The Transformation of a Woman In Henrik Ibsen’s play, A Doll’s House, the character of Nora Helmer is a woman who undergoes a profound life revelation that results in her becoming a woman with a belief structure and understanding of self that is far ahead of her time. At the beginning of the play, Nora thinks as a woman of her era; her identity is formed as her father’s daughter and continued as a wife to Torvald Helmer. At the end of the play Nora “discovers her individuality then walks out on her husband” (Ramsden).
A primary theme of the play is that Nora is a doll that is living in a doll’s house. (Alexander 381–390) The entire play is set in one room of the Helmer household. This reinforces the sense that Nora is confined to a very narrow existence, trapped in domestic comfort. The setting also reinforces the theme that women are perceived according to their roles in marriage and motherhood. (William, Robert and Kissell, Adam) As a girl Nora is a reflection of her father, allowed no independent thought. Alexander 381–390) As Nora tells her husband, “When I was at home with papa, he told me his opinion about everything, and so I had the same opinions; and if I differed from him I concealed the fact, because he would not have liked it. ” Nora’s says of her father, “He called me his doll-child, and he played with me just as I used to play with my dolls. ” As a woman Nora becomes a reflection of her husband. Nora states to Helmer, “I was simply transferred from papa’s hands into yours. She tells him, “You arranged everything according to your own taste, and so I got the same tastes as you—or else I pretended to, I am really not quite sure which—I think sometimes the one and sometimes the other. ” This is a continuation of her in the expected subservient role of a woman. Helmer treats Nora as one would a child, or a doll. (Alexander 381–390) He speaks to her in a patronizing manner, calling her “my little lark twittering” and “my little squirrel bustling about”. When chastising Nora for spending money, Helmer calls her “The same little featherhead. He defines what she can and cannot eat, forbidding her to eat sweets out of concern that they will spoil her teeth. While chiding Nora for indulging in macaroons, he wags his finger at her saying “Hasn’t Miss Sweet-Tooth been breaking rules in town today? ” Torvald defines what Nora should wear and how she should behave. Nora tells Doctor Rank, “surely you can understand that being with Torvald is a little like being with papa”. Nora’s existence has been defined solely by what is required of her by the men in her life.
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Initially she is accepting of this role, telling Helmer, “Yes, Torvald, I can’t get along a bit without your help”. Helmer states it clearly, “Before all else, you are a wife and mother. ” As Nora discovers her selfhood she begins to reject these roles, telling him “I have existed merely to perform tricks for you, Torvald. ” (Lee 620–637) When Helmer falls ill, Nora secretly takes a loan from Krogstad to fund the expense of moving to a warmer climate. She forges her father’s name to the promissory note; he by this time is gravely ill. Within herself she is proud to have done so, telling Mrs.
Linde “It was I who saved Torvald’s life. ” Evenings she locked herself away from her family to do copying and earn money to pay back the debt. This is the beginning of her discovering herself to be a capable, independent woman. It is ironic because these are attributes she has always considered to be masculine. She says of the experience, “it was a tremendous pleasure to sit there working and earning money. It was like being a man. ” When Nora fears Helmer will discover her secret she becomes frenzied; as she practices the dance she has agreed to perform at a neighbors dress ball, she begins to dance wildly.
Helmer tells her, “My dear darling Nora, you are dancing as if your life depended on it. ” The dance is symbolic. Nora’s tarantella is a graphic representation of a woman’s struggle to make her existences heard, to make it count… (Moi 256–284). Once Helmer discovers Nora’s deceit she hopes he will see the sacrifice that she has made, telling him “I have loved you above everything else in the world”. Instead he cries out, “she who was my joy and pride—a hypocrite, a liar—worse, worse—criminal! ” His concern is only for himself, pronouncing “Now you have destroyed all my happiness.
You have ruined all my future. ” He worries, “I may be falsely suspected of having been a party to your criminal action. Very likely people will think I was behind it all—that it was I who prompted you. ” He tells Nora she must stay in the home to uphold the appearances of marriage “but naturally only in the eyes of the world”, and that she will not be allowed to raise the children. Upon realizing they are free of exposure Helmer instantly does a complete reversal in his outrage towards Nora, telling her, “I have forgiven you everything. I know that what you did, you did out of love for me. But it is too late for Nora. A Doll’s House becomes an astoundingly radical play about women’s historical transition from being generic family members (wife, sister, daughter, mother) to becoming individuals (Moi 256–284). She realizes she has been done an injustice. “You and papa have committed a great sin against me. It is your fault that I have made nothing of my life. ” Nora tells Helmet, “You don’t understand me, and I have never understood you either—before tonight. ” She concludes, “I have been greatly wronged, Torvald—first by papa and then by you. Nora announces to Helmer, “I believe that before all else I am a reasonable human being, just as you are—or, at all events, that I must try and become one. ” Having discovered her courage, Nora leaves Helmer and her children. Nora’s struggle for recognition as a human being is rightly considered an exemplary case of women’s struggle for political and social rights (Moi 256–284). Works Cited Alexander, Paul C. “Building “A Doll’s House”: A Feminist Analysis of Marital Debt Dischargability in Bankruptcy. ” Villanova Law Review 48 (2003): 381–390. Print. Ibsen, Henrik. A Doll’s House. Ed. E.
Haldeman-Julius. eBook #15492 ed. Web: The Project Gutenberg, 2005. Web. May 28, 2011 Lee, Josephine. “Teaching A Doll House, Rachel, and Marisol: Domestic Ideals, Possessive Individuals, and Modern Drama. ” Project Muse 50. 4 (Winter 2007): 620–637. Print. Moi, Toril. “”First and Foremost a Human being”: Idealism, Theatre, and Gender in A Doll’s House1. ” Project Muse 49. 3 (Fall 2006): 256–284. Print. Ramsden, Timothy. “Servant Directs Others; Set Play. ” The Times Educational Supplement June, 4, 1999. Print. William, Robert and Adam Kissell. “A Doll’s House Themes. ” Gradesaver (August 2002) Web.
May 29, 2011 Reflections Transformation of a Woman I wrote an analysis of Hendrik Ibsen’s play, A Doll’s House. The purpose of the assignment was to expand my understanding of Ibsen’s work and the time in which the play was written, and of how to write a critique of a work of literature. A Doll’s House was written in 1879. Examining the play critically enabled me to gain an understanding of the type of work it was, and how the characters represented the people and the cultural trends of the era. The exercise increased my ability to critically analyze a major work of literature.
It helped me gain an understanding of the impact and origins of gender discrimination within society. One challenge was to understand the themes and symbolism hidden within the characters and the writing of the story. I also struggled with the proper structure of the paper and correctly representing the sources used. To overcome this, I learned and utilized the USF Library tool RefWorks, and the MLA Style of formatting. Additionally, I used the web to define a thesis statement and an exposition, and to research the elements of the play. These tools expanded my knowledge so that I was able to apply that learning to my critique.