“A Doll’s House” By Henrik Ibsen: Feminism Studies Sample Essay

Women in the Victorian period lived very different lives from women today.. During this period, women began to question their allotted place in society as more and more opportunities opened for them in the urban centers of the country, providing them with a means of supporting themselves and freeing themselves from the yoke of male domination. However, at the same time, these positions were not the equal rights positions of modern times, so it was often difficult to determine whether one wanted to sacrifice freedom for comfort or comfort for freedom. Rarely was it possible to attain both and often it was found, too late, that it was possible to attain neither. Many women were still constrained in their activities by the wishes of their male relatives, whether the dominant voice belonged to the father, the oldest brother or other guardian figure or the husband. These are the issues explored in Henrik Ibsen’s play “A Doll’s House” through the character of Nora, marking him as an early feminist as he depicts her physical setting, relationships with others and her position in society.

Feminism is best described as a structured movement that endorses the idea of equality for women and minorities in the economic, social and political arenas. No one would question that women have historically been subjugated to second-class citizen status and oppressive tactics simply due to their gender in the dominant patriarchal society. “Patriarchy is the system which oppresses women through its social, economic and political institutions. Throughout history men have had greater power in both the public and private spheres. To maintain this power, men have created boundaries and obstacles for women, thus making it harder for women to hold power” (Kramarae et al, 1985). Women, minorities and gays are oppressed and do not enjoy equal opportunities in a patriarchal society as evidenced throughout Ibsen’s play.

Despite any personal attributes Nora might have had, her husband seems to take the stance that she is little more than a space-marker, designed to provide for the perfect welfare and entertainment of the rest of the household. Throughout the first act of “Doll’s House”, there is not a single instance where Torvold treats Nora as an adult instead of as a child or a favorite plaything. He refers to her as a ‘lark’, a ‘little squirrel’ and ‘a little featherhead’, all before his tenth line. Other hints continue to be dropped regarding Nora’s spending habits throughout this first act, all of which are characterized on Torvold’s side in terms of an indulgent superior providing a brainless plaything with the tools to make it happy despite strong hints that Nora has been more industrious than her husband realizes in her attempts to pay off a debt taken for his benefit but without his knowledge.

Nora seems to have a strong streak in her, but she is trapped by her husband and by the society she lives in. Trying to help her husband, Nora found it necessary to take out an illegal loan because women were not considered responsible enough for this sort of business dealing. She also worked out many alternative ways of earning the money to pay it back, as opportunities for women were scarce and frequently considered a shame upon the family. “In 1870, 60 percent of all female workers were engaged in some aspect of domestic service and another 25 percent earned their livings in factories and workshops’ ‘ (Kessler-Harris, 1991) as the only real opportunities available to ‘good’ girls. Torvold teases her, “[you] shut yourself up every evening till long after midnight, making ornaments for the Christmas tree and all the other fine things that were to be a surprise to us … But there was precious little result, Nora” (Act 1). In this, Ibsen points out through Torvald how little Nora’s contributions mean to the household. Although in this instance, it is because Torvold truly has seen very little of the work Nora has sold in order to pay back her debt, it is also true that her efforts are unappreciated both in the house and in society at large. She must work in secret and under false pretenses in order to work at all.

Nora’s final act within the play is to reject the boundaries she’s been under. When Nora decides to encourage Torvald to open the letter from Krogstad regarding her illegal loan, it is because she needs to know her husband values her addition to the household. When he reacts in anger, she realizes she would either need to sacrifice her self-respect or sacrifice her happy home. In allowing her this freedom, Ibsen is arguing for greater freedoms of choice and occupation for women, who he demonstrates are equally as capable, and sometimes more capable, at handling money and business as the men they are associated with.

Works Cited

Ibsen, Henrik. The Doll’s House. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, 1992.

Kessler-Harris, Alice. “Women and the Work Force.” The Reader’s Companion to American History. Eric Foner & John A. Garraty (Eds.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1991.

Kramarae, Cheris and Treichler, Paula A., with assistance from Ann Russo. A Feminist Dictionary. London, Boston: Pandora Press, 1985.

The Role Of Women In A Doll’s House

The play A Doll’s House was written in 1879 by Henrik Ibsen, a Norwegian writer born in 1828. It spread to the rest of Europe during the revolution period and sparked off a controversy because of his portrayal of women through the character Nora. The thesis of this essay is that women, just like men, should be given their due right irrespective of their gender. This will be done by looking at the characters Nora and Mrs. Linde.

