Feministic tendencies in literature

Categories: Henrik Ibsen

Contrasting the straight forward realist drama style of “A Doll’s House” by Henrik Ibsen with the epistolary novel style of “So Long a Letter” by Mariama Ba in revealing the inner feelings and thoughts of the characters in their stories.

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Depicting the inner world of characters and their emotional state is one of the most crucial points of both realistic drama “A Doll’s House” by Henrik Ibsen and the epistolary novel “So Long a Letter” by Mariama Ba.

However, the authors apply different techniques for achieving this aim: subjective and objective. The two characters are very common in their feelings. They both experience the unfairness of traditional family life and at the same time find courage to struggle for their happiness.

Keywords: epistolary novel, drama, depicting of feelings

Contrasting the straight forward realist drama style of “A Doll’s House” by Henrik Ibsen with the epistolary novel style of “So Long a Letter” by Mariama Ba in revealing the inner feelings and thoughts of the characters in their stories.


Feministic tendencies in literature are nowadays something that arouses neither surprise nor indignation in the modern world. But this was not the case in the times when “A Doll’s House” by Henrik Ibsen and “So Long a Letter” by Mariama Ba were written. The only penetration into the inner world of women, depicting her in pieces of art as strong and rebellious personality who cannot tolerate the injustice and prejudices of contemporary family life, was revolution in itself then.

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That is why, although these works are written in different parts of the world, belong to different cultures, historical backgrounds and religious traditions, even different genres, they are very common in revealing the inner feelings of their women characters. These convergences and divergences will be further studied in our research.

Main Body

The novel “So Long a Letter” by Marima Ba is organized in the form of a letter written by the protagonist Ramatoulaye to her childhood friend Aissatou, where she depicts her feelings and reminiscences aroused by the death of her husband Modou, who had abandoned her 5 years before and married their daughter’s friend Binetou. The form of the work, the epistolary novel, which was classically introduced by the great European writers of the Age of Enlightment Samuel Richardson and Montesquieu in 18th century, is one of the most favorable for expressing people’s emotions and inner world. This is because they are described directly by the person who writes the letter and even the style of writing gives us hints about writer’s personality. Ramatoulaye expresses herself metaphorically with the whole depth of her feelings: “The past is reborn along with its possession of emotions. I close my eyes. Ebb and tide of feelings: heat and dazzlement, the woodfires, the sharp green mango, bitten into in turns, a delicacy in our greedy mouth. Ebb and tide of images: drops of sweet beading your mother’s ochre-coloured face as she emerged from the kitchen… ( “So Long a Letter” , Marima Ba, p. 1). It is interesting that epistolary novel developed later on into psychological novel, which mainly aims at revealing emotions.

There is a completely different form of expression in the drama of Henrik Ibsen “A Doll’s House”, where the emotions and feelings of characters are evident mainly from their actions and stage directions:

Nora (breathlessly): Torvald -what was the letter?

Helmer: Krogstad’s dismissal.

Nora: Call her back, Torvald! There is still time! Oh, Torwald, Call her back! Do it for my sake – for your own sake – for the children’s sake! Do you hear me Torwald? Call her back! You don’t know what that letter can bring upon us.

Helmer: It’s too late.

Nora. (In horror-stricken voice) What do tou mean by that? (“A Doll’s House” Henrik Ibsen p.49, Act 3)

The words themselves in this abstract do not have any highly metaphorical emotional load, but at the same time reveal Nora’s character. She acts here not as a “little squirrel” or ‘shinny skylark” free of cares (the usual way her husband perceives her), but as an emotionally strong personality, mature woman who wants to protect her family from the forthcoming catastrophe.

The main women characters of “A Doll’s House” by Henrik Ibsen and ” So Long a Letter ” by Marima Ba are equally full of life, they long for free and unbound life. For example, Ramatoulaye tells about her fancies in one of her letters: “The star and white cloud will be mine. The breath of wind will again refresh my face. I will stretch out, turn around, I will vibrate. Oh, health, live in me!”(“So Long a Letter”, Marima Ba, p. 12). These lines reveal her deep romantic soul of a woman, having been kept in some sort of imprisonment for quite a long time. It is also due to great love for life that Nora, the main character of the drama of Ibsen, is ready to start everything in her life from the new page.

The true inner world of the two women characters of these so different pieces of literature are depicted in the turning points of their life. For Ramatoulaye it is the physical death of her husband, for Nora – a kind of moral death of her family life. For both of them family life and their husbands are the most precious treasures in the world. They are ready to sacrifice their life and their social respect to it. Ramatoulaye marries Modou of true love, paying no regards to the demands of her relatives who found it a humiliating match, gives birth to twelve children and supports her husband in his rebellious political career. Nora is ready to commit a crime to save the life of Torvald by falsifying the signature of her deadly ill father in order to get a loan. She has to limit her own expenses and to do some minor jobs to pay the money back secretly from her husband.

Despite of that, both women suffer from the drastic position of women in family and society. Ramatoulaye admits that when a woman in the African muslin world gets married, she sells herself in slavery to the family of her husband – she is not even allowed to pay the bills by herself or go somewhere out without her stronger part. This is how Ramatoulaye speaks of marriage : “This is the moment dreaded by every Senegalese woman, the moment when she sacrifices her possessions as gifts to her family-in-law; worse still, beyond her possessions she gives up her personality, her dignity, becoming a thing in the service of the man who has married her, his grandfather, his grandmother, his father, his mother, his brother, his sister, his uncle, his aunt, his male and female cousins, his friends.”

