Interpretation of A Doll's House

 

"A Doll's House" is classified under the "second phase" of Henrik 
Ibsen's career. It was during this period which he made the transition 
from mythical and historical dramas to plays dealing with social 
problems. It was the first in a series investigating the tensions of 
family life. Written during the Victorian era, the controversial play 
featuring a female protagonist seeking individuality stirred up more 
controversy than any of his other works. In contrast to many dramas of 
Scandinavia in that time which depicted the role of women as the 
comforter, helper, and supporter of man, "A Doll's House" introduced 
woman as having her own purposes and goals. The heroine, Nora Helmer, 
progresses during the course of the play eventually to realize that 
she must discontinue the role of a doll and seek out her 
individuality.

 David Thomas describes the initial image of Nora as that of a 
doll wife who revels in the thought of luxuries that can now be
afforded, who is become with flirtation, and engages in childlike acts 
of disobedience (259). This inferior role from which Nora progressed 
is extremely important. Ibsen in his "A Doll's House" depicts the role 
of women as subordinate in order to emphasize the need to reform their 
role in society.

 Definite characteristics of the women's subordinate role in a 
relationship are emphasized through Nora's contradicting actions. Her 
infatuation with luxuries such as expensive Christmas gifts 
contradicts her resourcefulness in scrounging and buying cheap
clothing; her defiance of Torvald by eating forbidden Macaroons 
contradicts the submission of her opinions, including the decision of 
which dance outfit to wear, to her husband; and Nora's flirtatious 
nature contradicts her devotion to her husband. These occurrences 
emphasize the facets of a relationship in which women play a dependent 
role: finance, power, and love. Ibsen attracts our attention to these 
examples to highlight the overall subordinate role that a woman plays 
compared to that of her husband. The two sides of Nora contrast each 
other greatly and accentuate the fact that she is lacking in 
independence of will.

 The mere fact that Nora's well-intentioned action is considered 
illegal reflects woman's subordinate position in society; but it is
her actions that provide the insight to this position. It can be 
suggested that women have the power to choose which rules to follow at 
home, but not in the business world, thus again indicating her 
subordinateness. Nora does not at first realize that the rules outside 
the household apply to her. This is evident in Nora's meeting with 
Krogstad regarding her borrowed money. In her opinion it was no crime 
for a woman to do everything possible to save her husband's life. She 
also believes that her act will be overlooked because of her desperate 
situation. She fails to see that the law does not take into account 
the motivation behind her forgery. Marianne Sturman submits that this 
meeting with Krogstad was her first confrontation with the reality of 
a "lawful society" and she deals with it by attempting to distract 
herself with her Christmas decorations (16). Thus her first encounter 
with rules outside of her "doll's house" results in the realization of 
her naivety and inexperience with the real world due to her 
subordinate role in society.

 The character of Nora is not only important in describing to role 
of women, but also in emphasizing the impact of this role on a woman. 
Nora's child-like manner, evident through her minor acts of 
disobedience and lack of responsibility compiled with her lack of 
sophistication further emphasize the subordinate role of woman. By the 
end of the play this is evident as she eventually sees herself as an 
ignorant person, and unfit mother, and essentially her husband's wife. 
Edmond Gosse highlights the point that "Her insipidity, her 
dollishness, come from the incessant repression of her family life 
(721)." Nora has been spoonfed everything she has needed in life. 
Never having to think has caused her to become dependent on others. 
This dependency has given way to subordinateness, one that has grown 
into a social standing. Not only a position in society, but a state of 
mind is created. When circumstances suddenly place Nora in a 
responsible position, and demand from her a moral judgment, she has 
none to give. She cannot possibly comprehend the severity of her 
decision to borrow money illegally. Their supposed inferiority has
created a class of ignorant women who cannot take action let alone 
accept the consequences of their actions.

 "A Doll's House" is also a prediction of change from this 
subordinate roll. According to Ibsen in his play, women will 
eventually progress and understand her position. Bernard Shaw notes 
that when Nora's husband inadvertently deems her unfit in her role
as a mother, she begins to realize that her actions consisting of 
playing with her children happily or dressing them nicely does
not necessarily make her a suitable parent (226). She needs to be more 
to her children than an empty figurehead. From this point, when 
Torvald is making a speech about the effects of a deceitful mother, 
until the final scene, Nora progressively confronts the realities of 
the real world and realizes her subordinate position. Although she is 
progressively understanding this position, she still clings to the 
hope that her husband will come to her protection and defend her from 
the outside world once her crime is out in the open. After she reveals 
the "dastardly deed" to her husband, he becomes understandably 
agitated; in his frustration he shares the outside world with her, the 
ignorance of the serious business world, and destroys her innocence 
and self-esteem. This disillusion marks the final destructive blow to 
her doll's house. Their ideal home including their marriage and
parenting has been a fabrication for the sake of society. Nora's 
decision to leave this false life behind and discover for herself
what is real is directly symbolic of woman's ultimate realization. 
Although she becomes aware of her supposed subordinateness, it is not 
because of this that she has the desire to take action. Nora is 
utterly confused, as suggested by Harold Clurman, "She is groping 
sadly in a maze of confused feeling toward a way of life and a destiny 
of which she is most uncertain (256)." The one thing she is aware of 
is her ignorance, and her desire to go out into the world is not to 
"prove herself" but to discover and educate herself. She must strive 
to find her individuality.

 That the perception of woman is inaccurate is also supported by 
the role of Torvald. Woman is believed to be subordinate to the 
domineering husband. Instead of being the strong supporter and 
protector of his family, Nora's husband is a mean and cowardly man. 
Worried about his reputation he cares little about his wife's feelings 
and fails to notice many of her needs. The popular impression of man 
is discarded in favor of a more realistic view, thus illustrating 
society's distorted views.

 Ibsen, through this controversial play, has an impact upon 
society's view of the subordinate position of women. By describing
this role of woman, discussing its effects, and predicting a change in 
contemporary views, he stressed the importance of woman's realization 
of this believed inferiority. Woman should no longer be seen as the 
shadow of man, but a person in herself, with her own triumphs and 
tragedies. The exploration of Nora reveals that she is dependant upon 
her husband and displays no independent standing. Her progression of 
understanding suggests woman's future ability to comprehend their 
plight. Her state of shocked awareness at the end of the play is 
representative of the awakening of society to the changing view of the 
role of woman. "A Doll's House" magnificently illustrates the need for 
and a prediction of this change.