During the revolution, women could not work as men and had to rely on the males to provide for them. They had no right to get loans without the approval of a male and Nora had to result to forgery to get a loan to pay for her husband’s treatment. She worked very hard to repay it by making some sacrifices and writing to earn some money, “It was exhausting. But it was thrilling too, to be sitting there working, earning money. Almost like a man” (Ibsen 28). The society was structured such that the males provided for the women and the women became homemakers.

Nora was seeking self-discovery. She did not know what she wanted or liked in life. When she was young she did everything to please her father and agreed with all his opinions and when she did not she concealed it. In act three Nora says, “He called me his doll-child and he played with me just as I used to play with my dolls”(Ibsen 142). After she got married to Torvald, she got the same treatment. “And when I came to live with you- I mean that I was simply transferred from papa’s hands into yours” (Ibsen 142). Her husband did everything according to his taste which she had to adapt. He treated her like a child and wanted her to fully depend on him. In addition, he called her pet names like ‘my little squirrel’ and did not speak to her with mutual respect. Therefore, by Nora choosing to go her way at the end of the play she portrayed that a woman can stand up on her own. She had lived her life for her father and husband for a long time and this was her time to live for herself as she said “Our home has been nothing but a play-room. I’ve been your doll-wife here, just as at home I was Papa’s doll-child. And the children have been my dolls in their turn” (Ibsen142).

Women sacrifice their lives for men. Just like Nora married Torvald to be pampered and be provided for, Mrs. Linde married her husband for the money he could provide her at the expense of her happiness because her true love was Krogstad but he did not have enough money to take care of her ailing mother and brothers (Ibsen 20). In her marriage, she is not happy as her husband becomes broke and later dies leaving her penniless. These women have been forced to forsake their ambitions and desires for others, later they reclaim their dreams and self-realization.

Nora had existed to please men all her life. She had done this because she had allowed the men in her life to run her life. She was now ready to start taking control of her life when she discovered that her marriage was a charade; her husband could not stand by her when he discovered her forgery to get a loan. She says “I have been performing tricks on you, Torvald. That’s how I’ve survived. You wanted it like that. You and Papa have done me a great wrong. It’s because of you that I have made nothing of my life” (Ibsen 142). Nora is ready to develop as an adult because she had been denied the chance to do so by the men in her life and the society at large.

Through the decisions they make the women have a new lease of life. I think Ibsen was saying that women need to be treated equally to men. They should be allowed to grow, discover themselves, and even become financially stable as this would save them from undue heartaches by being with men they did not truly love or those who treated them wrong. In my opinion, Ibsen in creating a strong woman protagonist was saying that women too can stand on their own. More importantly, it is only the women who can stand up for their rights they will not be delivered on a silver platter.

Works cited

Ibsen, Henrik. A Doll’s House. Washington DC, Plain Label Books, 1923. Web.

Essay Voice-over

Nora As A Feminist Representation (from “A Doll’s House” By Ibsen)

The central character in A Doll’s House, written by Ibsen, is Nora. She lives with her husband and her three children. She happened to take a loan with the forged signature of her father, which was kept very secret from her husband. With this forgery as the central plot, Ibsen exposes the hollowness of her marital life with Torvald Helmer. Nora gradually changes her attitudes as a woman and as a wife, only to emerge at the end of the play as a liberated woman. A character analysis of Nora, in order to bring out the various aspects of the changes she undergoes and their impact on her life, is the focus of this paper. In short, Nora is seen in this paper as a representative of femininity.

At the beginning of the play, when Helmer calls her “lark”, “squirrel” and “songbird” (Ibsen), one gets the impression that Nora and Torvald form an ideal couple. But, slowly, Nora’s inner struggles as a woman get revealed as she talks to more characters like Mrs. Linde, Krogstad, and Dr. Rank. Only at the end of the play, she speaks out the depth of her suffocation with her gentle-looking husband. When she tells her husband “You don’t understand me, I have never understood you either. You never loved me” (Ibsen, Act. 111), the readers/spectators can easily guess how bitterly the long eight years must have passed between Nora and Helmer. Nora, at last, educates herself to be an independent woman. She now realizes that she was simply transferred from her Papa’s hands to her husband’s: “I have been a doll-wife” (Act 111). As the curtain falls, the sound of a door shutting on them can be heard.

