Ibsen’s Portrayal of Stereotypical Gender Roles Hendrik Ibsen’s famous, yet controversial, play “A Doll’s House,” explores the apparent gender discrimination that greatly impacted women’s lives in the 19th century. Ibsen successfully sheds light on women’s rights and their lack of “importance” during this time by creating the fictional character, Nora Helmer, who is the main personality in the play. During the time period in which this play was written, a woman’s “job” was to get married, have children, and rely on her husband for practically everything.
They were not able to own any land and if they were permitted to work, they were paid extremely little. At first, Nora was portrayed as the naive wife of Torvald Helmer, who was a loving, devoted husband, but held complete authority over her. At the end of the play, Nora stood up for herself and decided to leave Torvald, as she refused to be his “possession” any longer. Nora’s quick decision to leave her husband and children was greatly criticized by the public, as it was thought to be a very heinous and selfish act.
Although this may seem like the case, this was the only way Nora could free erself from Torvald’s control and finally be herself instead of constantly revolving her life around his wishes. The ending of the play is crucial, as it showed the audience that Nora had power too – she had control over her own happiness. Ibsen decided to conclude the play how he did so he could show society that women are more than just housewives; they are their own people and deserve to be free, not someone’s personal property.
The feminist movement in Norway played a significant role in Ibsen’s decision in dedicating “A Doll’s House” to spreading awareness on women’s rights. Up until the late 1800’s, women’s rights were practically nonexistent. In society, women were viewed as objects rather than human beings, which affected their lives in countless ways. For example, the husband controlled the families finances and owned all of the land. Men have always been seen as the dominant sex and Ibsen made sure to express his feeling towards the unfair treatment of women through his play that is still read 100 years after being published.
In Ibsen’s work, Nora played the stereotypical housewife who was responsible for keeping up the house and caring for the children. Nora made this clear when she asked, “What do you consider my most sacred duties? ” and Torvald responded, “.. your duties to your husband and your children” (974). This clearly depicted what people thought an “ideal woman” was supposed to do in order to fulfill their role in society. Torvald and Nora had a very typical marriage, which resulted in Torvald having complete control over his wife.
Nora’s life revolved around making her husband happy – if he was not happy, she was not happy. This was unfortunate, as Nora constantly put Torvald’s wishes before her own, which resulted n her feeling more like a “doll” than a wife. Since Torvald was the one with authority in the household, he would regularly monitor his wife spending, along with small things, such as the amount of sweets she ate. For instance, because Nora had no job, she would have to ask Torvald for money and, on one occasion, said, “You might give me money, Torvald.
Only just as much as you can afford; and then one of the days I will buy something with it” (929). Torvald was the breadwinner and was very aware of his power, which resulted in him also controlling small aspects of her life. After a day out shopping for Christmas ifts, Nora returned home and soon after Torvald confronted her by saying, “Hasn’t Sweet Tooth been breaking rules in town today? ” (930). Nora then insisted that she had not eaten any sweets but Torvald continued to question her and to this, Nora responded, “I should not think of going against your wishes” (930).
His apparent authority overtook Nora’s sense of self, which is why she eventually decided to leave him in the end. On top of Torvald controlling Nora’s every move, he routinely called her by childish nicknames that were not only embarrassing, but also quite dehumanizing. They displayed Nora’s helplessness in her own marriage and, ultimately, proved to the audience how much Nora let her husband step all over her. The names belittled her to the point where it seemed as though he was talking to a dog rather than an actual person.
For example, one quote of many from Torvald was, “Come, come my little skylark must not droop her wings. What is this! Is my little squirrel out of temper? ” (929). He used these names when he was happy with her, but only ever called her by her actual name when he was upset. Along with this, Nora’s character was very captivating, as she as in a constant role play game. In the beginning of the play, it seemed as though Nora was a very immature and sheltered woman who failed to realize how oppressed she was in her relationship.
Then, towards the end, it was discovered that Nora was actually very in tune with how she was being treated. She finally let the readers know this by saying, “I mean that I was simply transferred from papa’s hands to yours. You arranged everything according to your own taste, and so I got the same taste as you.. ” (976). Her whole life she was role playing and making sure she did everything she could to please her usband. Then, when Nora finally decided to confront Torvald about his treatment towards her, she said, “I have existed merely to perform tricks for you, Torvald. But you have it so.
You and papa have committed a great sin against me. It is your fault that I have done nothing with my life (977). ” In Emma Goldman’s “Review of A Doll’s House,” she dedicated her paper to defending Nora’s choice to leave her family and be her own woman. The last line of her paper read, “When Nora closes behind her the door of her doll’s house, she opens wide the gate of life for woman, and proclaims the revolutionary message that nly perfect freedom and communication make a true bond between man and woman, meeting in the open, without lies, without shame, free from the bondage of duty” (989).
Goldman was able to successfully send a very powerful message through those words by making it known that both men and women should be treated as one – nothing should stand in the way of anyones happiness. After eight long years enough was enough and Nora took it upon herself to do what was best for her own well being and remove herself from her toxic marriage once and for all. In the end, Nora’s decision to free herself from Torvald’s grip was for er own good.
When Torvald asked her if she was every happy, she replied, “No, I have never been happy. I thought I was, but it has never really been so” (977). She finally found the courage to stand up for herself and have a say in what she wanted to do with her life. This was a huge step for Nora and women in the 1800’s, as it showed people that women were, and still are, not solely dependent on men. Without Ibsen’s disputable ending, Nora would have continued to live her life through Torvald’s eyes rather than her own and never truly know what its like to be independent.