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A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen is a three-act play following the marriage of Nora and Torvald Helmer and their experience during the Christmas period. The 19th century Norwegian play can be seen as an exploration of love and marriage, or even, more profoundly, on whether there can be love in marriage. One may argue that the main message of A Doll’s House seems to be that a true marriage is a joining of equals, as the play centers on the dissolution of a marriage that doesn’t meet these standards.
At first, the Helmers marriage seems to be in a good state; they are joking with one another, indicating that they are happy. Nora talks joyfully about her love for Torvald, and Torvald refers to Nora using affectionate pet names. Their loving marriage stands in stark contrast with the marriages of Krogstad and Mrs. Linden. These marriages were based on necessity rather than love, and were unhappy. However, as the play progresses, the imbalance between the couple becomes more and more apparent.
At first it seems that Nora and Torvald both enjoy playing the roles of husband and wife in a way that is considered respectable by society. This is shown through their early interaction in the play where Torvald belittles Nora by calling her pet names, for example, is that my little lark twittering’ (Ibsen :1879). The use of the pronoun my’ presents the roles that were acceptable in this time period with the husband being able to dominate his spouse in every aspect of life and the wife being forced into a submissive position.
This trivial behaviour towards Nora mimics the power structure of a married couple in this time period, this language shows that they happily conformed to these roles which is significant because it portrays what typical marriage was like in 19th century Norway. This causes the audience to become invested in the play because the relationship between Nora and Torvald is something they can relate to as this behaviour was deemed as a societal norm. Nora’s submissive nature towards Torvald is broadened when she says It would upset our mutual relations altogether (Ibsen:1879), this reveals that the Helmer’s marriage is based on maintaining a veneer of male dominance. The use of the adjectives painful’ and humiliating’ present to us that Nora would feel ashamed if she was to undermine her husband in any sort of way . This is ironic because Nora knows that Helmer would be angry that she saved his life without telling him, but she fails to understand that this attitude is a weakness in him. This further develops the point that Nora and Torvald are happy to play the roles of husband and wife. Ibsen uses these devices to develop the theme of marriage in the play. Furthermore , the basis of Nora’s relationship with Torvald is established when she says, “Christina is  is frightfully anxious to work under some clever man, so as to perfect herself (Ibsen:1879); this statement informs the reader that Nora’s relationship with Torvald is built on careful manipulation of his ego. Nora referring to Torvald as a clever man’ adds weight to his ego and also to his name. The reason that she carefully manipulates his ego is because she is very much aware of Torvalds behaviour as she experiences it daily. The phrase frightfully anxious’ means extremely keen and this tells us that Christina is very eager to work under Torvald. Torvald’s ego reflects not only the roles of husband and wife in 19th century Norway but also the gender roles; the height of Torvalds ego displays Christina’s eagerness to be dominated by him and this explains to the reader that, in 19th century Norway, women were terribly excited to be controlled and manipulated by a man. This also explains that women were naturally submissive. However, Torvald’s ego means that he is highly flattered by her apparent submissiveness. These societal gender norms mirror the relationship of Nora and Torvald in their early interactions in the play and therefore presents to us that they are happy to play the roles of husband and wife. However, in Act 3, the audience now knows that Nora has recognised the flaws in their marriage and she has come to the realisation that their marriage was fake and they never actually loved each other. This is discovered when Nora declares, I was your little skylark, I was your doll which you would in future treat with doubly gentle care(Ibsen:1879), the verb was’ displays that Nora has finally understood that she was being treated unfairly and she will no longer be treated in this way. Ibsen’s use of the noun doll’ is also very significant because the play is called A Doll’s house’ and Nora is the doll confined within the doll house. A doll is an object which is played with and not taken seriously, this reflects the way Torvald has treated Nora and this reflects the way women in 19th century Norway were treated. Therefore Nora is a representative for women in this time period and the women in the audience can learn from Nora. Nora’s new profound feelings present to us that she is no longer happy to play the role of the submissive wife in her marriage as she realises that there was no real love between her and Torvald. This links back to the purpose of the play, whether there can be love in marriage and Nora has now come to the understanding that there has to be a communion’ between the partners in a marriage. This is why she leaves Torvald at the end of the play. Similarly, Mrs Linden and Krogstad’s marriages both failed but they were both based off necessity rather than love. Christine and Krogstad were initially lovers but she married a rich businessman, instead of Krogstad, so that she could support her sick mother and her two younger brothers, unfortunately, her mother and her husband died. It’s true that Christine is free from the responsibilities of family, but she does not like this lifestyle. She’s not happy again until she reunites with Nils Krogstad, telling him “I want to be a mother to someone, and your children need a mother. We two need each other”(Ibsen:1879). This quote explains to us Christina was willing to play the role of wife and mother because that is the only way she knows how to be happy. Ibsens use of the emotive verbs want’ and need’ portray Christina’s desperation to become a wife and a mother again showing to the reader that it is of vital importance that she plays the role that society has created for her. This presents to the reader that women, in 19th century Norway, are so programmed by society that the only thing they know how to do is to be a housewife. The simple short sentence, we two need each other’ (Ibsen:1879) provides extra emphasis to the plot and further develops the point that Christina only knows how to be happy when she plays the role of a wife and mother, in 19th century Norway, and also makes her desperation inflate. Ibsen’s use of the short simple sentence keeps the reader on edge as further suspense is built.Unlike Nora, Christina knows what life is like without men so she is not making this decision from a place of ignorance. Christina has much more knowledge of the world than Nora did when she married: she is a widow from an unhappy marriage, she has supported a family, and she already knows the worst about her husband. The major difference between Christine’s new relationship and that of the Helmers seems to be that Christine and Krogstad are entering into it as equals, whilst Nora and Torvald were very much on different levels, levels that were created and determined by society. This links back to Ibsens main message for the play which is, a true marriage is the joining of equals. In conclusion, the techniques Ibsen has used develops the theme of marriage by highlighting the key aspects of the marriages of Nora and Torvald and Krogstad and Christina. For example, the status of which the partners are in can prove to be very important in whether the marriage fails or not. In Nora’s case, she entered the marriage in an ignorant manner, and Nora and Torvald were never equal which eventually led to Nora leaving Torvald and, ultimately, leaving the marriage. Ibsen is hinting that women would be better off without marriage as it traps people and forces them into a lifestyle where they become programmed by societal norms. Ibsen is criticising 19th century Norwegian marriage implying that it is all based on false pretences.
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