The Concept of Marriage in Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll House
The very concept of marriage has been used in different literature works, and it has been displayed through various perspectives and techniques. In his work A Doll’s House, Henrik Ibsen uses the ideas of role playing to depict the concept of marriage in both its conventional and contemporary setting. The key characters in the play develop false traits at the beginning instead of being their true selves. The persona whose role play is nearly perfect in showing the different faces of a typical marriage is Nora. She happens to be Torvald’s loving and childish wife, and surprisingly, is a strong and autonomous woman. In the development of the play, Nora’s character changes from that of the everyday carefree, playful, trophy wife as seen by Torvald and friends, to that of an independent, enthusiastic, and self-sustaining woman. The role play of the double lives of Nora illustrates the transformation of gender roles in a non-committal marriage.
The character of Nora and various ideas on the concept of marriage change through the entire plot of the play. Nora’s first impression on the audience is of an obedient, money-loving, childish wife. She starts by exemplifying the conventional feminine standard of her time. Nora’s outlook of life and way of thinking revolve 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” (Ibsen 43). As Torvald, Nora’s husband, gets to the apartment, Nora asks him for cash to “hang the bills in gilt paper” for the Christmas tree decoration (Ibsen 45). She pays double for the same item as she tells the boy escorting her to keep the change. Nora becomes more and more selfish and claims that even in the case something happens to Torvald after she has borrowed money, “it just wouldn’t matter” (Ibsen 44). The author also paints Nora as being a powerless woman limiting herself through male-controlled expectations, which indicates a woman’s gender role as that of a wife and mother. In the first act, Nora seems to just want money from her husband Torvald. In the first encounter with Torvald after showing him what she just bought for their kids, she does not waste any time in asking for money for decorating the festive gift. When asked what she wanted for Christmas, she simply said “money” manifesting a trait of selfishness. It is striking how Torvald responds to the demands of Nora as if she were a play toy or even a pet when he addresses her by saying, “my little lark mustn’t droop her wings like that. What? Is my squirrel in the sulks?” (Ibsen 842). The imagery of giving her money is mirrored to an interaction involving a grown grandparent giving money to his precious and favorite young granddaughter. This ‘treatment’ makes Nora appear like a favorite play toy to Torvald than that of an equal partner in marriage. The author gives the audience little knowledge of Nora’s character and only depicts her role as that of a merely woman dependent on her husband in her household.
Furthermore, the role play of Nora and the attitude to marriage change due to the events, which occur in the narration. The author develops the theme by enabling the audience to learn of a historic event involving the sickness of Torvald that was salvaged by the main character, Nora. In order to pay for a trip to Italy to save Torvald’s life, Nora forced to take a loan from a rich shylock known as Mr. Krogstad. There is a little subtlety at that time as Nora not only got this loan behind her husband’s back, but also, in the legal process of obtaining it, was forced due to the circumstances to forge a signature so that she could obtain the money in time to save her husband’s life. It is striking that after Nora was able to get the loan, her friend, Mrs. Linden, is concerned and advises that “a wife can’t borrow money without her husband’s consent” (Ibsen 848). This issue implies that Nora is not only a complete money-loving wife who just follows every instruction given by her husband, but she is also a prepared and strong-minded person who does what it takes for the best of her loved ones in her marriage.
The plot develops further and becomes increasingly interesting when the audience discovers that Mr. Krogstad is one of the employees of Torvald at the bank, and Torvald plans to fire Krogstad. The latter one uses his knowledge of Nora’s forgery to blackmail her to keep his job. He does so by insinuating that if she does not persuade her husband, Mr. Torvald, not to fire him, Krogstad would expose their little secret to Torvald and everyone else about her forged signature, which would have legal consequences for Nora. Nora’s burden becomes significant, owing to her knowledge of her husband’s disgust towards dishonesty and debt and eventual fear of ruining her marriage and tainting her family’s image. She knows that Mr. Torvald is a responsible man and will take full responsibility for her actions. The revelation of this secret to the audience completely changes the perception of who Torvald’s wife, Nora, truly is and also leaves the audience in a state of transient confusion and suspense.
The love for the character by the audience is betrayed at this point, and the author suspends the readers in preparation for the climaxing characterization of Nora after expositing her secret. This secret, later on, develops a brand new character full of strength, the one taking full responsibility and accountability of her own actions and bearing her new burden, not of the secret, but of making her wrongs right. She not only becomes independent but also pays back for her debt earlier by saving half the money she was being given for clothes and is also involved in a part-time job of “a heap of copying books” (Ibsen 849). She spends years of her life paying back the debt by working without letting others know of the troubles she undergoes. The money she got earlier had not been used for clothes or drinks but for saving her husband’s life. The fact that concealing the reality from her husband was not a marriage strengthening act but a choice to face the consequences of her actions is mind-blowing to the audience, and they fall in love with her even more. What is more, instead of telling Torvald that this money was used to salvage his life, which would forever make Torvald indebted to her, she chooses to work with the little she could earn. This fact shows integrity, determination, and the will of a character that would make a foundation for a solid marriage and family.
When Nora’s role changes, her perception of herself and her husband also alters. When Torvald discovers the debt and forgery attributing to Nora, he furies at her. At this point, Nora finally understands that she has not been herself throughout her marriage with Torvald. She secures the position on her actions by saying that, “When I look back on it now… I lived by performing tricks for you, Torvald. But you would have it so” (Ibsen 885). It is clear to her now that she has been nothing more than a means of entertainment to her husband. Torvald critiqued her for her childish behavior, and Nora had clarity in her reflection that shows that her husband is not what she expected him to be, and despite her heroic self-sacrifice, he shows a sulky and cowardly desire for self-protection.
Nora’s ultimate decision to leave her house asserting that she must learn about herself and get educated is perceived as a right decision by the readers. Nora is now depicted as a self-confident person who knows that one needs not to blindly follow everything he or she is said to. She now knows that there are aspects of society and its conventional values that she does not agree with and might be wrong about. She then rejects Torvald’s offer of teaching her because she is conscious that she has to educate herself or at least find herself independently of him. She also acknowledges that serious issues were never part of their chats, supporting that he is not right to teach her, notwithstanding the fact that he has been looking down upon her since met.
In the end, Nora becomes a strong-willed independent woman who knows what she wants. The protagonist is not only Ibsen’s pitcher to a potential strong character in women but also serves the purpose of painting women as equal human beings to men. Nora’s trait also identifies that there are some aspects of society which might be incorrect such as the perception that women are the weaker gender than men; even the legal frameworks of those days may illustrate this issue. The unraveling of the secret of Nora is the utter-mark of the lesson learnt about self-realization and her character definition. Superficially, she appears as a beautiful, fun toy to her husband, father, and even to her friend Mrs. Linden. It is only through the revelation of her secret life that they start to appreciate her more than just the beautiful girl that she is. The new side she turns enables Nora to show that she has the capacity to do work, to withstand colossal issues, and to do things when she is determined. It is this secret life that eventually leads to her being freed from the doll house, as she calls it, and ultimately allows her to live without being afraid to study and learn about herself and society.
Ibsen, Henrik. “A Doll’s House.” Damrosch, David, and David L Pike. The Longman Anthology of World Literature. Trans. William Archer. 2nd Edition. Vol. E. Pearson Education, 2009. 840-888.