When Henrik Ibsen wrote A Doll’s House, the institution of marriage was sacrosanct; women did not leave their husbands, and marital roles were sharply defined. The play, which questions these traditional attitudes, was highly controversial and elicited sharp criticism. The character of Nora Helmer, a favorite with actresses seeking a role of strength and complexity, has dominated the play from its inception. She is the one who gains audience empathy, who grows through the course of the play. Some early critics viewed Nora as a prime example of the “new woman,” a breed seeking independence and self-definition, and the play as a polemic advocating women’s rights. Some insisted that although a woman might leave her husband, she would never leave her children. Later critics faulted Nora’s sudden conversion from a sheltered child stroking her husband’s ego to a mature woman seeking independence. Yet, others maintained that Ibsen skillfully foreshadows Nora’s departure in her behavior throughout the play in her gaiety, generosity, and unselfishness. Further, Ibsen himself declared that he was not writing solely about women but instead about issues of his society and about the need for individuals, both men and women, to be true to themselves.
Thus A Doll’s House can be viewed thematically not only as a picture of an innocent nineteenth century woman struggling to achieve self-definition but also as a devastating indictment of a routine marriage between two ordinary people who lack awareness of themselves and who have differing views of right and wrong. Torvald unquestioningly accepts society’s dicta of the husband as the breadwinner and moral authority, but Nora’s attempt to conform as the submissive wife forces her into lies and deception. Both care about what people think; neither consciously considers opposing society’s mores.
The need for communication contributes to the thematic pattern of the play. Nora and Torvald communicate only on the most superficial level; he speaks from the conventions of society but neither sees nor hears her, while she can only play out the role that he has constructed for her. This inability or unwillingness to express themselves verbally leads to unhappiness and pain.
The theme is echoed in the subplot of Kristine and Krogstad, both of whom have struggled with the cruelties of society. Kristine endured a loveless marriage in order to support her elderly mother and young brothers; Krogstad was forced into crime in order to care for his ill wife and children. Although within the plot their union seems somewhat contrived, Ibsen characterizes them as aware of themselves and honest with each other.
One of Ibsen’s masterful touches is the use of concealment as a motif; it permeates the play in several manifestations and reinforces the major theme of the need for openness in marriage. Nora’s first word, “hide,” initiates the motif. Thereafter, she hides the Christmas presents, lies about eating macaroons, continues to deceive Torvald into believing that she is a spendthrift and flighty female, and invents distractions to prevent him from opening the mailbox. Torvald too participates in concealment. Fearing exposure in the third act, he starts and orders “Hide, Nora! Say you’re sick” when the doorbell rings.
The primary agent of empowerment in A Doll’s House is money. Private and public rewards result from its presence. It enabled Nora and Torvald to travel to Italy for his health. Money from Torvald’s new salary at the bank will provide prestige for the Helmers and allow Nora, in particular, to breathe more easily. Yet, all the major figures—Torvald, Nora, Kristine, and Krogstad—have been affected adversely by its absence: from the deception in the marriage of Torvald and Nora to the prior unhappy marriage of Kristine and the criminal acts of Krogstad.
In the complex pattern that Ibsen has created, lack of self-knowledge, inability to communicate, and unthinking conformity to convention affect the institution of marriage most adversely.
I. Thesis. Justice and injustice in the relationships between the main characters of A Doll’s House
II. The transformation of Nora’s expectations for the future
a) The husband’s career promotion and Nora’s hopes for a better future
b) Mrs. Linde asks for Torvald’s assistance in applying for a position in the bank
c) Nora’s secret. Mr. Krogstand starts blackmailing Nora to keep his position in the bank
d) Social injustice in Torvald’s attitudes to people who are less powerful and influential, such as Mr. Krogstand and Mrs. Linde
III. Nora’s early stereotypical ideas of a happy life
a) “Armload of packages” (43) as Nora’s ideal of a good life
b) Wealth changes Nora’s attitudes to Christmas
c) The lack of money makes Nora selfish and unjust toward her husband’s efforts to make the family’s living
IV. Social justice and injustice in other characters’ deeds
a) The differences between Kristine and Krogstand’s methods of making their living
b) Relativism of Krogstand’s situation: blackmailing – that is, injustice toward another person, is the only means for Krogstand to achieve social justice
c) Anna-Marie’s capitalistic worldview and her understanding of justice based on this worldview
V. Conclusion: the final change in Nora’s personality and the selfish nature of her rebellion against social injustice
The Notions of Justice and Injustice in Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House
In A Doll’s House, Henrik Ibsen examines conventional roles of men and women in the nineteenth century. In the play, Nora exemplifies the conventional feminine standard of the period. She seems to be powerless and confines herself through patriarchal expectations, which signify a woman’s social role at that time, that is, of a wife and mother. In turn, the masculine perspective measures feminine conduct during that period. Finally, Nora makes a decision to break up with her family in order to become independent. She does this also in order to gain and assert her personality through social identity. However, her deed is rather a manifestation of her selfishness than her rebellious spirit. This means that none of the gender parties in this play can be considered as completely just or unjust. So, the paper considers various manifestations of justice and injustice in the relationships between the main characters and considers the social background of their decisions and deeds.
