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During the Victorian Era, women often were forced to squander their entire lives conforming to the normalcy of the ideal Victorian woman. Despite Ibsen’s bleak picture of how women are expected to behave, Ibsen’s play, A Doll’s House, focuses on female sovereignty held by women of heterogeneous socioeconomic backgrounds during the Victorian era. Through thick and thin, it is women like Mrs. Linde and Nora who carry the culture from generation to generation as oppose to men such as Torvald, who are focused solely on suppressing women’s freedoms and opportunities. Similarly, “Under the 1884 Civil Code, Mexican women had no rights; even moving required a woman to legally obtain the permission of a male guardian: father, husband, brother, or son (“Like Water for Chocolate”).”
As alluded to by Coventry Patmore in his poem, “The Angel in the House”, the ideal women was expected to be submissive and devoted to her husband and family as a way to keep up appearances. Akin to their British counterparts, Mexican men during the pre-Mexican Revolution Era prevented women’s rights, allotting all home-related responsibilities to women. During times of upheaval, even when men held all of the power in both the public domain and the privacy of the home, male fragility is exposed by female sovereignty because women uphold society.
Ibsen said, “A woman cannot be herself in the society of to-day, which is exclusively a masculine society, with laws written by men, and with accusers and judges who judge feminine conduct from the masculine standpoint.” Men of the Victorian Era held all of the power in both the privacy of the home and the public domain. However, even though men made decisions for society, creating laws for all its’ inhabitants, men of A Doll’s House are not only equally trapped as a result of societal expectations by gender roles, but also weak. Within his own home, Torvald treats Nora as his inferior, mirroring society’s expectations.
Torvald once said, “It is already known at the bank that I mean to dismiss Krogstad. Is it to get about now that the new manager has changed his mind at his wife’s bidding.” (Ibsen, 40). The thought that others could think a woman might have power over him is terrifying to Torvald; he sees this as a great threat to his ego and status. In this traditional patriarchal run society, men are expected to provide for their family. Torvald suffers a great hardship because he is not the flawless breadwinner he should be according to society. Similarly, the men in Like Water for Chocolate are weak and naive as well in comparison to their decisive and stronger female counterparts.
Pedro is a chief example of a man with a weak ego; since adolescence, Pedro is captive to his lust and passion for Tita. Unlike Pedro, the rebels and other male figures, Dr. John Brown is far more gender neutral than he is masculine, but equally insignificant. When needed most, Dr. Brown is too incompetent to heal beings such as Pedro after he is burned. It is Tita who takes action, employing techniques and remedies of her maternal grandmother in order to successful heal Pedro. It is combating the unexpected that puts willpower to the test.
Society centers around those who change lives and uphold and rid of both culture and tradition; Tita conserves order, unlike men such as Torvald who made clear that he would not sacrifice his honor for the one he claims to love, society deems Nora the bad girl for leaving her husband and children. Nora’s choice to sacrifice a life with her family in pursuit of a finding her identity is beyond what her family, let alone Torvald, can understand. Nora removes herself from under the palm of her controlling husband exemplifying her sovereignty as a woman into the 20th century.
Compared to this miserable Victorian image, the role of women in society today has undergone immeasurable metamorphosis. Women have more rights and social mobility than ever before. Conversely, this change has made the lives of women increasingly difficult as women seek to live free of society’s expectations as independent women pursuing their own ambitions, beliefs and identities today. By deciding to leave her family in pursuit of her own identity, beliefs and ambitions, Nora is a prime example of the modern woman. Today, women have more rights and opportunities than ever before; as a result women like Nora challenge societies pre-existing gender limitations every day. With Nora’s departure, Ibsen challenges both the normalcy of the ideal Victorian woman and societal expectations.
During Victorian times, a wife’s role was to love, honor and obey her husband. Patmore writes about the “Angel” being passive and powerless, meek, charming, graceful, sympathetic, self-sacrificing, pious, and above all—pure. (Patmore). Unfortunately for Nora, in the context of the Victorian Era, her decision to leave her husband and family is considered an unforgivable scandal because women were expected to know their place. The relentless societal pressures of Victorian normalcy are what push Nora to the edge, resulting in her quest to find her identity. “Similarly, both Gertrudis and Tita reach the edge, responding to the changes of the revolution each in their own ways (“Like Water for Chocolate”).”
“Gertrudis engages in acts of sexual liberation and takes flight from the home in order to participate as an active hand in the Revolution (“Like Water for Chocolate”).” “Conversely, Tita’s revolution is one far more personal and is not transparent until the next generation of women, represented by her niece, the narrator (“Like Water for Chocolate”).” “However Tita envisions a different future for the child and names her Esperanza, Hope (“Like Water for Chocolate”).” “Significantly, it is for Esperanza, and not for Tita, that the traditional happy ending is reserved (“Like Water for Chocolate”).” Women like Nora and Tita wife strive to defy pre-existing societal stereotypes and expectations for women everywhere and in the process; it makes them stronger as women.
When putting gender roles into perspective, it is necessary to discern the diffusion of responsibilities among a family. Today, gender-equality has made separation of duties among men and women possible. During these eras, women were expected to be passive, powerless and self-sacrificing to their husband’s wants and needs. Men were expected to provide for their family through thick and thin, allotting a great amount of hardship to the patriarch of the home.
Yet in both A Doll’s House and Like Water for Chocolate, women carry the culture and emotions of one generation to the next through a variety of mediums. Regardless of religion, race and gender, it is in the best interest of mankind to cease the suppression of humans’ rights, allotting equal freedoms and opportunities to both men and women. While patriarchal roots are deep-seeded within western politics, economics and social aspects, men, no different than women, are flawed; it is women who are the immeasurable anchor of society.
Fadanelli, Guillermo. “La literatura a la que estamos condenados.” Unomásuno (April 28, 1990):4. “Like Water for Chocolate” World Literature and Its Times: Profiles of Notable Literary Works and the Historic Events That Influenced Them. 1999. Encyclopedia.com. 18 May. 2012 . “Paterfamilias.” Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com. Web. 02 June 2012. .