Merriam Webster defines feminism as the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes. In order to recognize the issues of inequality between the sexes, one should consider the societal standards for each gender. If the genders were equal in the political, economic, or social sense then there should be no barrier that allows rights to one gender over the other. Furthermore, if one points out the differences in gender roles, then it is obvious they are attempting to point out the inequality and suggest a need for change.
Now, if one were to look the play A Doll House by Henrick Ibsen that is placed in an era of “old fashioned standards” for women rather than the powerful men, one would evidently be able to see the differentiation in the rights of males and females. Therefore, since there is a call towards the apparent separation in the sex’s standards, it would only be logical to assume that the play must correlate to the advocacy of the need of women’s rights based upon the unreasonably little power given to them. In short, due to Ibsen’s discernible emphasis on the distinct variation in standards between the genders of the time around the 1880’s, A Doll House is most definitely intended as a statement about the need to change the social constraints faced by women.
The play A Doll House by Henrik Ibsen is a realism play, thus the play plays off of the assumption that the characters are shaped by their environment. For this reasoning, Ibsen finds it important to include a lengthy description of all of the surroundings as the characters transition from scene to scene. The first instance that this precise illustration of the surroundings is present in the first stage directions of the play. Ibsen goes on to describe a home that is furnished “comfortably and tastefully, but not extravagant” with maids tending to the chores (Ibsen 1349).
Additionally, the playwright continues to describe what appears to be a middle-class home of the 1880’s in Norway where a young woman named Nora lives in luxury. As the stage directions continue in the first scene with the interaction between Nora and her husband, Torvald, it is evident that she is cautious and submissive under his presence. This compliant behavior by Nora is noticeable in the stage direction of Nora as she “takes a packet of macaroons from her pocket and eats one or two; then goes cautiously to her husband’s door and listens” (Ibsen 1350). In this moment, Nora appears almost frightened to disturb her husband once she has finally arrived home.
In efforts not to disturb him and what seems to be fright for she has the desire only to please her husband and never intrude, Nora never knocks or makes Torvald aware of her presence. The only reason that Torvald eventually realizes she has entered the home is by her voice responding to the porter. The apparent restrain of Nora to make her husband notice her existence obviously exposes the gender roles in which she is attempting to conform to. In a sense, Nora has embodied the fact that she has become a prisoner in the middle-class society. In this era, it was assumed that women were meant to stay out of the way of the men during time of work and their only purpose was to be the picture-perfect housewife whose role exclusively includes going upon the men’s instructions.
Briefly, if a man were to busy with what appeared to business, it would be the women’s purpose to simply wait until he was done to interact with him, for she would always is put second below anything. The degrading notion that the woman is just a minor part of a man’s life exposes the inequality between genders and calls upon the necessary need for change. Why else would Ibsen carefully craft the environment from which this married couple stems if not to reveal to the audience the absurdness of the situation?
Additionally, as the play continues, there continues to be the emphasis of the differentiation of gender roles of the time. For instance, Ibsen draws attention to the contrast in authority or power of the man over the women in Nora and Torvald’s exchange after she has returned from shopping. During the conversation, Torvald refers to Nora through pet names along the lines of “my little lark,” “my little squirrel,” and “little featherhead” (Ibsen 1350).
No matter how demeaning these little nicknames are, what makes the situation even worse is the matter that these names are only one directional. Therefore, Nora only refers to Torvald by his first name, not even daring to utter something less formal to her husband. As well, Nora doesn’t even become offended as her husband essentially compares her to brain less animals accepting the prejudice against her and responding with glee affirming to him that his little lark is twittering about. Moreover, when Torvald begins to scold Nora about spending too much money on the holiday gifts and decorations, Nora mentions that they should simply take out a loan until Torvald starts making the “big salary and earn lots and lots of money” (Ibsen 1350).
