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Henrik Ibsen - a Doll's House

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The title of Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House invites the audience to identify doll-like characters and those who "play" with these doll-like characters in the play. Players have ultimate control and power over their toys in the doll-player relationship. The audience may be quick to jump to conclusions about which characters are dolls versus characters who manipulate dolls. However, these roles change. Dolls may become players and players may become dolls. In the beginning of the play, Helmer has power over Nora because of his authority as a husband and a businessman. However, as the play progresses, these roles are reversed: while Helmer is revealed to be more of a plaything with no substantial personality, Nora's growth as an individual moves her into the ultimate position of power over Helmer.

Helmer is a man of authority both in the home and in the office. As the head of household, Helmer exerts his power from the beginning of the play as he calls Nora belittling names such as "little sky-lark" (pg. 1) and "little squirrel" (pg. 2). These names imply that Nora, like a pet, is his property. Nora gives in to these ideas as she tells him that she would "scamper about and do all sorts of marvelous tricks" and "sing all day long" for him (pg. 41). Shortly after, he says, "Nora, what do you think I've got here?" and gives her money, after which she is thrilled (pg. 3). The way Helmer speaks to Nora is almost as if she is a child earning allowance from a parent. There is no equal split of finances, there is not even a discussion. He chooses how much to give her and she does not debate it. This shows that his wife is financially dependent on him. As the man with the high job position, he has the power to make her happy in a way that she cannot make herself--through money. He also has the authority to manipulate his wife's appearance such as when he doesn't allow her to eat macaroons that would ruin her teeth (pg. 19-20) or when he decides what she will wear to the ball (pg. 32). As he plays dress-up with his Nora doll, he emphasizes how she is his trophy wife, a possession to be shown off. He treats Nora as if she is nothing on her own, as if she is only a physical representation of how great he is. In addition, he feels the need to set boundaries for Nora because in his eyes, she, as a woman, doesn't know any better. Helmer plays the role of one who decides what Nora can and cannot have. Not only does he restrict her through rules such as to "never borrow" money (pg. 3), but he also puts up physical boundaries. He is the only one who can access the house's letter box and he often stays in his study with the door closed. Similarly, as a manager at the bank, Helmer "has power over so many people" (pg. 19). He exercises this power over Nora as he chooses when to listen to her: while he gives in to Nora's request to hire Kristine, he refuses Nora's plea to not fire Krogstad. In not hiring Krogstad, he is putting his own agenda first: to express his authority as a manager of the bank. He puts his own interests above Nora's, expressing his higher position in the hierarchy of control. In the beginning of the story, Helmer takes the role of a puppeteer as he, being in a position of power, plays with Nora.

However, Helmer has the substance of a doll. Not only are dolls at the whim of those who are playing with them, but they are also empty inside. Helmer is a doll to the expectations of society, the expectations for him to be the patriarch, the breadwinner with the trophy wife. He is quick to flaunt his polished surface, such as when he shows off his wife's attractiveness to Kristine (pg. 67).But beyond this exterior, he has no substantial personality. He has this obsession with avoiding unpleasant situations as he has no ability to recognize or accept the reality of uncomfortable situations. Several times throughout the play, Nora makes clearly snarky comments to him such as, "Wasn't it also nice of me to let you have your way?" (pg. 40) or, "Oh everything you do is right" (pg. 69). However, he brushes these comments off, dismissing them by saying things like, "I know you didn't mean it that way" (pg. 40) or, even more surprisingly, by not even recognizing the sarcasm as he believes Nora is speaking "common sense" (pg. 69). It is almost as if Helmer is living in his own fantasy in which his life is perfect such that he cannot accept any evidence that tells him otherwise. Nora explains that Helmer has never been in love with her, but only with the thought, the illusion, of how nice it is to be in love (pg. 80). He clearly has a

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