“A Doll’s House,” originally written in Norwegian and set during the Victorian Era, revolves around the dilemma between a husband (Torvald) and his wife (Nora). The naive protagonist, Nora, forges a signature and borrows money to save the life of Torvald without his knowledge. In her lack of judgment as she attempts to pay off the rest of her loan, the lender threatens to expose Nora which would lead to the dissolution of her marriage. As Nora struggles to find a solution in the midst of the roles society has placed on her feeble shoulders, she is caught up in a personal crisis of existentialism.
Henrik Ibsen dealt with many struggles as he grew up. His father went bankrupt for a while and he lived in poverty for quite some time. He eventually married and had a son. Unlike many, Ibsen believed that the institutions of marriage and motherhood meant that couples should live together as equals. Without the confines of social and economical roles. He styles his plays in the fashion of ‘realism,’ a movement in drama which strives to portray reality as it is. Diverting from the traditional ‘well made play.’ In “A Doll’s House” not only does Ibsen display his avant-garde values within his characters, he also explores the philosophical issues of the human condition.
We get a hint of Nora’s rebellious attitude at the very start of the play. As she enters the stage, Nora is seen eating a macaroon. She blatantly lies to her husband about the sweets that she indulges in. The macaroons foreshadow Nora’s deceit of Torvald and her rebellious attitude towards men.
As the story unravels, we begin to understand the position Nora is in. Throughout the play, Torvald belittles Nora by referring to her as ‘my skylark’ and ‘my little sparrow.’ He treats her as a pet to an owner. As a plaything by dehumanizing her humanly characteristics. During such a time in society, men where undoubtedly superior to women. Girls, especially wives, relied on their husbands for financial and social security. However, unlike the many women, Nora understood this imbalance. “I mean, of course, a time will come when Torvald is not as devoted to me, not quite so happy when I dance for him, and dress for him and play for him” she reveals to a close friend. Nora understands the the roles that society had orchestrated for her and choses to play along.
At the climax of the play, Trovald reads a letter that details Nora’s actions and the consequences they must bear for it. However, he subsequently receives a letter forgiving them. Torvald rejoices, saying “I’m saved.” At the height of her temperament, Nora unleashes her innermost thoughts, revealing “I have been performing tricks for you, Torvald. That’s how I’ve survived.” Nora finally reveals that she would much rather explore the real world to get a grip on who she. All her life Nora had lived under men, and all her life she had been guided by them without much of a real understanding towards her own being. “I’m an individual just as much as you are, or at least I’m trying to be” she states. Nora undergoes a catharsis. As soon as the truth is revealed, Nora understands that she must move beyond the confines of society in order to gain a sense of identity. If she has been controlled all her life, was she really living it?
“A Doll’s House” is set near the conclusion of the Victorian Era where men, women and children lived by the unspoken rules of ‘bourgeoisie respectability’ – a term meant to capture the economical, social, and gender roles that had effectively rooted itself into society. Europe lurked on precarious footing. No one had any idea of where their culture would go or the rules that would govern it. It was a time of unprecedented change. As Nora shuts the door at the end of the play and moves into an unknown future that is both intimidating and invigorating, the slam resonates with the monumental changes taking place during Ibsen’s time.