Nora was motivated to do a serious fraud, forging her father’s signature for a bank loan, to save her husband’s health. This motivation came from her deep sense of commitment to her husband. He was so ill that the doctor had advised him to move away for a while. Nora narrates that “he had to make money every way he could, and he worked early and late; but he couldn’t stand it and fell dreadfully ill, and the doctors said it was necessary for him to go south” (Act 1). So, they planned to visit Italy for which she needed money. To serve, to make sacrifices for one’s husband, was the established way of being true to oneself as a woman during the days of Ibsen. Her plan was to borrow money and repay it by working hard. She had to keep it a secret from her husband in order to uphold male pride. Nora tells Linde, “Papa didn’t give us a shilling. It was I who procured the money” (Act, 1). A husband could not think of his wife raising money for his need: “a wife cannot borrow without her husband’s consent” (Act, 1). The playwright, therefore, is striking at the root of hypocrisy in family life, particularly found prevailing among men. Nora says, “how painful and humiliating it would be for Torvald, with his manly independence, to know that he owed me anything! It would upset our mutual relations altogether; our beautiful happy home” (Act,1). To some extent, Nora’s plans were effective, as she could get her husband’s health back. However, before she could repay the loan, Krogstad, who was instrumental in helping her to get the loan, comes and spoils everything. She realizes her miscalculations when he points out the consequences “if I produce this paper in court” (Act,1).

The central event in the play, Nora’s forgery and the discovery of it leads to changes in her character. This exposure is the cause of some frank discussion between her and her friend Linde, and later on with her husband, Torvald. It is Linde who insists that the letter written by Krogstad to Helmer containing the exposure of the forgery should not be kept away from Helmer. She tells Nora that Helmer should read it so that an end to the deception in the family will be made possible. She argues, “This unhappy secret must be disclosed; they must have a complete understanding between them, which is impossible with all this concealment and falsehood going on (Act,111).In a way, Linde is Nora’s guide and guru. She has, unlike Nora, seen suffering in life. Linde also understands that Nora needs to be relieved from her imprisoned life. At last, the secret is out and Nora is no more the same old “squirrel” to Helmer. He despises her. Nora realizes that her miscalculations started with the date she had put on the paper on which she forged her father’s signature. She also did not realize the true nature of Krogstad, who wants “to get into the Bank again, in a higher position. Your husband must make a place for me” (Act 11). The real miscalculation was her failure to understand her place in the family, as an equal to her husband.

The major scene in which Nora faces a serious crisis in her life is when Krogstad threatens her that he would disclose the secret to her husband. He asks her, “Have you forgotten that it is I who have the keeping of your reputation? (Act,11). He wants her to recommend his case to her husband, to get his job back in the bank. She knows that Helmer will never do it. However, the greatest moment of crisis is when Krogstad’s threat is in the letterbox. Nora delays the time by a long dance, which must have been the greatest period of rapid changes going on in her mind: “NORA dances more and more wildly “(Act, 11). She is torn between the conventional sense of devotion to her husband and the surging desire to free her from the perpetual male domination. Finally, she learns her place. She looks back and realizes what a slavish life she has been living. The significant revelation she experiences is that of her womanhood. The value of individuality and freedom is the sudden awareness that dawns upon her. She also puts Helmer in the right place he deserves. Nora declares: “There must be perfect freedom on both sides” (Act, 111).

One of the forces acting on the character, Nora, is money. It is a force behind the shaping of gender roles in society. Some prejudices acting behind the gender roles have taken firm positions in family life. They are responsible for the deceptive life which one is forced to live. A wife, according to Helmer, is only for beautifying his home, and for increasing his reputation. She should be an ornament to the house. In short, she is a “doll”. As a child, Nora was a doll to her father. Now she is the same as her husband. The surprise with which Helmer watches the new Nora can be seen in his words: “What a horrible awakening! All these eight years–she who was my joy and pride–a hypocrite, a liar–worse, worse–a criminal!” (Act,111). Ibsen attacks all these prejudices, deceptions, and appearances in family life. Linda’s role in changing Nora is remarkable. She takes a firm position even to Krogstad. The letter controls the story. He wanted to withdraw his letter, but Linde warns: “You cannot. Your letter is lying in the letter-box now” (Act 111).

The play, A Doll’s House, was written at a time when women lived a suppressed life. The social limitations did not permit a wife to “desert your home, your husband and your children” (Act, 11). Ibsen’s challenge to it through his characters, Nora and Linde, is tremendous. The courage with which she speaks out at the end must have inspired many suffering wives. Basically, Nora is a loving woman. The scenes are set in Nora’s living room. She is at the center of all events, though every other character is given as a contrast to Nora’s role. This play will continue to receive great reception as Ibsen has touched the very heart of the feminist problem, that of using a woman as a doll.


Ibsen, Henrik. A Doll’s House. Web.

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