A Doll's House: Social Lie and Duty

A Doll's House: Social Lie and Duty

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Social Lie and Duty in A Doll's House

The play A Doll's House, by Henrik Ibsen, is concerned with the conflict between social lie and duty. This play is about women's need for independence and her obligations to family and society. We can easily recognize sacrifice and guiltlessness in the play. One can follow a theme through the play by looking at Nora -- the heroine.

Who is Nora Helmer? She is the beloved wife of Torvald Helmer. They have a very nice, cozy house, and they have three kids. They have been married for eight years. They have lovely friends. Torvald was just promoted for a higher position in the bank. Isn't it a lovely picture? This is what we see in the beginning of the play. But when Torvald started to talk, we can feel that something is wrong with this picture. "My little songbird," "my little squirrel," and even "my little featherbrain" - that is what Torvald calls his wife. He treats Nora as a child. He thinks that she is stupid, and she must be controlled. Torvald controls her housekeeping budget and how much she can spend on certain purchases. He doesn't know, and he doesn't want to know that Nora, herself, can earn some money. Instead, he expects her always be dependent on his salary.

Too bad that Nora was able to realize only after eight years that she lives with a hypocrite. After he discovered that Nora forged her father's signature on the loan bond, he nullifies their marriage. He doesn't care that Nora did this because she loves him very much, and she did this to save his life. He is the man of "honor," "Nora, I would gladly work for your sake. But no man can be expected to sacrifice his honor, even for the person he loves." And she answers him, "Millions of women have done it" (Ibsen 979).

When a woman loves as Nora does, nothing else matters. She will sacrifice herself for the family. Her purpose in life is to be happy for her husband and children; to dance and to play. Torvald doesn't know what is real relationship means. And when he sees that because of Nora he needs to sacrifice his reputation and his career, he gave up. He wouldn't take the blame for her. Only when he finds out that Nora won't be charged, he forgives her, and tries to keep her.

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But it is not going to help him because Nora realized that Torvald doesn't love her. He only thinks about himself. Once Nora recognized the truth about her marriage, she understood that she can no longer stay in the "strange man's house" (Ibsen 979).

Is there anything more humiliating to a woman than to live with a stranger, and have children with him? The lie of the marriage institution decrees that she shall continue to do so, and the social conception of duty insists that for the sake of that lie she need be nothing else than a plaything, a doll, an unknown. "... our home has been nothing but a play-room. I've been your doll-wife here, just as at home I was Papa's doll--child" (Ibsen 976). Nora realizes how much she has been wronged, that she is only a doll for Helmer. She also says to him, "You have never loved me. You only thought it amusing to be in love with me." She decided that she has to leave a house. She wants to become independent. When Helmer reminds her about her "holiest duties" as mother and wife, she tells him that, "I have another duty equally sacred" (Ibsen 977). Nora wants to be independent, not only to be recognized as a mother and wife.

When Nora closes the door of the doll's house behind her, she opens a different door of new life for women. She brought new ideas of women's freedom in the family, and in society. She tried to tell us that nothing but women's freedom will make a true connection between man and woman. That will be a best time without lies, equal opportunities, and without shame.

This play shows us how hard it was being a woman, and not only at that time. I don't know how many Noras were in that society, but I'm sure that we have a lot of victims in our society too. There are a lot of women who are still victims of men. Nora Helmer for sure was ahead of her time, and many women wish that they had her courage. But someone has to make a first step - that was Nora.


Ibsen, Henrik. A Doll's House. Literature and the Writing Process. Ed: Elizabeth McMahan. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1999. 931-980
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