November 27, 2017
No Strings Attached
In the 1800s, women were treated in a very different manner than they are today. Henrik Ibsen approaches this issue in a very subtle way in “A Doll’s House”. Nora is the main female character, but in the eyes of the men, she is not viewed as having any importance. All throughout the play Nora is constantly depreciated by her husband and by Krogstad. But as the play progresses, the characters soon realize their true positions. Ibsen uses characterization, symbolism, diction, and irony to emphasize the sexist way men treated women, and how each gender was pictured.
Characterization, more specifically character development, can be a huge factor in a play revolving around women’s roles in society. Nora changes drastically further into the play from being a dependent housewife to this independent woman. In the beginning she is this greedy woman who goes to her spouse for everything. But as the play progresses, it becomes known that she managed to conjure up a plan all by herself to save her husband’s life. Her husband eventually finds out about her plan/crime and becomes furious for going behind his back. Being scolded for doing something on her own, she then realizes that she has been treated like a piece of property all her life not being allowed to do anything for herself. So, Nora decides to leave her family and live her life the way she wants to and fulfill her own desires. This sudden abandonment comes as a shocking surprise, Azmi Azam explains it as Nora being “viewed as an alien” in her journal article (14). A mother is usually pictured as being devoted to her family, and Nora doing this goes against all of that. This represents how Nora throughout the play, manages to wake up from her oppressed life as a housewife and mother, and goes outside the lines of what’s expected in a woman during her time. Characterization highlights changes made by the characters, but symbolism can be used to highlight other areas within the play.
Many playwrights use symbolism to incorporate hidden meanings in their work. In “A Doll’s House” there are many examples of this, one being the macaroons in the beginning. The image of Nora having to hide her macaroons can be interpreted as her acting like the child she supposedly is to Torvald. Women in the 1800’s were expected to obey their husband’s wishes, just like children were supposed to obey their parents; so, the comparison between the two can easily be seen. The Christmas tree in the play is another symbol mostly relating to Nora and her place in her home. Nora says “Hide the Christmas tree carefully, Helene. Make sure the children don’t see it till it’s decorated this evening.” (Ibsen, 860). The tree is just a tree, but with the help of Nora and others it can look beautiful. Nora is like the tree, not needing help to be beautiful, but in the sense that she needs help from Torvald in the beginning. But further into the story the tree is “stripped of its ornaments and with burnt-down candle-ends on its disheveled branches.” (883). This can represent Nora’s dependent behavior disappearing due to her going beyond a woman’s duties to save her husband. And at the end of the play where the sound of the door closing form Nora leaving can be another example of symbolism. As Amir Hossain states: “Nora, the “doll,” now leaves her house and is free to “seek a fuller life as a human” (Hossain 141). This represents Nora’s transformation from a “play thing” to a true human being going out in the world to make something of herself. Symbolism is a great way to get the reader to look for the deeper meanings within the play, and diction can help with that by using certain words to get a specific message through to the reader.
Playwrights can use diction to emphasize a certain scene in a play and Ibsen makes good use of the words he chooses. In the beginning Torvald calls Nora a “squirrel” and a “skylark” (860). All the nicknames he has given her are all small and weak creatures, this gives the reader an idea of how Torvald thinks of Nora. Torvald also calls Nora a “spendthrift” when she comes home from shopping. This implies that he that sees Nora as this irresponsible child who spends money carelessly. “Little Pigheaded Miss” is another name Torvald gives Nora. Referring to Nora as “pigheaded” can imply that she may be useless like a pig. Diction is a great way to get a point through to the reader, but irony allows the reader to gain some knowledge that the characters don’t have.
Irony helps the reader see what differences there are from what the character says and what happens. The biggest piece of irony is where Torvald says “So my obstinate little woman has to get someone to come to her rescue?” (Ibsen 881). But the truth is that Nora, although being a woman, took it upon herself to come to Torvald’s rescue and eventually save his life. Torvald also says another ironic phrase, “come what may you can rest assured that I’ll have both courage and strength necessary. You’ll see that I’m man enough to take everything on myself” (889). This turns out to be false because when he finds out about Nora’s crime he immediately throws her under the bus and wants nothing to do with her. Irony can also be observed when Torvald says “My dear darling Nora, you are dancing as if your life depended on it.” (899). This is ironic because her life really does depend on it. She pretends to have forgotten the Tarantella to stall Torvald from opening the mailbox and seeing Krogstad’s letter. Nora also states something ironic too, when she tells Mrs. Linde that a miracle will happen in which Torvald takes the blame for Nora’s crime. But, Torvald wants nothing to do with her actions and doesn’t want to be thought of as an accomplice. This upsets Nora, but she should have known that a man, during that time, would never take on such a shameful act and pass it as his own.
“A Doll’s House” is a complex play about gender roles in the late 1800’s. Henrik Ibsen manages to convey the problems within the play with the help of numerous literary devices. Characterization was used to identify the changes made by the characters, if there were any, through out the course of the play. Ibsen uses symbolism to hide deeper meanings using objects around the setting. With the use of certain words, Ibsen’s use of diction manages to highlight key issues between the play’s characters. Irony was used numerous times to give the readers an insight that the other characters had no idea about, like Nora saving Torvald when Torvald believed Nora was the one who needed rescuing. Ibsen talks about gender roles in this play and highlights key issues that many other women may have encountered in their lifetime. But not all women may have decided to live like that, some women may have been like Nora, and woken up from the nightmare that came with marriage in the 1800’s.
BIBLIOGRAPHY Azam, Azmi. “Nora Helmer in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House: A Feminist concern in English Literature.” Journal of English Language and Literarture (2014): 13-17.
Hossain, Amir. “Re-Thinking A Doll’s House : A study of Post-feminism.” Journal of Education Research and Behavioral Sciences (2014). print.
Ibsen, Henrik. “A Doll’s House.” Kennedy, X. J. and Dana Gioia. Backpack Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing. Pearson, 2016. 859-917.
Karim, Shah, Fawzia Fathema and Abdul Hakim. “Man-Woman Relationship In Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House”.” International Journal of Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities (2015): 22-26.