"A Doll's House" is a revolutionary play written in the 19th century by Norwegian playwright, Henrik Ibsen. Written after "The Pillars of Society", "A Doll's House" was the first to create a sensation and has now become Ibsen's most famous and well known play. The play was controversial when it was first published for various reasons including Ibsen's portrayal of men and women in the 19th century, as well as his depiction of marriage. Nothing was considered more sacred than the promise of marriage, and to depict it in such a way was completely offensive. To Europeans of the 19th century, this was completely appalling. However, a few more tolerant critics such as the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw found it thrilling that Ibsen was willing to examine society without bigotry. In Germany, the production's actress was unwilling to play the part of Nora unless Ibsen changed the ending, which, under strain, he eventually did. In the alternative ending, Nora gives her husband another chance after he reminds her of her responsibility to their children. This ending was immediately ostracized and Ibsen later regretted his decision on the issue. "A Doll's House" was originally banned in Britain by the Lord Chamberlain under the 1737 licensing act. However, today all versions of this play as well as films use the original ending.
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"A Doll's House" was without delay seen as a feminist agitator. It kept its label as a feminist drama in scholarly articles until the arrival of the New Critics, who debated that the play was not concerned with feminism but rather with the origin of a human being. Whether the play is perceived as concerned with feminism or the beginning of a human being, the role of Nora as a mental character has always been a challenging issue. In the playwright, Nora has a inclination to fall into two parts, and in scholastic readings, readers usually see her certainty in act three as puzzling since it differs greatly from her character in act one as a seductive sky lark.
The different conceptions of Nora have also been affected by various ideological and feminist views. In the first part of the drama Nora plays the role of a typical woman in the 19th century, appearing to follow the societal rules. However, in the last part of the drama, Nora surfaces as very expressive and more eager to leave her husband and three children. Much of the criticism around is influenced by an essentialist understanding of adulthood and how a female woman is to behave and converse. Nora is either not a ethical female, or she is not a female at all, since she speaks like a man and appears to be Ibsen's spokesperson for feminist opinions, according to Else Host. Likewise, Erik Osterud has recently argued that Nora experiences an alteration between the first and last act, but claims this conversion is so complete that she is no longer a woman but a "man".
From a non-essentialist viewpoint, Tone Selboe disputes that Nora has taken a "male position" by borrowing money from Krogstad and forging her father's signature. Selboe also believes that Nora only takes on feminist role to hide these facts. Regardless of whether Nora changes from a "feminine woman" to a "masculine woman," or from a "woman" to a "human being," the real inquiry is how her alteration should be understood, and how a suppose transformation is exposed in the script (Rekdal).
The topic of women's rights and feminism is crucial to understanding "A Doll's House". Ibsen himself said that for him the issue was more than just women's rights, and that his real goal was to bring to light the issue of human rights. However, women continue to be the protagonist in Ibsen's writing, and this is displayed in "A Doll's House" with the portrayal of Nora Helmer. In her dialogue of the role Ibsen played in the nineteenth century, which appeared in The Cambridge Companion to Ibsen, Gail Finney explained "The most prominent socialist thinkers of the day, male and female, saw that true sexual equality necessitates fundamental changes in the structure of society." As a result, Ibsen stressed women's rights in "A Doll's House" to show his support for human rights. He supported economic reform that would protect women's property and became friends with a few of well-known Scandinavian feminists. Finney argued that Ibsen's wife, Suzannah, was the inspiration for the main character, Nora.
Finney dedicated part of her article to the importance on women's rights in "A Doll's House" in which she claims, "opened the way to the turn-of-the-century women's movement." Feminists from the 19th century totally cherished Ibsen's work and "saw it as a warning of what would happen when women in general woke up to the injustices that had been committed against them," according to Finney. In addition, Ibsen stated that "a mother in modern society is `like certain insects who go away and die when she has done her duty in the propagation of the race.'" This shows that Ibsen's view of women is that they have little value when their chief occupation is no longer being a mother. This is especially clear in Torvald's rejection of Nora when he discovers her dishonesty. He believes she is no longer useful to her children if her reputation is ruined. However, when Torvald finds about Nora's crime he does not kick her out of the house, but rather insists she remains with him but that she separate herself from the family. The fact that Torvald wants Nora to stay living with him displays his own need to shield his reputation in the community. However, she would still be of no use as a mother until, that is, Torvald discovers that the threat has been removed. The only way Nora can define her worth is by leaving Torvald and her children, and in the end that is what she does.
