Many women in modern society make life altering decisions on a daily basis. Women today have prestigious and powerful careers unlike in earlier eras. It is more common for women to be full time employees than homemakers. In 1879, when Henrik Ibsen wrote “A Doll’s House”, there was great controversy over the outcome of the play. Nora’s walking out on her husband and children was appalling to many audiences centuries ago. Divorce was unspoken, and a very uncommon occurrence. As years go by, society’s opinions on family situations change. No longer do women have a “housewife” reputation to live by and there are all types of family situations. After many years of emotional neglect, and overwhelming control, Nora finds herself leaving her family. Today, it could be said that Nora’s decision to leave her husband is very rational and well overdue.
In Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House”, there are many clues that hint at the kind of marriage Nora and Torvald have. It seems that Nora is a type of doll that is controlled by Torvald, and Nora is completely dependent on him. His thoughts and movements are her thoughts and movements. Nora is a puppet who is dependent on its puppet master for all of its actions. The most obvious example of Torvald’s physical control over Nora can be seen in his teaching of the tarantella. Nora pretends that she needs Torvald to teach her every move in order to relearn the dance. The reader knows that this is an act, but it still shows her complete submissiveness to Torvald. After he teaches her the dance, he says, “When you were dancing the tarantella, chasing inviting—my blood was on fire” (Ibsen II. 445), but she quickly shows that it is not her own choice by pleading “Please! I don’t want all this” (II. 447).
This shows that Torvald is more interested in Nora physically than emotionally. He feels that it is one of Nora’s main duties as his wife to physically pleasure him at his command. Torvald is not only demanding mentally and physically, but also financially. He does not trust Nora with money. He feels that she is incapable and too immature to handle a matter of such importance. Torvald sees Nora as a child. She is forever referred to as his little “sparrow” or “squirrel”. On the rare occasion that Torvald does give Nora some money, he worries that she will waste it on candy, pastry or something else of Childish and useless value. He shows his concern for his money when he ask Nora if is his “little spendthrift [has] been wasting money again” (I. 11). Nora’s duties, in general, are restricted to caring for the children, doing housework, and working on her needlepoint. But overall, Nora’s most important responsibility is to please he husband Torvald. This makes her role similar to that of a slave. The problem in “A Doll’s House” does not lie with Torvald alone.
Though he does not help the situation, he is a product of his society. In his society, females were confined in every way imaginable. Everything that women did had to have their husband’s approval, whether it delt with money, business, or anything else of significance. At times, they could not even speak their true thoughts or feelings without a harsh reprimanding. In this society, wives were to be seen and not heard. Throughout the drama, Nora keeps referring to “the wonderful.” This “wonderful” is what Nora expects to happen after Krogstad reveals the truth of her forgery of her father’s signature. She expects Torvald to stick up for her and offer to take the blame for the crime upon himself. She feels that this will be the true test of his love and devotion. However, Torvald does not offer to help Nora, in fact, he belittles her by saying “you may have ruined all my happiness. My whole future—that’s what you have destroyed” (III. 451). This is where Torvald makes his grave mistake. Nora realizes that Torvald places both his social and physical appearance ahead of the wife whom he says he loves.
This heartbreaking revelation is what finally prompts Nora to walk out on Torvald. He tries to reconcile with Nora, but she explains to him that she has “waited patiently for eight years,” (III. 456) for things to get better for her. Nora has been treated like a child all her life, by both Torvald and her father. Both male superiority figures not only denied her the right to think and act the way she wished, but they also placed a limit on her own happiness. Nora describes her feelings as “always merry, never happy” (III). When Nora finally slams the door and leaves, she is not only slamming it on Torvald, but also on everything else that has happened in her past which curtailed her growth into a mature woman. In today’s society, many women are in a situation similar to Nora’s.
Although many people have accepted women as being equal, there are still those in modern America who are doing their best to suppress the feminist revolution. Torvald is an example of men who are only interested in their appearance and the amount of control they have over a person. These are the men that are holding society down by not caring about the feelings of others. But Torvald is not the only guilty party. Nora, although very submissive, is also very manipulative.
She makes Torvald think he is much smarter and stronger, but in reality, she thinks herself to be quite crafty as far as getting what she wants. However, when the door is slammed, Torvald is no longer exposed to Nora’s manipulative nature. He then comes to the realization of what true love and equality are, and that they cannot be achieved with people like Nora and himself together. When everyone finally views males and females as equals, and when neither men nor women overuse their power of gender that society gives them, is when true equality will exist in the world.
Ibsen, Henrik. “A Doll’s House”. The Bedford Introduction to Literature: Fifth Edition.Ed. Michael Meyer. Pg. 1483-1542. Print.
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