How did the interactive oral develop your understanding of the cultural and contextual aspects of the work?
Before the interactive oral, my knowledge of the title of “A Doll’s House”, written by Henrik Ibsen in 1879, was solely based on the content depicted within the play, I had very little knowledge of the cultural and contextual elements surrounding the play as well as Ibsen’s mentality when writing the play in 19th century Norway. I saw the title as metaphorical delineating the ironic childlike role Nora adopted in Torvald’s home.
I viewed Nora as being simple and Torvald as being dominant without understanding Ibsens intentions in implicating these characteristics.
I found the presentations highly informative and explanatory, particularly when we discussed Victorian Families and the inherent perception of 19th century women during this era. Nora’s rebellion and controversial actions such as plagiarizing her father’s signature in order to obtain a loan and disobediently leaving Torvald’s home at the end of the play in pursuit of self discovery severely contrasted her vacuous persona when Torvald is present.
This stimulated a discussion on the progressive feminism movement and whether Nora’s characterisation would’ve been considered outrageous or empowering to a 19th century Norwegian audience. Furthermore I now interpret the play to contain similarities to the starting and growing impartiality of a Norwegian society as the presentation informed me that Norway’s social development commenced in the early 19th century and took a shorter period of time to diminish the gender gap than many other European countries.
Moreover another interesting discussion came about in regard to the character of Anna and her role as a single working woman. Sympathy was directed towards Anna because she had to raise and mother children of higher classes in order to provide for her own, we questioned why Ibsen incorporated this subtle storyline. Conclusively we decided that Anna’s role was a reflection of the mother of Ibsen’s illegitimate child. The theme of parental disconnect is further advocated by Torvald’s lack of communication and physical contact with his own children. The presentation furthered my understanding of Norway’s economy and the inconvenience of available job roles particularly for lower class women.
To conclude, I feel the interactive oral presentation has improved my understanding of the content, culture and context of play we already read, however areas such as the frequency of illness in the play seen in Dr Rank and Torvald as well as the value of marriage unions still need further research and clarification.
To what extent does Henrik Ibsen use Torvald’s attitude to marriage as a device to criticise the sacrificial role of women in A Doll’s House?
‘A Doll’s House’ by Henrik Ibsen is a Norwegian play following the Helmer marriage over a Christmas period. Torvald Helmer is a former attorney who strives hard to maintain his prestigious reputation, initially the audience perceive Torvald as a paradigmatic family man who prioritises his household but Ibsen later reveals that his actions are dictated by his desire to have a flawless reputation. Torvald acts as an embodiment of the misogynistic ideology harboured by a majority of men during the 19th century. Ibsen uses symbolism of the macaroons, Torvald’s outrage at Nora’s loan and Torvald’s insistence that he comes out of his study on his own accord to drive central themes of patriarchal attitudes in marriage. Torvald’s paternal attitude to marriage is significant in criticising the sacrificial role of women, by depicting the marriage as a father/daughter relationship, the role that Nora – a woman – plays within the household is marginalized.
Ibsen initially depicts Nora and Torvald’s relationship as one of a father and child to convey the sacrifice of personality. Through Torvald’s use of diminutive nicknames such as “little squirrel” and “little lark” (Ibsen : 1879, p3) Nora’s total lack of power within the marriage and in her own life is established. The extent of Torvald’s control is conveyed when he questions:
“Hasn’t Miss Sweet Tooth been breaking rules in town today? [·] taken a bite at a macaroon or two?” (Ibsen : 1879, p5)
His manner of address is condescending and patronizing vocalising, to the audience, the distinct hierarchy within the Helmer marriage. Ibsen incorporates another diminutive nickname “Miss Sweet Tooth” to connote childlike sugar fetishes henceforth equating Nora’s behaviour to a mischievous toddler. Ibsen’s use of the title ‘Miss’ rather than ‘Mrs’ to refer to Nora, consequently imposes Torvald’s perception of Nora onto the audience. ‘Miss’ is titled to an unmarried woman, generally quite young and having marginal societal authority, the utilisation of the title ‘Miss’ rather than Mrs implies the male jurisdiction Nora is under is of her father, whereas Mrs implies the jurisdiction is controlled by her husband. Torvald’s use of honorifics convey his male chauvinism within marriage highlighting Nora’s sacrifice of autonomy. Ibsen’s use of cumulative symbolism through the ‘macaroons’ is a form of depicting Nora’s acts of independence and deceit as well as portraying Torvald’s efforts to control Nora. Eating macaroons is Nora’s manner of disobedience to her domineering husband however once Torvald is present Nora sacrifices her personal character and conforms to the ideal Torvald perceives of her in order to satisfy his marital facade, opting out of behavior that befits her role in the marriage but rather transforming into a childish, hyperactive and seemingly immature wife.
