Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House”
Chandra Barrier Prof. Jade Love ENG 113-450 July 13, 2012 Enlightenment Drama has been used as a source of entertainment and enlightenment for hundreds of years and is often considered an art form. Just as with many other types of literature, drama relies on several separate components all working together to tell a story. These components serve to draw an audience in, create a believable situation, and illicit a particular response. The play “A Doll’s House” by Henrik Ibsen provides an excellent example for analysis, with each component strongly supported.
Often the first, and most obvious, component that can be observed when reading drama is the point of view that it is written from. Point of view determines the perspective from which the story is told. In a play there is typically not a narrator, leaving the audience to witness the action and dialogue of all the characters and compose a personal interpretation. This approach allows the characters to come alive as more is divulged and discovered about each of their identities. This development of each character is known as characterization.
One of the most complex characters of the play is Nora, the wife. In the opening of Act 1 she is portrayed as a materialistic, wasteful woman. Nora’s husband, Torvald Helmer, is the character who first brings this trait to light by stating, “Has my little spendthrift been wasting money again” (Ibsen, A Doll’s House, 804), and “It’s a sweet little spendthrift, but she uses up a deal of money” (Ibsen, A Doll’s House, 805). Both statements suggest that Nora often spends more money than she should, on unnecessary items.
As more is learned about Nora, it is discovered that she has actually been shopping very wisely in order to save up a little money. Any penny she saved went to pay off a secret loan that Torvald knew nothing about. Nora had procured the loan behind her husband’s back in order to save his life when he had fallen ill eight years prior. She explains, “Whenever Torvald has given me the money for new dresses and such things, I have never spent more than half of it; I have always bought the simplest and cheapest things” (Ibsen, A Doll’s House, 812).
Nora showed that even when she was given extra money to spend on herself, she chose to pay off her debt instead. Upon Nora’s declaration of why she secretly obtained the loan, and her reasoning, “I did it for love’s sake,” her character is shown in a more admirable and intelligent light (Ibsen, A Doll’s House, 821). Throughout the remainder of the play, Nora’s actions and dialogue continue to build upon her selfless identity, proving her to be quite the opposite of the selfish individual that is first presented.
In literature a symbol is used to represent something more than itself. When reading drama, examples can be found anywhere from the set being used to represent the whole content of the play, to a specific prop that reflects the conflict or theme of the play. Although there are many symbols portrayed in “A Doll’s House,” one that seems to be great source of conflict and distress for Nora, the protagonist, is the bank bond from her secret loan. Nora had borrowed the money from a man named Nils Krogstad, who is the antagonist of the story.
The bond itself represented the internal conflict of Nora against herself, regarding keeping the loan secret and pinching pennies confidentially in order to pay off the loan. It is also used to represent the external conflict, characters against society or each other, of Nora versus society’s view that a woman could not borrow money without her husband’s permission. When Nora confessed her secret to her dear friend Christine, she stated, “No, a wife cannot borrow without her husband’s consent,” showing just how generally accepted this view was (Ibsen, A Doll’s House, 811).
Christine even goes as far as to call Nora “imprudent” for her scandalous decision to borrow the money without Torvald’s knowledge. The bank bond plays its most important role by reflecting the greatest external conflict of the play, between Nora and Nils Krogstad regarding the loan he had given her. From eight years prior, when the loan was first obtained, to the opening of the play, Nora has been paying every penny possible to Nils without and conflict or issue spoken of. There is a huge upset in their agreement when Torvald obtains a manager’s position at the bank where Nils works, leaving Nils to fear that he will be fired.
His fear is so great that he approaches Nora privately to ask that she use her influence on Torvald to save his job. Nils first approaches the subject, “the time has come when I should advise you to use your influence to prevent that” (Ibsen, A Doll’s House, 818). Nora immediately disagrees that she has any sort of influence in the situation, to which Nils responds, “but I have means to compel you” (Ibsen, A Doll’s House, 818). He proceeds to inform her that she had committed fraud by forging her father’s name on the bond, leaving her not only guilty to her husband, but also to the law.
Th e remaining story line of the play revolves around this base conflict, with each characters actions being a direct result. Isben’s use of Nora’s characterization helps to portray her as a believable character, allowing for a deeper connection with the conflict and a more lasting impression of the symbolism used. Ibsen used nearly every action, conflict, symbol, and character in order to portray his theme. Theme is the overall idea expressed by the play, often providing an insight about life.
This play was considered one of Ibsen’s very realistic pieces that concerned his age’s social issues. There are several themes that could be derived from “A Doll’s House,” but one that is noted from start to finish is marriage and the idea that it should be a joining of equals. During the time period it was written, in 1879 to be exact, husbands were expected to work outside the home and often exhibited ownership of their wives, while the wives were to remain homemakers, raise the children, and were socially expected to do as their husbands said.
From the opening of the play, Torvald demonstrates his ownership of Nora by calling her “my little lark,” and “my little squirrel” (Ibsen, A Doll’s House, 804). Torvald also condescends his wife quite often, as a show of his authority, by stating things like, “I will be wholly and absolutely at your service, you helpless little mortal,” and “because you don’t understand how to act on your own responsibility” (Ibsen, A Doll’s House, 850).
Nora, in turn, states, “I should not think of going against your wishes,” showing that she also seems to accept their socially accepted standings (Ibsen, A Doll’s House, 806). Through the dialogue and action between Nora and Torvald, it becomes undeniably obvious just how imbalanced their marriage truly was from the beginning. When Nora’s secret crime finally comes to light for her husband, he shows that he cares more about his social standings than their love, “all that concerns us is to save the remains, the fragments, the appearance” (Ibsen, A Doll’s House, 850).
His unexpected reaction of anger as opposed to a willingness to sacrifice his reputation in the name of love, serves as a revelation to Nora, “In all these eight years… we have never exchanged a word on any serious subject” (Ibsen, A Doll’s House, 852). Nora opens the deepest feelings of her heart that she has kept in for so long stating, “I have existed merely to perform tricks for you… but you would have it so” (Ibsen, A Doll’s House, 852). This realization ultimately leads to Nora understanding that she is as reasonable a human being as Torvald is, and she ends up leaving the husband she now sees as a stranger.
Ibsen uses this seemingly tragic ending as a way to enlighten his audience of what a true marriage should be, a partnership of equals. Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House” provides an excellent example of drama at its best. Each component is well represented, carefully relying upon the other to build toward a general theme. Due to Ibsen’s ability to draw a reader in and create a believable story related to his own time period, his words did not fall on deaf ears.
In allowing an audience to witness the struggles of Nora and her fellow characters, he was able to enlighten some about their own lives. This play elicits a response, whether positive or negative, and the message continues to have an impact over one hundred years later. Works Cited Madden, Frank. Exploring Literature. Ed. Frank Madden. 5th ed. New York: Longman, 2012. 13. Print. Ibsen, Henrik. A Doll’s House. Madden 803-56. Shmoop Editorial Team. “A Doll’s House” Shmoop. com. Shmoop University, Inc. , 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 10 July 2012.