The protagonist of A Doll’s House is a woman named Nora Helmer. Ibsen shows how Nora’s design of perfect life gradually transforms when her secret unravels. Promotion of Nora’s husband to a bank manager in the town bank makes her convinced that she will live a worry free and careless life ahead. Conversely, Nora’s notion of a magnificent life totally changes as her long-kept secret is exposed. The play begins at Christmas time and a larger income begins after the New Year. The beginning of a new life makes Nora excited. However, the ideal life starts to change when Mrs. Linde, an old friend, visits Nora’s home. Mrs. Linde is searching for a job and has come to Helmer’s house for help via Nora’s husband. Torvald gladly offers Mrs. Linde a job, yet Nora is ignorant that this is a step closer to the revealing of her secret. Nora realizes her husband’s ability to offer Mrs. Linde a novel job as the story continues. She sees the benefits of assisting Mrs. Linde get a job, as Mr. Krogstand, who holds her secret, misses an employment opportunity.
“Do as you please. But let me tell you this- If I lose my position a second time, you shall lose yours with me” (688). During this instance, Mr. Krogstand exploits the influence he has on Nora in order to secure his job. Mr. Krogstand tells Nora that in case he loses his job at the bank to Mrs. Linde, he shall inform Nora’s family about her secret. Nora begs Torvald to get Mr. Krogstand a position in the bank; this is to guarantee the wonderful life before the New Year. Nevertheless, Torvald decides not to give the position to Mr. Krogstand and Mrs. Linde. The play has various illustrations of justice through the economic and social conditions of the characters. Each individual’s economic and social conditions undermine their relations with others. The rich as seen in the play exploit the less fortunate and the weak. In A Dolls House the play by Henrik Ibsen, justice manifests through economic and social conditions. The rich and strong exploit the poor and the weak. They are obsessed with material possession. Most characters in the play are in various ways affected by the acquisition or lack of money. Their ways of thinking and living revolve around justice and economic empowerment.
Nora’s outlook of life and way of thinking revolves around her financial conditions and material wealth. At the beginning of the play, Nora is going home from a shopping trip and gets to her house with an “armload of packages” (43). There is also a boy following her carrying a Christmas tree. At the apartment, Nora informs Hellene, one of the house maids, to conceal the tree from the kids until it gets decoration. As Torvald gets to the apartment, Nora asks him for cash to “hang the bills in gilt paper” (45) for the Christmas tree decoration. In the play, this Christmas tree indicates Nora’s obsession with cash. Nora did not intend anyone to view the tree decoration to show off the new wealth. In the past, Nora decorated the tree on her own, and spent the whole day doing so. Presently, she cannot do that as it will make her think poor; therefore, Nora spends a lot of money on decorations and presents for the tree as they can afford. Nora belongs to a higher social class and this makes her spend a lot of money. She pays double for the same item as she tells the boy escorting her to keep the change. The situation shows the lack of justice and Nora confirms this by insisting, “we can borrow until then” (44), while Torvald’s income will not be there for three months. Nora claims that previously they used to save each penny they got with Torvald from odd jobs to supplement their income.
Justice is unfulfilled in the play as Nora becomes more selfish and claims that in case something happens to Torvald after borrowing money, “it just wouldn’t matter” (44) as they borrowed the cash from strangers. It shows that they are not in a position to return the borrowed money, thus making the creditors suffer or face losses. In addition, presently because of their higher social standing, Nora feels her responsibility is past others and only minds of her personal interests. Nora does not care for the “strangers” she borrowed, and concentrates only on what she can get from others. Additionally, this is shown when Kristine, who is Nora’s friend, goes to visit. Nora just mentions her husband’s novel job by saying she is happy and feels light as now they “have stacks of money and not a care in the world” (49). She gets a wise answer from Kristine, saying it is better to simply have the necessities in life. On the other hand, Nora says that is not sufficient and she needs “stacks and stacks of money” (50). Injustice manifests, when Nora informs Kristine how she borrowed money for her Italy trip, and that she has worked so hard to pay back the cash to have peace. Nora equates freedom with gaining wealth, claiming being economically empowered makes her (56) “carefree and happy.” Nora realizes that despite her freeing herself from her debts, she if financially enslaved to her husband and as a woman, she has to be dependent on her husband. Nora says divorce leads her to “closing out their accounts,” (108). Furthermore, Nora feels that this means renouncing the marital vows and financial dependence as personal and human freedom are not in economical terms only. Her life outlook changes with the change in economic conditions and this indicates injustice in how human beings view financial conditions…
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