Seeking Truth in A Doll's House
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Seeking Truth in A Doll's House.
The characters, in Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House, are hiding from each other and seeking the truth about each other and about life. The game of hide and seek that Nora plays with her children, she also plays with her husband. She hides her actions and her true personality from him. He also hides his life from her. Thinking that she would never even understand, he keeps all the business of their relationship secret from her. Although Nora hides from her husband, she also plays the role of seeker. Nora wants to seek out the truth of her life. Much of the play is a game of hide and seek. Excellent.
Nora plays a game of "hide and seek"(Ibsen 506)* with her children. The simple game can be seen also as a symbol of real life in the play. Nora is playing hide and seek with the adults in her life. Nora is trying to keep something away from public knowledge and especially away from her husband. She hides the fact that she borrowed money to save his health. She was afraid that if Torvald knew that she had taken initiative to borrow money to help him that it would be "painful and humiliating"(Ibsen 501) for him. She knows that Torvald needs to feel in control of everything. So she hides her actions from him.
Nora hides the fact that she has done something illegal from Torvald. She is given the opportunity to tell Torvald and maybe get his support or advise on the situation, and she lies to him to hide the truth. She claims that the reason that she does not want Torvald to fire Krogstad is that "this fellow writes in the most scurrilous newspapers...he can do [Torvald] an unspeakable amount of harm"(Ibsen 519). Nora hides the truth and replaces it with lies. Torvald does not know that if he fires Krogstad that the consequences will affect his whole family. Nora could have told him, but instead she decided to hide the truth from her husband.
She also hides her own strength. She plays the part that she has come accustomed to, being the doll. The first time in the play that Torvald refers to Nora, he calls her a "little lark"(Ibsen 493). Throughout the play, he refers to her as a cute little animal, never with any word that might imply a situation of his peer.
She seems more like "a pampered family pet"(Heiberg 207) than a woman in a marriage. She is more a pet or a doll to Torvald than someone who could handle life on her own. His pet names for her indicate that he wishes she were a little plaything of his. To fit this character, Nora hides her true strength until the end of the play. Nora says that "[she] must stand quite alone"(Ibsen 546) and leaves Torvald to be alone. Not only does Nora make the claim that she could stand alone, she follows it with an action, thus the audience knows that Nora can be stronger than she was appearing and that she must have been hiding since the beginning. She must have been hiding her true strength until that moment.
Nora hides her ability to handle money. She does not let Torvald know that she is entirely capable of handling debt. Instead, she leads on that "[she] should not care whether [she] owed money or not"(Ibsen 493). Although she says that she would not care about being in debt, the audience learns that she is handling her own debt. She is saving money here and there to repay the money that she owes. She leads on that she is the little doll who cannot handle anything. She hides her abilities from Torvald to be his little doll.
The hiding and seeking of the characters in the play is reminiscent of the game that Nora plays with her children. In playing games like that with her children, Nora is also hiding from them and her job as mother. She likes to take off their warm outer clothing because "it is such fun"(Ibsen 506). She finds the job of mother fun. However, she is quick to dismiss her job and hide from any motherly responsibilities when the timing becomes inconvenient. As soon as Krogstad comes to talk with her, she commands her children to "go in to nurse"(Ibsen 507). The job of mother was no longer fun, so she abandons it. She uses the nurse to hide from the children that she gave birth to.
Torvald also hides from his wife, Nora. He shares none of his work with Nora. They speak very little about financial matters. When they do talk, it is mostly silly talk not seriously about their financial situation. Their first conversation on stage is about money. He tries pitifully to talk to her seriously about money, but gives up quickly. He simply assumes that she is just "like a woman"(Ibsen 493) who has no real ideas about spending and having to save money. When her mood turns sour because of her mild reprimand, he appeases her by giving her "ten shillings-a pound-two pounds"(Ibsen 493). He gives her more money to make her happy instead of trying to work out their financial situation. Torvald hides business about money from Nora just like she hides from him.
Torvald also hides information about his job from her. Nora barely knows what he does at his job at the bank. Nora asks of Dr. Rank if "all the people who are employed in the bank dependant of Torvald now"(Ibsen 504). Nora knows that Torvald has had a promotion, but does not even know really what it means. She had to ask a friend if he was really in charge of everyone at the bank. She could not ask Torvald because he keeps everything so hidden.
Nora knows that they are hiding from each other. She knows that she must hide from those around her to protect her way of life. Although she is talking to her children at the time, Nora's words can be applied to her actions throughout the play. Nora says, "Must I hide? Very well, I'll hide first"(Ibsen 506). Nora takes on the burden of hiding. She hid throughout most of the play and most of her life. With Torvald, she hid until finally she could not take it and had to go out and be the seeker not the one hiding.
Nora and Torvald both hide from each other. Although she hides from her husband, Nora starts seeking truth. She is playing the game on both sides. She hides and she seeks. She is trying to learn about life. Nora wants to find that there can be a life where she does not have to hide from the one she should be closest to. She is looking to find the world where a man will "treat her as a human being like himself, fully recognizing that he is not a creature of one superior species, Man, living with a creature of another and inferior species, Woman"(Shaw 143). Nora wants to be able to stop hiding. To be able to do that, she must be treated like an equal. That is something that Torvald will not do for her. He will not "sacrifice his honor for the one he loves"(Ibsen 548). Torvald will not bear all of Nora's weight, even though he does not want her to carry herself. Nora realizes that "[Torvald was] not the man [she] had thought [him]"(Ibsen 547). The most wonderful thing that could have happened to Nora would be to have Torvald take her problems upon him, and when that did not happen and she was abandoned, she must seek another life. She seeks a life where her sacred duties are "to [herself]"(Ibsen 546) before her husband and children. M. C. Bradbook acknowledges that "in leaving her husband Nora is seeking a fuller life as a human being"(87). Nora is leaving a life in hiding to find a life that is richer and more full than the one where she had to hide her true self.
The hiding and seeking that goes on in the play is far from over when Nora ends the game with the children. It started before then and finished only when Nora walked out on Torvald and her marriage. Nora hides her strength, knowledge and abilities from her husband. She does this because he could not handle having a peer as a wife. He wants a little doll that he can play with when it is convenient. Nora also ends up hiding from the job of mother because she is not needed to fill them. The job of mother is given to the nurse and Nora is only left with playing with her children. The job of wife to Torvald is filled only with a hidden personality. He wishes something that he can call his own and protect with ease. Nora becomes a seeker when she realizes what kind of life she is leading with her husband. When she realizes what he seeks as a wife, she also realizes that she needs to find another life. The only part of the game that will continue is the seeking. Nora will seek a way of life that gives her respect and a sense of individuality. With leaving her husband, Nora gives the indication that she will no longer tolerate a way of life that forces her to hide.
Bradbrook, M. C.. Ibsen The Norwegian. Connecticut: Archon Books, 1966.
Heiberg, Hans. Ibsen A Portrait of the Artist. Florida: UniersityUniversity of Miami Press, 1967.
Ibsen, Henrik. "A Doll's House." Literature Reading Writing the Human Experience. 7th ed. Eds. Richard Abcarian, Marvin Klotz, and Peter Richardson. New York: Bedford/St. Martin's, 1998.
Shaw, Bernard. "A Doll's House Again." Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Vol. 8. Ed. Sharon K. Hall. Michigan: Gale Research Company Book Tower, 1982.