Feminism in a Doll’s House by Henric Ibsen
Over the years, writers have been listening for the voices of the forgotten, the unheard, and the oppressed and spoke instead of them in their works in order to call people for social changes. In his play entitled A Doll’s House, Henric Ibsen conveys a message regarding important social issues of the time such as gender inequality, among others. The author depicts a life of a weak woman, who is constantly manipulated by men, her father and husband, and who, despite all of it, finally finds the strength to resist the rules of male-dominant society and to stand for her rights. The play is feminist as it raises an actual issue of inequality of the sexes in the nineteenth-century society that favored men and disfavored women through the characters of Torvald, Nora and her father.
In A Doll’s House, Ibsen states that a woman and men are dolls who are supposed to live according to the unequal gender roles obtruded to them by the society. In the nineteenth century, men used to play the role of superiors, masters and breadwinners in the family. The author communicates this issue through Torvald, the husband of the main heroine, who is a disrespectful, sexist and patriarchal man. He mistreats his wife and calls her all sorts of names. Torvald expresses his chauvinism in his belief that his role is to guide his wife and make decisions for her. In their turn, women were supposed to forget about making a career and stay at home performing their roles of mothers, daughters, sisters, and wives without individualities. Ibsen understands incapability of the nineteenth-century woman to survive on her own in male-dominant society. In his other work, the author notes, “a woman cannot be herself in modern society. It is an exclusively male society, with laws made by men and with prosecutors and judges who assess female conduct from a male standpoint” (“Notes for a Modern Tragedy” 591). Thus, Ibsen states that a woman is weak and oppressed in chauvinistic society. However, he contradicts this point of view by creating Nora, the main heroine of A Doll’s House, who overcomes all the difficulties and becomes a woman with a strong will.
Ibsen presents an impressive transformation of a woman from a careless toy to an independent and thinking feminist, through Nora. At the beginning of the play, the heroine lives a life of a happy thoughtless woman who na?vely obeys the rules of the male-dominated society and asks no questions regarding their fairness. The poor woman believes every word her husband says and even if they are silly. Nora does not notice that Torvald abuses and disrespects her, and remains steadfast in her love in spite of it all. She is ready to sacrifice her happiness or dignity for the sake of her husband’s well-being, however, he does appreciate nothing of it. The position of women of her time was so low that they had no choice to make for themselves. As daughters, they had to obey their fathers without any question; then, they were supposed to get married, and from then on, obedient to their husbands.
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However, everything changes when Nora forges the signature of her father in order to take some money for her travel to Italy with her husband. By doing such a daring action, the woman feels power and responsibility she has never felt before. Therefore, Nora starts to work as a copier as she plans to repay her father. Her need to work does not make her feel ashamed even though society she lives in views all working women as the ones of lower status if to compare to housewives. She notes, “It [going to work] was really tremendous fun and I almost like being a man” (A Doll’s House 162). Nora finally finds her individuality without being a toy of her father and husband and only after “rejecting two other identities: namely, ‘doll’ and ‘wife and mother’” (Moi 226).
In his play, Ibsen demonstrates that women are not weak and can set themselves free of discrimination, and oppression on the basis of gender. Thus, in the last act of the play, Nora not only understands that the dearest men in her life have been treating her like a doll for years, however, makes a brave decision to start live independently and for her own sake. Nora’s freedom, however, cannot be accepted by the society. The nineteenth-century Europe was so pro-family that no one could even think of separation at that time. Hence, Nora embodies the spirit of feminism in the darkest times of oppression, mistreatment and discrimination of women that fearlessly go to their main purpose – equality of the sexes.
A Doll’s House is a feminist play as it raises an important issue of gender inequality within the nineteenth-century society through its main characters. Ibsen presents a progressive attitude regarding marriage and gender roles for his time. The main heroine, Nora, goes through impressing transformations after comprehending uselessness of her sacrifice of her life and identity for satisfaction and pleasure of her father. Nora finally demonstrates that she is a strong, clever and daring woman that is able to change her position within society ruled by men, as well as ruin the stereotypes concerning gender roles that have rooted deeply in people’s minds. Through his heroine, Ibsen invokes women not to be afraid to stand for their rights of being equally treated with men as well as for their freedom from gendered stereotypes and prejudice.
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