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Feminist Analysis of “A Doll’s House”

Updated December 29, 2021
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Feminist Analysis of “A Doll’s House” essay

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The play «A Doll House» (1879) by Henrik Ibsen explains how Nora Helmer has gotten herself in a bad situation because she loaned money from Krogstad where she faked her father’s signature on the paper. She needed the money to travel to Italy to get her husband Torvald Helmer healthy after a period of being sick. From what we can understand the family had been poor before and had to be careful with what they spent money on. However, Torvald recently became the manager at the bank, promoted higher up in the rank than where he used to be.

Krogstad, who works at the same bank as Torvald, finds out that there is something wrong with Nora’s loaning papers. He confronts Nora with it and she tells him everything. Krogstad is about to lose his job in the bank and tries to prevent this from happening by blackmailing Nora to convince Torvald to not fire him, if not he would tell him about the papers. Short time after Krogstad got fired he put the letter in the mail. Nora tries prevent Torvald from reading it but fails and her husband gets very angry. Right after their maid comes with another letter from Krogstad, a letter that says Nora is free from debts, and that letter changes Torvald’s mood.

Nora understands that Torvald just cares about his own position and power, and he forgets that she saved his life. She understands that she has been naïve and that Torvald is not the man she thought he was. It ends with Nora leaving her husband and her kids because she felt like she didn’t belong there. She was not happy and she needed to find here right place in the world, and it was not with Torvald. There are some people that say this play is about humanity because Nora didn’t represent Woman but Everyman; however, many believe this play resembles feminism because how Nora changes from being a “doll” to a strong woman, standing up for herself and leaving her man and kids behind to find herself and be happy.

First, in the first act of the play Nora is represented as a stereotypical woman – irrational, naïve and is dependent on a man. She is being compared as a “doll”. She is beautiful, playful, childish and uncomplicated. Her role is to spread joy and take care of the people around her, as well as being Torvalds possession, since she is relaying on him economically. The Helmers as a family is very traditional. The man works to earn the money for the family. The woman takes care and entertain her husband and kids. In the third act however, Nora understands that she has been playing this role and not being fully herself. She understands after she tells Torvald about her crime that he is not what she expected. She though he would take the blame for her, but he makes it clear that she is not worth risking his reputation for when he says “no man would sacrifice his honor for the one he loves” (Act 3: 94).

She goes from being this sweet “doll” to becoming a strong, independent woman who takes care of herself and wants to take chances to become happy. This can be seen as feminism. Going away from what is excepted form you and the “roles” you are assigned in the community. Nora leaves her family and kids to be happy and to try to find her right place in the world. Not the place everyone else think she should be, but the place she wants to be, where she finds joy and happiness. She wants to have the same rights as Torvald has and she wants to get rid of the label that says she can’t. In the last act she stands up for herself and shows the rest of the world that you don’t need to be in a marriage that does not make you happy. This was very unusual at the time this play came out and made a lot of noise and debates.

The play can be quiet confusing. As Templeton explains in the article “The Doll House Backlash: Criticism, Feminism, and Ibsen” the play doesn’t start off with a lot of significant and obvious  that resembles feminism. However, as the plot moves forward to its climax the play challenges misconceptions about women and the protagonist Nora transforms from a “doll” to an individual human being. Ibsen are in the end just trying to resemble women as nothing more than humans with qualities as well as faults. In the play Nora seemed to like earning and working for her own money. She says that “it was a tremendous pleasure to sit there working and earning money. It was like being a man” (Act 1: 17).

Another sign that resembles that is was Torvald that was the boss in the house is all the nicknames Nora gets. “Little lark and little squirrel”. With him saying little, it can be a method of power. He shows her that he is the “man of the house” and she is just like a little lark. Torvald tells Nora to save money and he does not allow her to eat sweets.

On the other side a lot of people claim that Ibsen did not write this play as a feminist text and therefor it isn’t. They explain that Ibsen never said out load that he was a feminist, moreover, the opposite. He held this speech at the festival of the Norwegian Women’s Right League in Christiana, May 26th, 1898: “I am not a member of the Women’s Rights League. Whatever I have written has been without any conscious thought of making propaganda. I have been more poet and less social philosopher than people generally seem to believe. I thank you for the toast, but must disclaim the honor of having consciously worked for the women’s rights movement. I am not even quite clear as to just what this women’s rights movement really is.

To me it has seemed a problem of humanity in general. And if you read my books carefully, you will understand this. True enough, 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” (Ibsen 1910: 65). However, maybe Ibsen meant that you don’t need to be a feminist to defend woman, you just have to be a human. Templeton (1989:28) explains that the play A Doll House might be about humans and individualism in general instead of women. Even though Ibsen did might not intend to write this play as a feminist text the feminism is prevalent and present. To say that Henrik Ibsen was not a part of the women’s cause, however, would be wrong, because he said in a lot of speeches and letters that he was worries about the “weaker-sex”.

An example is a letter Ibsen wrote to Bjornson supporting the petition between connecting love and economics: “If I could have my way back at home, then all the unprivileged should unite and form a strong, resolute, progressive party, whose program would be directed towards nothing but practical and productive reforms, towards a very wide extension of suffrage, the statutory improvement of the position of woman, the emancipation of national education from all kinds of medievalism, etc…” In addition, Henrik Ibsen was considered one of the four biggest male voices for feminism in Norway. This can show that Ibsen was strongly involved in the women’s right. Maybe he never labeled himself as a feminist but he clearly had a passion for it and believed that women are as strong and men.

In Templeton’s essay she addresses a lot of arguments that disagree with “A Doll House” being feminism. An example is the Modern Language Association’s Approaches to Teaching A Doll House. The editor speaks disparagingly of “reductionist views of (A Doll House) as a feminist drama.” Summarizing a “major theme” in the volume as “the need for a broad view of the play and a condemnation of a static approach,” she warns that discussions of the play’s “connection with feminism” have value only if they are monitored, “properly channeled and kept firmly linked to Ibsen’s text” (Shafer, Introduction 32.)

I believe that Templeton feels like this a wrong way to study the play because she clearly means that the play resembles some feminism. The way the editor is describing it, they don’t want the readers to discuss around the feminism part because they are afraid it is going out of hand. Maybe the editor thinks that women can’t be as strong, independent and have the same rights as men.

You can understand from what Templeton is putting into “” that she doesn’t agree with what the editor is saying. Templeton wants to teach the not just the superficial side of the play but also go deep into it, see it from the feminist side and put that into discussion. To quote Templeton “Removing the woman question from A Doll House is presented as part of a corrective effort to free Ibsen from his erroneous reputation as a writer of thesis plays, a wrongheaded notion usually blamed on Shaw, who, it is claimed, mistakenly saw Ibsen as the nineteenth century’s greatest iconoclast …”

Reference

  1. Balaky, Saman Salah Hassan og Nafser Abdul Mosawir Sulaiman. «A Feminist Analysis of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House.» (2016): 15.
  2. Ibsen, Henrik. A Doll’s House. Gloucester: Dodo Press, 2005.
  3. Shafer, Yvonne. Approaches to Teaching Ibsen’s A Doll House. MLA, 1985.
  4. Speeches and new letters (of) Henrik Ibsen. By R.G.Badger Boston. Art. 1828-1906 H. Ibsen, 1885-tr A.Kildal og L.M.Hollander. 1910. MSN.
  5. Templeton, Joan. The Doll House Backlash: Criticism, Feminism, and Ibsen. 01 1989. 26 01 2019.
Feminist Analysis of “A Doll’s House” essay

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