A Doll's House is a play written by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, about a seemingly typical 19th century housewife named Nora who becomes disenchanted with her condescending husband. Some of the themes introduced in A Doll's House are the sacrificial role of women, the unreliability of appearances, the role of women in society and deception. Motifs and symbols are also frequently used throughout the novel to convey central themes. Paradise of the Blind, by Vietnamese novelist Duong Thu Huong depicts the story a woman named Hang as she reminisces of her life growing up in communist Vietnam. Despite both novels occurring in different time era's and geographical locations, both stories are centered around similar themes of women shedding the veils of self deception brought on through societal perceptions of what is right and wrong, thus raising the question of, "To what extent did society hinder the self-realization of Nora and Hang in A Doll's House and Paradise of the Blind?"
The central conflict in A Doll's House is centered on Nora attempting to prevent her husband Torvald from acquiring the knowledge of a forged bank loan used in an attempt to recuperate him from a detrimental illness. In Act 1 of A Doll's House Nora's response to a question of whether or not she would continue to refrain from telling Torvald of the illegally forged note is, "Yes - some day, perhaps, after many years, when I am no longer as pretty as I am now. Don't laugh at me! I mean, of course, when Torvald is no longer as devoted to me as he is now; when my dancing and dressing-up and reciting have palled on him then it may be a good thing to have something in reserve." (Ibsen12) This quote challenges the assumption that Nora is completely naÃ¯ve to the status of her marriage and whether it is one based off true love and companionship in which they are at the least somewhat viewed upon as equals. However while it appears that societal standards has not made her ambiguous to some of the faults of her marriage, it appears it had influence on her willingness to accept her superficial union with Torvald. In this particular era of time it was expected for women of class to not only perform her duties as a mother and wife but to be source of entertainment and prestige for their husbands to show off to their peers, thus making her role as Torvald's "doll" more acceptable. In Paradise of the Blind the protagonist Hang was brought up in a communist Vietnam where there was only black or white in regards to embracing what is acceptable based off society's criteria. In the novel Hang captures this in the statement, ""In our society, there are only two respectable types of people: the proletariat - the avant-garde of our society - and the peasantry, faithful ally of the proletariat in its struggle for the construction of socialism." (Chap. 8, p. 73) In order to remain a respectable figure in the eyes of her society Hang was left with the choice to either succumb to the will of the communist party or vacate the land of which she was born. Simply put, Hang is a victim of forces beyond her control in a communist Vietnamese society where her values (in particularly freedom/liberation) are irrelevant.
As Nora Is holding a conversation with Mrs. Linde, Nora exclaims "Free from care! To be able to be free from care; quite free from care; to spend time playing with the children. To have a clean, beautiful house, the way Torvald likes it."(Ibsen13) in reference to the debt she plans to pay off by New Years. However in the midst of her supposed upcoming freedom she recites one of the very shackles restraining her from attaining the freedom she truly desires. She says her anticipation for the exoneration of her debt is in the ability to pursue a higher level of involvement in her wifely/motherly duties as that would be the appropriate response for a "respectable woman of society". However the message of the play construes that Nora cannot find true happiness or freedom by merely fulfilling such duties in the domestic realm. It is later in the play that Nora's definition of freedom evolves from that used in the above quote, to a freedom in regards to social constraints and the ability to harness her own individuality and identity in the world. It is only through Nora's ability to cease deceiving herself that she finds true happiness.
In Paradise of the Blind Hang must deal with the cultural expectations placed upon her in regards to honoring the memory of her ancestors. Throughout the novel Hang is put under the un-ideal predicament of balancing the will and desire to please her mother whilst at the same time wanting to please her Aunt Tam whom reveres her as she is the last blood link to her deceased brother(Hang's father). Hang from the moment she meet Aunt Tam is bombarded with lavish gifts such as being given gold earrings at an age that would by most standards be considered inappropriate for on so young. Hang exclaimed her uneasiness in the treatment she was receiving from her Aunt; however the woman whom was her sole blood link to her father was of far too much importance her not to disregard such a trivial thing. The friction between Aunt Tam and Hangs mother later in the story symbolized Hang's life to that point in that she was always trapped in the middle, always forced to recede in some manner to appease another party. This is shown in the quote "A few stars shimmered. I stood there motionless, staring at them, never in my life had I felt, with such sharpness, the passing of time. Like watching the tail of a comet plummet and disappear into nothingness. Like the span of my life."(pg258). Through the use of a simile Huong shows how her whole life she has let others influence her life, seemingly wasting it away like the tail of a comet. However it also served as a catalyst for her self-enlightenment/realization. The following quote is given post Aunt Tam's death as Hang states, comets extinguish themselves, but memory refuses to die, and "hells money" has no value in the market of life. Forgive me my aunt: I'm going to sell this house and leave all this behind. We can honor the wishes of the dead with a few flowers on a grave somewhere. I can't squander my life tending these faded flowers, these shadows, the legacy of past crimes."(pg258). Hang finally overcome all other outside distractions be it Vietnamese society's views, her aunt's, or even her mother's views and establishes an identity of her own. While hindered by society's views, she ultimately succeeds in eliminating any self deception she possessed in regards to what were her responsibilities as a niece, and as a daughter. Like Hang, Nora too overcomes her self-deception as she realizes she will never attain happiness so long as she simply remained at Torvald's side as his "little skylark" or "fragile doll". As part of the sequence in which she is explaining her reasoning for leaving Torvald she exclaims, "But you never think nor talk like the man I could bind myself to. As soon as the fear was over-and it was not the fear what would happen to me but to youâ€¦â€¦.I was your little skylark, your doll, which you would treat in the future with doubly gentle care because it was so brittle and fragile. Torvald it has dawned upon me that for eight years I had been living with a strange man and has borne him three children. Oh, I can't bear to think of it! I could tear myself into little bits."(Ibsen70). Nora has recognized that even at the expense of going against societies, she must be true to herself and pursue what's in her best interests in order to be truly free and happy.
Both novels thoroughly exhibited how societal standards hindered both Nora and Hang from A Doll's House and Paradise of the Blind. However while both were met with obstacles in regards to gaining their freedom and self identity, the protagonists of both novels ultimately achieved their goals. This appears to convey a concurrent theme amongst both authors that whilst people may be or feel burdened by societies standards and criteria, ultimately it's within the power of the individual to remove the veil that is self deception' and open up their eyes to the truth so that they can finally identify what will truly make them happy.