“A Doll’s House” (1879) in:
Four Major Plays – Henrik Ibsen
Oxford World’s Classics, 2008
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I doubt I can say anything that has not been said before in this month’s discussion on A Year of Feminist Classics. So I’m posting small notes, simply because I’d like to have a record of this project by the end of the year.
A Doll’s House is about Nora and Torvald, her husband who has recently received a promotion in his job at the bank. Torvald treats Nora as a child, a precious pet, and throughout the book calls her names such as “my little sky-lark”, “little squirrel”, etcetera. This annoyed me to no end. But it also sets up the scene of their marriage perfectly: they interact as if by lines learned from a book, pet names once given and always there now. Only when they fight (which they do in several scenes) do the names suddenly stop, as does some of the condescending manner of Torvald.
As many before have said, I believe both Nora and Torvald are trapped in the social manners they are supposed to take on, by society. This does not mean that this doesn’t leave a lot more freedom towards Torvald to shape his life in a certain manner.
Actually, I disliked all the characters in this play. Torvald, Nora (how could she be/play so dumb and stupid?) and many of the supporting characters. When Nora plays with her children, she truly seems to be a child herself. It is as if the whole first act tells you: “see, this is marriage, and it is only right, because looks at what women are..”
I think it is only when the turn occurs in Act III that I started to go from feeling the play was “okay” to “good”. This is also where everything fell into place for me. Nora, especially, suddenly commanded a lot more respect:
Nora: It’s right, you know, Torvald. At home, Daddy used to tell me what he thought. then I thought the same. And if I thought differently, I kept quiet about it, because he wouldn’t have liked it. He used to call me his baby doll, and he played with me as I used to play with my dolls. Then I came to live in your house….
Torvald: What way is that to talk of our marriage?
Nora: What I mean is: I passed out of Daddy’s hands into yours. You arranged everything to your tastes, and I acquired the same tastes. Or I pretended to… I don’t really know… I think it was a bit of both, sometimes one thing and sometimes the other. When I look back, it seems to me I have been living here like a beggar, from hand to mouth. I lived by doing tricks for you, Torvald. But that’s the way you wanted it. You and Daddy did me a great wrong. It’s your fault that I’ve never made anything of my life.
The characterisation of the treatment of Nora as a doll in a doll’s house is so spot on for everything that went on in the play. And that last line shows how Torvald is trapped as well. Can we really agree with Nora that it is all Torvald’s fault? I think what Ibsen was trying to say was that it is society’s conditioning that was/is at fault.
As for the ending, you can feel the controversy. It must have been huge at the time (and the introduction tells me it was). I can see why.. I don’t think I necessarily agree with Nora’s choice, although I doubt if she had another choice to build up her own life. What it really made me stop to think about is how normal we still consider it for a woman to never leave her children, while a man leaving his is.. sad but okay. This play helped me consider that, something I had never thought about before. Isn’t it weird how a play that is more than 130 years old can still be so relevant today?
I am very glad I bought a book that has three other plays by Ibsen in it. I cannot wait to read them in the upcoming months.
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