Although there are no such strict rules in European society of Ibsen’s “Dollhouse”, Nora suffers from the same feeling of deprivation, understanding the enormity of hypocrisy and insincerity that surround her. The petty care of her husband Helmer, who never speaks to her seriously, without sugary jokes or moralizations, makes her a favorite puppet but not a human being. For that reason Nora is associated in the play with a Christmas tree, as she is only a charming plaything in the household.

But the crash of family life does not turn out to be the crash of their lives, they learn to be strong, to provide for themselves and, what is even more important, they discover their own personality and want to develop it. Ramatoulaye wants to lift herself and women in general “out of the bog of tradition, superstition and custom, to make themselves appreciate a multitude of civilizations without renouncing themselves, to raise their vision of the world, cultivate their personalities, strengthen their qualities” (“So Long a Letter” , Marima Ba, p. 12). She also understands the enormous significance of education in the life of society. “Teacher’s work like that of doctors, doesn’t allow for any mistake. To wrap a soul is as much a sacrilege as murder” (“So Long a Letter” , Marima Ba, p.23). Ramatoulaye reacts sarcastically to the words of her mother-in-law, who insists that “School turns our girls into devils who learn our men away from the right path.”(“So Long a Letter”, Marima Ba, p. 23) Ramatoulaye feels that it is the conflict between her European oriented education and rigid social and religious tradition that throws her into the streams of contemplations. And the letter to her friend helps her to solve this conflict and to recover her lost identity after many years of passive mind and life: “My voice has known thirty years of silence, thirty years of harassment. It bursts out, violent, sometimes sarcastic, sometimes contemptuous” (“So Long a Letter”, Marima Ba, p.57). Ramatoulaye puts herself in a position of power and authority in order to finally realize her previous marginality and she tries, therefore, to warn others of this very common position of women.

The central theme of Ramatoulaye’s contemplations is polygamy, from which she suffers a lot. The presence of her co-wife at the funeral ceremony irritates and anguishes her. She cannot forgive her husband the betrayal he committed in order to follow the muslin tradition and to gain higher status. At the funeral ceremony, the two wives had to stand side by side and to receive equal honors from family and friends. Ramatoulaye finds this equality humiliating: “Our sisters-in-law gave equal consideration to thirty years and five years of married life. With the same ease and the same words they celebrate twelve maturities and three. I note with outrage this desire to level out, in which Modou’s new mother-in-law rejoiced.” (“So Long a Letter”, Marima Ba, p.4).

No matter how disappointed in the traditional way of life she is, Ramatoulaye remains very religious. It gives her a sense of stability. She doesn’t feel Koran to be an instrument of polygamy, which destroyed her family life. On the contrary, she starts thinking about those people who are even more wretched then she is: about blind, poor, homeless, crippled, and she finds consolation in it.

Nora is a little bit different from this point of view. She is not yet ready to fight for her natural rights, but she only feels the wrongness of all her previous life and that is why decides to leave her husband and her children in order to become a personality. She admitsthat she is only a blank piece of paper, that she does not know anything about religion, except what a clergyman says, and does not have any moral sense apart from that imposed on her by her father and husband. The hardest for her is to abandon her children, but at the same time she understands that the person she is now is not fit enough to bring them up properly.

When she leaves Helmer’s house, her words are much more serious than they were in the beginning of the play: “But you neither talk nor think like the man I could bind myself to. As soon as your fear was over- and it was not fear for what threatened me, but for what might happen to you – it was exactly as if nothing at all happened. Exactly like before, I was your little skylark, your doll, which you would in future treat with doubly gentle care… Torvald, it was then it dawned upon me that for eight years I had been living here with a strange man, and had borne him three children. Oh, I can’t bear to think of it” (“A Doll’s House” Henrik Ibsen p.99).

This ending of the play aroused great indignation in that time society. Many people even accused Ibsen of an attempt to break and slander the traditional family. They considered the end of the drama artificial and claimed that no woman would leave her three little children. In order to put it on the stage Ibsen had to change the ending. But at first possible moment he restored the previous version.

But Nora and Ramatoulaye are not the only examples of brave and strong women, whose feelings overflow these works of art. They are surrounded by female friend who inspire them in their struggle. For Ramatoulaye it is her childhood friend Aissatou, who had courage to divorce her husband Maudo after he had taken a second wife. For Nora this is Christine Linde, who abandoned poor and miserable Krogstar in order to search for better life. However, Nora and Ramatoulaye are not that much radical in their views as their friends. They are only on the way to establishing their place in life, and the family misfortune is only a new turning point in their lives.


The description of feelings in the piece of literature can be done in a great number of possible ways according to the structure and genre of the work. The author can either penetrate in the inner world of the character itself, being able to fix his/her thoughts and reminiscences, show the feelings and emotions of a person through the eyes of other characters of the story, or make readers guess it from the action and development of the plot. Although realist drama “A Doll’s House” by Henrik Ibsen and the epistolary novel “So Long a Letter” by Mariama Ba make use of different ways of depicting character’s emotions, their effect on the reader is in both cases very strong. It is due to its sensuality that these pieces of work aroused great discussions in their societies at the time of their publishing. Only strong and convincing writing can produce such an effect.

Cite this page

Feministic tendencies in literature. (2020, Jun 01). Retrieved from http://studymoose.com/a-dolls-house-2-new-essay

Feministic tendencies in literature

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