In this instance Torvald is appalled that Nora would even reference such a preposterous idea stating, “that is like a woman!” (Ibsen 1350). This degrading statement again reiterates the mentality that women are so less of a being that they have no comprehension or understanding of how money and business works. Additionally, as seen later in Act II of the play, Nora even refers herself as these humiliating pet names to Torvald. This demeaning regurgitation of the pet names further exemplifies how Nora has complacently accepted that she must belittle herself in order for her fully encompass how Torvald sees and wants to perceive her as: a stupid, mindless woman.
Continuously the theme of lacking power along with basic accessibility to services and currency is evident within A Doll House. Another example of when this theme is expressed is when Ibsen discloses Torvald’s bribery. In this situation, Nora appears to have a slight temper and to cure her “[drooping] wings,” Torvald presents her with two pounds. During this occasion, Nora becomes overjoyed for he is the one that controls all of the money which she has and determines how much she can spend. In short, Nora must receive money from Torvald for she doesn’t have a dime to her name.
The fact of the matter that women in this century are considered too foolish to have control over money additionally displays the lack of respect and capability associated with women. In addition, during this instance between Nora and Torvald, Nora once again demonstrates a passive nature that is almost childish. Nora is attempting to hide the fact that she has bought macaroons in order to accommodate her sweet tooth. In a manner that would most likely be observed between that of a father and a young teenager as she hides the macaroons in her pocket.
It is apparent that Nora has taken on the mindset that she is less superior to Torvald as he questions her about the sweets, for she responds with remarks of “certainly not” and “I assure you,” as if she were a small child swearing, they didn’t do something bad (Ibsen 1352). The purpose of uncovering these docile features of a woman is to undoubtedly arouse in the audience with an exponential amount of sympathy for the advocacy of women. In short, the play seeks to expose the inequality and mistreatment of women, which is unfortunately deep-seated into the male dominated culture and society.
Furthermore, through the play Nora continually plays to her gender rolls of being submitted to the background in efforts to put Torvald’s face and personal preferences first. Nora does this in a countless amount of moments such as when she doesn’t admit to the fact that she essentially saved Torvald’s life. When Torvald “over-worked himself dreadfully” resulting in a near death experience the doctor recommended the family to travel south (Ibsen 1354). Due to Torvald’s stinginess, he refused to spend his own money for the good of his health. Therefore, Nora took matters into her own hands and secretly took out a lone under her dying fathers name in order to supply the money for the trip. Nora, however, doesn’t confess this information to Torvald after she has done so for, she proclaims how could she with:
“A man who has such strong opinions about these things! And besides, how painful and humiliating it would be for Torvald, with his manly independence, to know that he owed me anything! It would upset out mutual relations altogether; our beautiful happy home would no longer be what it is now” (Ibsen 1358).
Nora basically concludes that it is only best not to disclose that she is not actually a spendthrift and is rather bettering her husband unknowingly because she wants to maintain Torvalds image and not disrupt his fragile ego. Furthermore, it is evident in this instance that Nora is aware of the societal norms of the time that she must play into. Overall, this notion that Nora must assume her position with out receiving any credit for heroic all due to the fact that she is a woman would seem preposterous to any audience member. This essentially leads to those exposed to this play to acknowledge to standards women have and observe the ridiculousness of this nature and ultimately call to action for a change of this scenario, embodying a feminist perspective.
Moreover, the ending of the play completely embodies the feminist nature that this play endorses by having Nora, herself, recognize the demeaning nature that she has been succumbed to all her life. In the final scenes of the play, Nora realizes that her home is “nothing but a playroom” and that she “[has] been [Torvald’s] doll-wife, just as at home [she] was papa’s doll child” (Ibsen 1398). This acknowledgement of how controlled she has been her entire life leads her to as well become aware of the fact that she doesn’t understand the conditions of the world. Therefore, Nora determines it is best for her to flee from her once picture-perfect home to try and “see if [she] can make out who is right, the world or [her]” (Ibsen 1440). In addition, Nora’s epiphany moment that she has “duties to [herself]” to fulfill highlights that all females have worth and the right to do what they just as much as males have the ability to do what they desire freely with lack of judgement.
