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The controversial play A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen is one that can be studied and critiqued to a great extent. Ibsen was known to write plays on taboo subjects including banishment, illegitimate children, syphilis and euthanasia in the play Ghost. These subjects created mirrored identities that many were scared to even talk about in the Victorian society of their times. This play is famous for many reasons including Nora’s search for identity, unconventional drama, and the “real” side of social issues. Ibsen wasn’t afraid to think outside the box, and let his plays illustrate that. After reading this play it is clear that the Helmar family, more- so Nora demonstrates many levels of Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Throughout the play it is clear that many of her needs are not being met, and in turn she acts the way she does to try and meet those needs. Many can mistake this for a strong “feminist idea”.
Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is defined as “five interdependent levels of basic human needs (motivators) that must be satisfied in a strict sequence starting with the lowest level.”(businessdictionary.com) A person’s needs start from the bottom, and work their way up. Physiological needs for survival and security are the most fundamental and most important needs. The second level is safety, including health, family, and prosperity. Social needs, include the strive for love and belonging, and self- esteem needs such as feeling respected, admirable and valuable. The fourth level in the hierarchy of needs is esteem. This includes self esteem, personal recognition, and accomplishment. The highest level of needs is the self -actualization containing self-fulfillment, and achievement. According to an article of the hierarchy of needs, “Physiological, security, social, and esteem needs are deficiency needs (also known as D-needs), meaning that these needs arise due to deprivation. Satisfying these lower-level needs is important in order to avoid unpleasant feelings or consequences.” (The Five Levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs by Kendra Cherry, About.com Guide) Throughout the play A Doll’s House, Nora goes through each of these needs, or should I say, the deprivation of these needs. She has to come to terms with not having these in her life, in which she slowly regains them, and looses another. Nora’s interactions with Dr. Rank, Krosgstad, Kristine, and especially Torvald unconsciously show how her personality is developed through motivations. According to Maslow, the first two levels of needs, which include food, water, shelter (lowest level), financial resources, health and security (second level), need to be fulfilled before one individual move successfully to the next level. Each aspect of Nora’s life is a struggle for self acceptance.
In the beginning of the play we see Nora in her search for the second level of Maslow’s hierarchy which is safety of body, employment, resources, family, health, and prosperity. The opening scene portrays to the audience the struggle for financial survival, when Nora bring the children’s Christmas presents, and is very secretive about what she’s spent. Their financial struggle, and Torvalds illness, has created them to worry about their finances very much, yet Nora continues to “play” one of the elite of the Victorian era. Nora appears to act as though she is a “pampered child with a penchant for shiny coins clinking together.” Until the New Year Nora and Torvald do not have extra money to spend yet she acts as though money is no object.
“Nora- If you really want to give me something, you might-you might- 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 money? Nora. Spendthrifts-I know. Let us do as you suggest, Torvald, and then I shall have time to think what I am most in want of. That is a very sensible plan, isn’t it?” (Ibsen 501) This quote is a prime example of two things. First we can see that Nora is portrayed as a doll, who abides by and is told of her every move by her husband.
We can also see an unconscious need for the second level of Maslow’s motivational need, of safety, which includes financial standings and health. These are intertwined, due to the fact that Nora took out a loan to save her sick husband which will be strung along as one of the main difficulties throughout the play. Another instance in the play where we can see Nora in search of a level of safety is when Krogstad blackmails Nora about the forged loan. She knows that if this information gets out, especially to Trovald, she will experience intense personal guilt, shame, and legal troubles. Although Nora feels cornered by Krogstad, the audience can see that he is just as troubled and in search of his own feeling of safety. Krogstad has three children that need caring for. Without his job he will be unable to provide for them.
When one level of needs is satisfied and fulfilled another level stands out to be achieved. The third level in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is the social level of love and belonging. This includes to “fulfilling this need for companionship and acceptance, as does involvement in social, community or religious groups.” (The Five Levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
By Kendra Cherry, About.com Guide) The main idea that people long for is the emotional connect. Of course we see Torvald and Nora’s petty interacts a We can see in A Doll’s House Nora’s next desire for love and belonging. This includes friendship, family and sexual intimacy. Nora acts like she is the perfect little wife, and acquaintance, yet she quickly comes to the realization that she is neither. After reading critical analyses of this play it is extremely clear that Nora tries so hard at these tasks, just not in the right ways. Her quest for acceptance and love seem to fall into two different categories. First is deprivation love. This is defined as “essentially selfish need to give and receive affection from others”(Brunnemer) Above that is being-love, which is “the unselfish desire for what is best for the loved one”(Brunnemer) We can see throughout the play that Nora strives for deprivation love, for her personal need to feel loved and wanted. Many instances in the Ibsen’s play we can see right through Nora’s seemingly innocent motivations. Nora tries to please Torvald, dance around, and speak softly and respectfully so she will then feel beloved and valued. She feeds off of the need to dance around like a little “squirrel”. “Nora, darling, you’re dancing as if your life depended on it!” (Act 2, pg. 204) It is ironic, because for Nora, her life does depend on it. She has come to the point where she will do whatever it takes to fill that void. In Ibsen’s play we can see other instances when Nora portrays a overwhelming desire for true love; love she can actually feel in her heart. Dr. Rank has been the only one to show any true affection for her, when he confesses his love for her. “It is no use lying to one’s self.”(Dr. Rank,Act Two) Once Nora has come to terms with what she has been missing, and confesses her own love for Dr. Rank. Throughout the entire play, Nora have went from different levels of deprivation in search of her own self- actualization.
According to Maslow, self actualization is defined as “the full use and exploitation of talents, capacities, potentialities, etc.” (Motivation and Personality, p.150 A.Maslow). He believes “It is an ongoing process in which one’s capacities are fully, creatively, and joyfully utilized.” The highest level of hierarchy of needs includes personal creativity, purpose, meaning and all inner potentials. We can see in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House that Nora has been unconsciously in search for self- actualization throughout the entire play, until she realizes change must occur. Nora has finally realized that her whole life has been playing pretend. We can see through one the most well known scenes in the play Nora has finally come to terms with her own life. “I have existed merely to perform tricks for you, Torvald. But you wanted it like that. You and father have committed a great sin against me. It is your fault that I have made nothing of
my life. our home has been nothing but a playroom. I have been your doll-wife, just as at home I was father’s doll-child; and here the children have been my dolls.” (Nora, Act Three) It is clear Nora is fed up with what her life has come to. At this point in the play Nora and Torvald are at two different points of their needs. Torvald is only concerned with his social standings and what people think of him, while Nora is concerned with finding herself. This quest to find herself started in the beginning of the play when Nora says “Because an atmosphere of lies like that infects and poisons the whole life of a home. In a house like that, every breath that the children take is filled with the germs of evil.”(Act 1, pg. 179) Early on she should have decided to change the meaning of her existence.
An important quote “behavior in the human being is sometimes a defense, a way of concealing motives and thoughts, as language can be a way of hiding your thoughts and preventing communication”(brainyquotes.com) The way Nora had acted all throughout the play is a clear indication that all the substance to a healthy lifestyle and a feeling of contentment is gone. The audience feels a sense of sorrow for Nora, and can understand why she does the things she does. In act three Nora says “I have another duty equally sacred…My duty to myself.” (Nora Helmer)
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