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Social Conflict In A Dolls House

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1407 words Published: 28th Apr 2017

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Dollhouse, a noun used to describe a dwelling that serves as a display for small replicas of human beings (Dollhouse). The Norwegian realist, Henrik Ibsen, chose his title cleverly when naming one of his earliest symbolic plays (Ibsen). While reading A Doll’s House, we reach an awareness that the major thrust of this tragicomedy deals with the “moral laws” that men and women are required to follow by “nature” (Lit, 1867). In the nineteenth century, women lived in an age characterized by gender inequality. Ibsen conservatively agreed that women had gender roles to fulfill, but believed they should stand equal to their husbands (Drama). The social conflict that oppressed women’s rights was often ignored, but the realist had all intentions to raise questions and recognized that society needed to stop sweeping unsolved problems under a rug. The principles of Ibsen’s teachings are about facing the facts. We discover that he diagnoses the disease but leaves it up to us to cure it. Ibsen addresses the issue by using a great deal of symbolism. It is essential for us to identify each symbol in order to completely understand his message.

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Among the many elements that tie this story together, the first one we come across is the setting. We find it is horrendously cold outside the comfort of the house. The weather is a representation of life outside the social norm. Ibsen depicts the middle-class in which his characters live in as “limiting, brutal, and unforgiving” (Ibsen). This social class has little “room” for those who do not reach its standards. Given that this idea was the harsh reality of social order, the seclusion that outcasts endure can leave them incapable of gaining any significance from interactions with others in society. Those who are who are looked down upon are literally iced up and blocked from acquiring any social substance. This facet is most noticeable in Mrs. Linde. When we are first introduced to her character, she is living the life Nora chooses at the end of the play, detachment from all social responsibility. Another symbolic element that is less obvious is the information Ibsen provides by acknowledging that Mrs. Linde has experience the alternative life and wants back in society. This information relates back to Ibsen’s conservative views that women should continue to have certain gender-role responsibilities, such tasks are part of a woman’s “purpose” (Drama).

Ibsen provides a sense of direction by providing symbolism as we interpret each character. When we turn to Torvald, Nora’s husband, we can not help but notice how prideful he is. When Nora attempts to stop him from firing Krogstad and he replies with “..he thinks he has every right to treat me as an equal..”, we learn how his opinions of others depend directly on how they affect his social position (Lit, 1837). Torvald’s moral code is determined by social expectations. He is embarrassed of Krogstad’s actions and does not want others to see that they are associated with each other. His self-identity is so caught up with what people will think of him that nothing else matters.

Torvald has a very bold and defiant perspective of a woman’s purpose. He believes a woman’s most important function is to be a wife and mother. Torvald advises Nora that women are “responsible for the morality of their children”(Lit, 1832). Until Act III, Ibsen makes it difficult for us to perceive any life in Torvald. He appears to be perfectly content with living for society and not for himself. He seems to be missing an understanding of people and only concerned with their social status. A suitable example of this is when he meets Mrs. Linde, very casual and careless because she has no social worth. We can easily conclude that Torvald is ignorant to the meaning of independence and any thought of change. Ibsen uses Torvald to represent the common man in the nineteenth century, a closed minded being who is so wrapped up in themselves, that they treat their wives like helpless rag dolls. We see more of this characteristic when Torvald gains satisfaction from flaunting his “lovely” wife in front of other men and the idea of arousing their jealousy when he takes her from the party (Lit, 1853:1854). We can confirm that Nora’s position in their marriage is no more than a trophy as he describes to her the romantic conditions he fantasizes about.

When we are first introduced to Ibsen’s most vital element and main character, Nora, we have a sense of doubt towards her carefree attitude, but as the play continues we appreciate her optimistic spirits. Her childish personality does not help in changing Torvald’s perception of women. In fact, the extent of her optimism is so great that she appears immature to others. We get the impression that Nora has never thought about life outside society’s expectations. Nora takes advantage of every opportunity of independence that comes along, but seems to be content with a self-compromise in her marriage. When she confides in Mrs. Linde about the sacrifices she has made in order to save her husband’s life, we can see how much pride she takes in herself. Nora uses this deed to justify to herself that she is not “useless” and holds onto it (Lit, 1818). Ibsen leaves some mysteriousness to Nora, but we can soundly interpret her as a free-thinker who is satisfied with life until she realizes the reality of her marriage. If men appreciated their wives and did not treat them less worthy, then women would happily fulfill their “gender” duties.

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The title provokes us to question the matter of power. When we are first introduced to the characters, we might assume that Torvald holds the control. He takes on a controlling tone when he lectures Nora about money, “No debts! Never borrow!”, and sweets, “Didn’t go nibbling a macroon or two?”, but Nora does as she pleases and eats all the macroons she wants (Lit, 1811:1813). It is the playful conversations between her and Torvald that help us see Nora’s manipulative personality. The continuous nicknames he gives her, such as “squirrel” and “singing bird”, reflect back to the fixed depletion of worth that Torvald has set for her, yet Nora flirtatiously uses them to get her way (Lit, 1812). Once Torvald discovers Nora’s secret, he is upset because his reputation is at stake. One, his life was saved by his wife and two, because he felt as if he had lost some control. His words make Nora realize that Torvald is not grateful of her deed and is more worried about his status in society. She begins to understand that the main issue between them is who has the control, not how great their love for each other is. At the beginning of the play, Ibsen shows that even though Nora loved to feel somewhat independent, she still let Torvald have general control. By the end, Nora sees that independence is the only thing that makes her feel free.

A Doll’s House is a revolutionary representation of one of our century’s most important struggles, the fight against the oppression of women. Nora’s departure from her obliged role transformed this play into a vital statement. Her metamorphosis from a “doll” who kept quiet to an independent thinker who speaks with great clarity about gender roles was a smooth transition. She was a child-wife and a determined woman in her secret debt to save her husband’s life; these roles enabled her to a small amount of control. If Nora was not an independent thinker, she would never have taken a loan and Torvald would have died. She was able to undertake these tasks and save his life because she had her own way of doing things. The symbolism that Ibsen uses makes it easier for us to understand Nora’s final decision and the message he intended to send out. Each symbol helps us recognize Ibsen’s conservative perspective on the importance of gender roles, but allows us to see that equality and appreciation should be present. Torvald is a stubborn man who loses his wife to oppression. Ibsen recognizes that the ultimate end could be possible in every marriage if matters between man and woman do not change.


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