treated by the people around them despite being written almost a century apart. Another noticeable attribute of both the works is the fact that the women protagonists rise up through the rubble of their lives somewhat like the mythical Phoenix. This is also relevant in the modern context because nowadays women have risen up to be equals to men in all spheres of life.
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