While many argue that A Doll House is simply about self-realization and based off of the need to find oneself. However, in a basic overview of the play it is about women dealing primarily with the desire to establish her individuality and self-respect throughout her community. The main character, Nora is evidently dominated and has her rights limited, rights to just be a human, and has had all sense of identity ripped from her by her male counterparts in her life. Therefore, it is only logical to conclude that since Ibsen stylistically chose to center the play around a woman being degraded one moment after the other by overpowering male figures, it must have been chosen to this way in order to draw attention to the “the woman question”.
Further supporting this notion that the play is feministic in nature, Joan Templeton presents a strong argument supporting this underlying theme. Similar to the point state previously, Templeton likewise agrees that:
“to say that Nora Helmer stands for the individual in search of his or her self, besides being a singularly unhelpful and platitudinous generalization, is wrong, if not absurd. For it means that Nora’s conflict has essentially nothing to do with her identity as a nineteenth-century married woman, a married woman, or a woman. Yet both Nora and A Doll House are unimaginable otherwise” (Templeton 31).
This aligns directly to the fact of the matter that Nora’s conflict correlates directly to that of a relatable and prominent situation that was occurring to all women of the nineteenth century. The reality that this play is not simply about a random fictional scenario but rather a revolutionary problem that overwhelmed this time era, only proves that the purpose of describing the horridness of the treatment of women was put in place in order to accentuate the need for a change. Throughout the entirety of the play Nora faces an internal struggle for self-discovery, which Ibsen seemingly creates in order to prove that women are not merely objects, but rather intelligent beings who can from their own independent thoughts. This notion that Ibsen is attempting to draw out through is his play only further proves the obvious that he wanted to call upon the matter of feminism and the need for equality.
Moreover, in Templeton’s critic of A Doll House, she mentions that other critics often attempt to explain her way “whether Nora is judged childish, ‘neurotic,’ or unprincipled and whether her accuser’s tone is one of witty derision, clinical sobriety, or moral earnestness” (Templeton 30). The critics intentions appear to be to avoid the obvious recognition that Nora scares them because she reveals “the plea for a woman as a human being, neither more nor less than man,” according to James Huneker (Templeton 32). Lastly, Templeton, along with a quotation from Goulianos, proves that the play must be feminist based. One can conclude this with Templeton’s insight within the instance that Nora revolts and decides to leave her husband, as she is “voicing the most basic of feminist principles: that women no less than men possess a moral and intellectual nature and have not only a right but a duty to develop it: ‘the grand end of their exertions should be to unfold their own faculties’” (Templeton 32).
Overall, after an analysis of the play A Doll House by Henrik Ibsen, along with reading acratically acclaimed Joan Templeton’s scholarly essay is clear to assume that Ibsen intended for this play to advocate for feminism. Although Ibsen never directly admits this notion, through a variation of contextual clues, Ibsen makes his message clear that is intended to be a feminist play. In short, Ibsen’s refusal to limit the play to only be focused around the concept of feminism, doesn’t take away from the all-encompassing emotional and psychological effect of the play on the audience.
The play still revolves around the “woman question” which embodies the break down of a wife (who is the subject of the play), with the drastic measure needed to be taken in order to develop her own identity, and ultimately produces the most sympathy towards the woman. As well, according to Ibsen himself “it is desirable to solve the problem of women’s rights, along with the others; but that has not been the whole purpose. My task has been the description of humanity” (Templeton 28). It is obvious that the play is basically a demand for justice, and whether is deemed as a call to justice to humanity or justice to women, it is firstly and specifically justice to women and indirectly justice to humanity. For who cannot look past the obvious, even though the play revolves around the search for identity it is through a degraded woman’s eyes who we are looking through.
Finally, after researching possible reasoning behind why Ibsen may have never declared himself as only a feminist, it is possible he believed that one does not necessarily need to be a feminist in order to defend women; one only needs to be human.