The theme of the sacrificial role of women is further developed through the introduction of the character Mrs Linde. Mrs Linde functions as a device for exposition, she enters the act as a near forgotten friend seeking employment from Torvald Helmer, but later Ibsen unveils her as self-effacing when she discloses how she left her true love Krogstad to marry a richer man in order to support her sick mother and two younger brothers. Whilst Nora and Mrs Linde are engaging in a conversation about ‘trouble or hardship’, (Ibsen : 1879, p136) Ibsen gives her the line:
‘I had to provide for my two younger brothers, so I don’t think I was justified in refusing his offer’ (Ibsen : 1879, p137)
Here marriage is delineated as a source of survival irrespective of love and personal interests. Mrs Linde’s diction choice of ‘justified’ articulates the critical attitude towards marriage harboured as a generic perception. ‘Justified’ is synonymous for calculated and rational, through Ibsen’s characterisation of Mrs Linde the audience can notice the patriarchal undercurrents of relationships within the play. Mrs Linde provides a striking thematic contrast acting as a dramatic catalyst, considering the audience viewed of A Doll’s House as an assault on the traditional institution of marriage and Mrs Linde celebrated her return to domesticity balancing Nora’s impetuous and ultimately dependent nature. When Nora details a potential job opportunity Mrs Linde exclaims how she now has “somebody to work for· to live for. A home to bring happiness to” (Ibsen : 1879, p84) – which substantiates the belief that a woman’s role is devoted and dictated by the male presence within her life. The contrast between Mrs Linde and Nora elucidates to the audience that the sacrifice of unmarried women is greater and severer than a married ones, henceforth suggesting female autonomy can only be gained through sacrifice of ‘happiness’ and a ‘home’.
Furthermore, Ibsen’s subtle portrayal of Anne (the nursemaid to Nora’s children) contributes to the theme of female sacrifice being crucial within the play. The minute role of Anne substantiates Ibsen’s proposal that all women in 19th century Norway are subject to a role of self sacrifice. Anne is mother to an illegitimate child and in order to financially provide for her child she must sacrifice her biological motherhood and mother the Helmer children as employment. When revealing her personal situation in conversation to Nora, Anne informs her:
‘When a poor girl’s in trouble she must make the most of it’. (Ibsen : 1879, p206)
The blunt adjective ‘poor’ has a dual meaning, initially it can be interpreted as inscribing Anne’s helplessness however once passed this disdainful layer ‘poor’ could be viewed as an accurate portrayal of Anne’s financial status, enabling the audience to comprehend the sacrifices Anne makes as a poor woman are sempiternal and sustained. Anne’s character is further marginalised towards the end of the play when Nora is adamant and comfortable with leaving her children in Anne’s care while she embarks on her journey of self discovery. Mounting judgement is directed towards Nora and Torvald from the audience due to the disregard and absence of consideration for Anne’s thoughts on mothering Nora’s children continuously. Anne’s livelihood is taken for granted and she is accounted for as cheap labour rather than a mother with personal opinions and accountabilities outside of employment which accentuates the theme of female sacrifice. Anne’s sacrifice is consistent and essential just by being associated with a married couple despite being unmarried herself.
Nora’s rebellion against the entrenched attitude to marriage is pivotal in the cumulative development of the theme of female sacrifice. Primarily when it is divulged that Nora’s criminal act of obtaining a loan with a forged signature would be exposed, Nora’s instinctive solution was to sacrifice her life and motherhood to prevent Torvald from sacrificing his integrity. When faced with the prospect of Torvald’s honour diminishing when claiming Nora’s crimes as his own Nora details:
‘How painful and humiliating it would be for Torvald, with his manly independence to know that he owed me anything’.(Ibsen : 1879, p197)
Ibsen collates dramatic irony and hyperbolism to highlight the contrast between Nora and Torvald’s potential sacrifice, ‘painful’ implements a sense of physical distress, however is used to epitomise the severity of a sacrifice which pragmatically only affects emotion and mental perspectives. Ibsen’s use of irony further criticises the contrast of sacrifice between genders as Nora prioritises Torvald’s emotional pain over her imminent physical pain in death, elucidating to the audience her belief that Torvald’s societal position as a man is of paramount importance when balanced with the her entire livelihood. Ibsen further exposes Nora’s selfless nature and innate disregard for her own wellbeing with the personified phrase ‘manly independence’, depicting that irrespective of the enclosed problems Nora prioritises and seeks to masculate her husband and his personal characteristics. Ibsen’s use of comparison heightens the ingrained sense of self sacrifice instilled within married women and conveys elements of Torvald’s marital attitude are common among all.
Ibsen explicitly explores the distinction of marital sacrifices between genders after the revelation of the letter. Ibsen imposes the dialogue:
Torvald: ‘No man would sacrifice his honour for the one he loves.’
Nora: ‘It is a thing hundreds of women have done’ (Ibsen : 1879, p345)
The definitive verb ‘would’ carries gravitas as it displays Torvald’s statement as ineradicable evoking certitude over Torvald’s belief about a man’s attitude to marriage and sacrifice. Nora’s auditory exclamation externalises her sheer disbelief and outrage over the detailed male oblivion and egocentric nature as well as inciting the audience into the antithetical motives and impulsion between a husband and wife. Ibsen here reveals that Torvald perceives male sacrifice in marriage with minute importance when weighted with honour, further bolstering the point female sacrifice is mandatory but overlooked.
Evidently, Torvald’s attitude towards marriage in ‘A Doll’s House’ by Henrik Ibsen is used to criticise the sacrificial role of women within the play as well as contemporary society. The disparity between male and female sacrifice, the extent to which sacrifice effects all women and ingrained patriarchal undercurrents are all highlighted by Torvald’s perception that marriage and motherhood are a wife’s ‘holiest duties in this world’. (Ibsen : 1879, 309) Torvald’s attitude towards marriage acts as a paradigm for the generic attitude harboured within society, reinforcing Ibsen’s criticism of the patricentric community at the time. Characterisation becomes essential for channeling truth, experience and abetting the audience in comprehending the incessant sacrificial role of a woman – the need for this comprehension is essentially reflected in contemporaneous society.
Bibliography; Text: Ibsen, H. (1879) A Doll’s House. Translated by William Archer. London: T. Fisher