Finney invalidates early arguments that Nora's transformation in act three is unbelievable or too sudden. Nora's immature response to Torvald in which she states "I would never dream of doing anything you didn't want me to" and "I never get anywhere without your help" differs greatly with what her actual dilemma is, which is that she has forged a signature and saved her husband's life and has also displayed her ability to earn the money needed to pay back the loan. Finney also argued that Nora's recurring statements of how happy she is in Act I and her many practices of the tarantella are signs of a woman close to going mad. This hysteria also shows that Nora is a more complicated woman than the trusting "doll" she was made out to be at the beginning of the play. Finney noted that Ibsen stated late in his life that "it is the women who are to solve the social problem. As mothers they are to do it. And only as such can they do it." Finney saw this as a sign that Ibsen did not see women as only good for being a mother, but rather saw motherhood as a job that women carry out best when it is presented as an option. When Nora states that she must leave to find her identity because she is of no use to her children, she is giving voice to Ibsen's argument which Nora must have the right to select motherhood and she cannot do that until she has the liberty to choose (Metzger).
"A Doll's House" not only addresses the role of Nora as a woman and mother, but the role of men as well. The fact that Nora abandons her children is an offense against motherhood that shocked many audiences in the 19th century. Without a doubt, the play questions the true meaning of motherhood. Although Ibsen has denied feminist causes, he starts an attack on patriarchy by demeaning its main figure, the father. People often miss what the play says about fatherhood. In A Doll's House, fatherhood, usually linked with the authority and stability of patriarchy, is now associated with abandonment, illness, absence, and corruption.
Mrs. Linde, Nora's friend, is a character with an absent father. Although it is not clear, her father's absence is at the root of her troubles. To support her sick mother and her sibling, Mrs. Linde married a man whom she was not in love with. The absence of her father forced her to search for a father figure in a rich husband. However, he too fails in this role, becoming bankrupt and worthless. By depicting the father as absent or corrupted, Ibsen insults the patriarchal figure. In A Doll's House, the absent father is present all classes of society. When Anne Marie, Nora's maid, gives birth to an illegitimate child, she is forced to take a position with Nora's family and to leave her children. But the absence of child's father lies at the bottom of her predicament. She says of him: "That slippery fish, he did not do a thing for me"
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Ibsen portrays the father not only as absent, but morally corrupts as well. For example, Mr.Krogstad is a father desperately trying to raise his children and get his reputation back. Nevertheless, he has committed the crime of forgery, and instead of taking his punishment, he has tried to conceal his wrongdoings. According to Torvald, Nora's husband, this crime makes him a terribly corrupt person. "Every breath the children take in [his home] is filled with the germs of something degenerate" (152). Although Torvald is not highly regarded of his opinions, he does influence the social opinions of his times. Again, fatherhood is connected with a moral corruption that destroys the lives of children and is at the heart of the many troubles that the characters experience throughout the play.
Torvald Helmer is another example of a failed father. He has little to do with his children and when the children come in he says that the place is only fit for a mother. When Torvald finds out about Nora's crime, he gives in to Krogstad's demands, which makes making him even more hypocritical than Krogstad. He too becomes a father of betrayal and lies which negatively affects his children.
The corruption of the father also affects Nora's behavior. Commenting on Nora's lack of care about debt, Torvald says that she is "Exactly the way your father was" (128). After he finds out that Nora has committed forgery, Torvald realizes "All your father's flimsy values have come out in you" (187). This shows that the father figure has passed on his corruption to his child, in this case Nora. However, the influence of the father has been passed on to the husband as well because Nora has a similar bond with her father as she does with Torvald. She tells Torvald, "I've been your doll-wife just as at home I was Papa's doll child" (191). Nora leaves Torvald and her children to break away from this bond (Rosefeldt).
Ibsen observed, "There are two kinds of spiritual law one in man and one in woman ... but the woman is judged in practical matters by man's law." He stresses that his society "is exclusively a male society with laws written by men and with prosecutors and judges who judge women's behavior from the male standpoint"(Ferguson). This is Ibsen's view of the patriarchy. Although "A Doll's House" visibly deals with issues of motherhood and marriage, an in-depth observation of the play shows that the fathers are usually absent or corrupt (Rosefeldt).
Overall, Ibsen focused on the theme of women's rights in "A Doll's House" as well as their role in society. However, he also subliminally displayed the role of men in society and how most of them were corrupt or absent as fathers. "A Doll's House" was and continues to be one of the most performed and well-liked plays in the business. When it first debuted in the nineteenth century everyone loved it because it was different and did not exactly follow the societal rules of that time. Furthermore, that is one of the reasons that "A Doll's House" is such a controversial plays, because it goes against the norms of the 19th century. The controversy of "A Doll's House" is clearly displayed with overwhelming number of critics who have their own comments about the play including Finney and Rosefeldt. In addition, there are many critics who disagree with each other and that are why the debate over this famous play has never died down. Without a doubt "A Doll's House" has many themes that have been debated over time, the most valuable being the role of women and feminism, as well as the role of men as fathers.
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