Essay on A Doll 's House By Henrik Ibsen

Essay on A Doll 's House By Henrik Ibsen

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Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 A Doll’s House is inherently a feminist play as it illuminates the struggles faced by European women – as represented by Nora – in the 19th century; and, in Act Three, explicitly rejects the patriarchy which oppressed them. If one defines patriarchy as a force which denies a woman autonomy, and feminism as a movement which liberates her, then this passage is a microcosm of the conflict between the two – Torvald tries to assert his dominance over Nora, who insistently proclaims her independence. This section is also central to the modernity – defined by Marshall Berman as “an attempt […] to become subjects as well as objects […] to make themselves at home in [the modern world]” (5) – of the text.
Berman’s definition of modernity is intrinsically linked with humanism, the aims of which are defined as “to dignify and ennoble man” (‘Humanism’), as it focuses on autonomy and self-teaching. Some critics have approached A Doll’s House with a humanist reading, Michael Meyer arguing that “Its theme is the need of every individual to find out the kind of person he or she really is” (457). To an extent, this is reflected in Nora’s proclamations that “I must set about getting experience” and “I have to think things out for myself” (82), as through the declarative tone and repetition of the first person pronoun she emphasises the importance of agency. Therefore, a humanist reading suggests, Nora’s struggle for self-definition is representative of the wider human struggle, rather than of woman’s.
However, this evaluation of the play is problematic, as it denies the significance of Nora’s gender. The condition of life which she seeks to escape is created by the patriarchal constructs of 19th century Norwegian society – Torval...


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...out getting experience” and to “get things clear” (82) in their own minds, rather than accept their socialisation. They are encouraged to become a subject – of the modern world, and of their individual lives – rather than remain an object. This is what the protagonist Nora does, transforming herself from a woman who performs to the 19th century construct of her gender – frivolous, submissive, and passive – into a headstrong woman looking for answers and for change. To separate her pursuit of self-knowledge and worldliness from her position as a woman is dangerous, as it erases the facts of her position before, during, and after her proclamation of independence from her husband. Nora is viewed by Torvald as a woman – as defined by patriarchal gender roles – first and a human second; thus, readers and audiences of A Doll’s House must also view her centrally as a woman.

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