A Doll’s House


Conventions can be painfully oppressive if you are a superior mind. Conventions are good for the mediocre minds that hate independent thinking and love to follow the herd. Henrik Ibsen’s play, A Doll’s House, shows the eminence of a woman’s mind and how that mind is held captive by a conventional social system.

Nora is a very conventional wife at the beginning of the play. Her husband, Torvald Helmer, loves her very much. It appears so, at least. He calls her “my little lark”, “my little squirrel”, and so on. He works and earns for the family. Nora is a housewife. A few years ago, Torvald was ill and needed treatment in Italy. But they did not have the money. So Nora borrows the money, a large amount, from Krogstad and tells a lie to her husband that the money was given by her father. Torvald would not have allowed her to borrow the amount, particularly from Krogstad. Italy saves Torvald’s life and Nora pays off the debt by saving whatever she could from the money given to her for the kitchen. She also does some odd knitting and stitching jobs.

When Torvald is appointed as the boss of a bank, the problem begins. He is going to dismiss Krogstad who is not only an immoral person but also an off-putting personality. Krogstad threatens to blackmail Nora unless she pleads with her husband on his behalf. He wants her to ask Torvald not only to reinstate him but also to give him a higher post. Torvald refuses Nora’s request bluntly. Nora wonders what place she holds in her husband’s life.

Krogstad had taken a surety from Nora when he lent her the big sum. The surety was signed by Nora’s father. The truth is Nora had forged her father’s signature and the date she put was a day after her father’s death. Though Nora had paid almost all the money back and there was just one more instalment left which she would definitely pay on time, Krogstad threatens to inform Torvald about the forgery.

Nora passes through the hell. She wonders why the world is like this. Whatever she did was out of love. She borrowed the money out of love for her husband. The money saved his life. She forged her father’s signature because she didn’t want to trouble him when he was not well. She loved her father. She repaid the debt in regular instalments. She has been a good woman. She is a good mother too. She is a good wife, a good daughter. It is love that prompted her to do what she did. What’s wrong then?

She realises that she has been living merely like a doll, a puppet. Before marriage, she was her Papa’s doll, and after marriage, she has been her husband’s doll. But now, when Torvald comes to know about the forgery, she becomes “a hypocrite, a liar – worse, worse – a criminal” in the words of her husband who finds what she did “unutterably ugly”.

Krogstad repents what he did because it’s Christmas after all. He returns the bond as well as the forged signature. As soon as Torvald receives those documents, he transforms once again into the conventional husband who loves his wife dearly. What’s more, he is willing to forgive her for what she did.

Nora thanks him for his forgiveness but adds that she cannot live with him anymore. “You have never loved me,” she says. “You have only thought it pleasant to be in love with me.” She was just a domestic pet for him and nothing more. Before marriage, she was not entitled to any of her own opinions. “When I was at home with Papa he told me his opinion about everything, and so I had the same opinions; and if I differed from him I concealed the fact, because he would not have liked it. He called me his doll child, and he played with me just as I used to play with my dolls. And when I came to live with you…”

Live with you. She doesn’t say when they married. “I have been your doll wife, just as at home I was Papa’s doll child.” She doesn’t want to be a doll anymore. “I believe that before all else I am a reasonable human being just as you are – or, at all events, that I must try and become one.

 She tells her husband that if he had genuine love for her, instead of blaming her for what she did, he would have taken up the blame on himself. That is love. Sacrifice yourself for the beloved especially when you know that she was sacrificing herself for you. She refuses to accept Torvald’s explanations, hollow words coming from hollow conventions, hollow morality, hollow religion. Even the immoral Krogstad is a better human being.

Ibsen lived and wrote in the 19th century when questioning conventions ran the risk of being targeted by the society. Ibsen made his heroines question the conventions which was worse than making men do that job. He made people think of the worth of certain conventions and the hypocrisy we practise in the name of those conventions. He shook the very foundations of people’s unthinking attitudes.

PS. This is part of a series being written for the #BlogchatterA2Z Challenge. The previous parts are:
Next to come on Monday: England, My England


Comments

  1. Though A Doll's House was written years ago, it is is more relevant than ever! Love the themes that have been explored in this play!

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    1. Yes, the themes are still relevant especially in our country.

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  2. Tom, this story is relevant in the Indian society even today. The west has changed a lot and women are reasonably independent but in India a woman in a father's property before marriage and a husband's property afterwards. There is a custom in Hindu marriages called Kanyadhan where the father hands over his daughter as dhaan or gift to the groom. It makes my blood boil every time I see this ritual performed in a marriage.

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    1. One reason I chose this book is precisely its continuing relevance in our societies. Sometimes I wonder why women accept the subordination so willingly. For example, how women protested the Sabarimala verdict in Kerala. It shows how women love to fetter themselves especially when it comes to religious conventions.

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  3. This unthinking nature still persists in many households, and that is very saddening. Kudos to Ibsen for publishing the play at that time.

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    1. Ibsen was a genius of the time. Many later dramatists including Shaw were inspired by him.

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  4. Looks like a must-read book!

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  5. This seems like a very interesting book and so true to today's world too. Most of the men even want their daughters or wives to be dominated by them. Enjoyed reading your post

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    1. It is relevant today too. That's why I brought it here.

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  6. Great to read the story. You have shared it so nicely!
    This is relevant even in the present age.
    This is a classic. Would like to read this book.

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    1. Glad you liked it. Yes, Ibsen can delight any intelligent reader even today.

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  7. This was in the 19th century and still relevant today.Nothing much has changed in India...I think some sets of people still live in that regressive state..I know and went through this patriarchal thinking. It is shocking the things I had to endure as a young widow! Thanks for sharing such lovely insights in the play.

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    1. I understand your feelings. Ibsen's Norway has changed significantly, but our India has regressed in spite of all the slogans about progress that we were given.

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  8. I'm going to share my story here. Please bear with me. It's long. I was in class 9 and due to take part in a drama elocution. My teacher showed me the library and said choose. I shuffled from one book to the other. And then I found this. I spent the evening reading Norah. At that time I couldn't really understand what made her say ..I've been greatly wronged Torvald, first by my father and then by you...
    Years later I picked up the play again and I knew why. Ibsen was so ahead of his times. I still have a battered copy of the play...Very old but I wish to let it be just like that.
    You just made me open a can of memories...

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    1. Thank you for sharing your personal experience here and thus being a part of this.

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  9. I must read it as soon as possible. Loved the way you have presented the story.

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  10. To certain extent many women till date live in the Doll's house. That makes me appreciate Isben's vision and his courage to question the conventions way back, around century ago!

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    1. Ibsen was a genius. People didn't like him much because his views were ahead of the times.

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  11. Unfortunately the women who are subjected to follow such conventions do not get to read these books or plays.... And the one's who do don't generally (majority) follow these conventions... Just my personal opinion!

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    1. The first part is right. Your second observation may be right with respect to treatment of women. But silly conventions still continue to oppress a lot of people.

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