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Feminism in a Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen

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Literature has a history of being a hearth for controversy of all different forms, such as in novels like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain and The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger, but when it comes to plays, Henrik Ibsen’s, A Doll’s House takes the trophy. The piece by a Norwegian playwright caused a mighty uproar from those living in the late 1800’s due to his play’s revolutionary ending. Audiences across Europe were shown a woman who fit the housewife stereotype, Nora. Her words and actions throughout the play that were shown to the 19th century theatregoers offset her from the category that she is put into at the start and foreshadowed her shocking transformation nearing the end. The prospect of a woman deciding to break off from a steady marriage with a secure income to instead become independent was completely unheard of in 1879 when it was first published. It was made clear that before Nora’s ultimate decision to leave, that she had given up most, if not all, of her dignity and self respect in order to keep up the act that everything was simply perfect. She was a caring wife with children to bear her husband’s legacy. This was up until she realized that she was being played with like a doll, as the title of the play entails. She stepped up and stopped being simply a mother and a wife, but rather a person equal to that of any other. This may seem to come from out of nowhere, but throughout the story Nora had plenty of ideas and decisions she had made on her own. Simple phrases that could be easily overlooked told of someone far different than a simple housewife, but rather something far more bold. The Nora who is introduced in the beginning of the first act showed a woman who conformed to the expectations of women at the time, nevertheless, her progression as a person nearing the end of the play proved her to be a feminist, a heroine, and a role model.

Heroine, feminist, role model, all words that carry multiple layers of meaning, but none of which can be said if those same meanings are not put to page. Nora’s status as all three of these can be easily argued starting with heroine, where a person exhibits noble qualities and takes action for what is considered right. The A Doll’s House protagonist expresses the courage and boldness of hero with her statements like, “Helmer says, ‘And it is just by interceding for him that you make it impossible for me to keep him. It is already known at the Bank that I mean to dismiss Krogstad. Is it to get about now that the new manager has changed his mind at his wife’s bidding-’ ‘And what if it did?’ replied Nora” (Ibsen 2.242-245). Nora did not back down in the face of Helmer’s reasoning, knowing that in 19th century society she would not be fighting a winning battle by any means. Helmer’s sexist words contained the phrase “his wife’s bidding” in order to hurt the validity of the idea at hand; although, at the time it was written, it would’ve been considered completely acceptable. This confrontation happened before Nora’s big epiphany at the end of Act III, in fact it was near the middle of Act II, far before all of that occurred. She stood up for what was right, protecting her rights after giving them up for what she had thought to be the greater good and for the sake of others. This stood to be a clear declaration of her position as a role model, being a person who should be looked up to and a person to follow in the footsteps of, while at the same time being a hero with many noble qualities.

This leaves one more point to be made: how Nora is a feminist in A Doll’s House. The main character of this play brings to the stage many different aspects to be called a feminist, first being the dignity she gave away and took back. Nora gave up her ability to simply eat macaroons to appease her husband, knowing that aspects of her own self respect had to be sacrificed in order to be considered a good housewife. This is later followed by her coming to the point of contemplating suicide knowing how much her felony could cost her husband. Not only was the felony to be concerned, but after Helmer’s statements about how lawbreakers and con men had lying mothers, Nora was concerned about affecting her own children the same way. Nora’s concern to the point where she even wants to give the ultimate sacrifice of her own life shows how much she’s really open to giving. She even lets herself be called pet names throughout Ibsen’s play before staking her claim and stating the truth behind Helmer with her words: “when the whole thing was past, as far as you were concerned it was exactly as if nothing at all had happened” (Ibsen 3.762-763). Nora blatantly points out in these few lines how much Helmer enforces the social norms of caring only about the reputation of the husband as the wife is merely dragged along as a social status. To Helmer, a wife was something that was deemed necessary in order to increase his reputation, and he was horrified that his wife had done the exact opposite by committing an act such as forgery. Once he found out that Krogstad had decided to drop everything he had against the Helmer family,



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