The Struggle for Identity in A Doll’s House

The Struggle for Identity in A Doll’s House

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The Struggle for Identity in A Doll's House

 
   A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen, is a play that was written ahead of its time. In this play Ibsen tackles women's rights as a matter of importance. Throughout this time period it was neglected. A Doll's House was written during the movement of Naturalism, which commonly reflected society. Ibsen acknowledges the fact that in 19th century life the role of the woman was to stay at home, raise the children and attend to her husband. Nora Helmer is the character in A Doll House who plays the 19th woman and is portrayed as a victim. Michael Meyers said of Henrik Ibsen's plays: "The common denominator in many of Ibsen's dramas is his interest in individuals struggling for and authentic identity in the face of tyrannical social conventions. This conflict often results in his characters' being divided between a sense of duty to themselves and their responsibility to others."(1563) All of the aspects of this quote can be applied to the play A Doll House, in Nora Helmer's character, who throughout much of the play is oppressed, presents an inauthentic identity to the audience and throughout the play attempts to discovery her authentic identity.

The inferior role of Nora is extremely important to her character. Nora is oppressed by a variety of "tyrannical social conventions." Ibsen in his "A Doll's House" depicts the role of women as subordinate in order to emphasize their role in society. Nora is oppressed by the manipulation from Torvald. Torvald has a very typical relationship with society. He is a smug bank manager. With his job arrive many responsibilities. He often treats his wife as if she is one of these responsibilities. Torvald is very authoritative and puts his appearance, both social and physical, ahead of his wife that he supposedly loves. Torvald is a man that is worried about his reputation, and cares little about his wife's feelings.

Nora and Torvald's relationship, on the outside appears to be a happy. Nora is treated like a child in this relationship, but as the play progresses she begins to realize how phony her marriage is. Torvald sees Nora's only role as being the subservient and loving wife. He refers to Nora as "my little squirrel" (p.1565), "my little lark" (p.1565), or "spendthrift"(1565). To him, she is only a possession. Torvald calls Nora by pet-names and speaks down to her because he thinks that she is not intelligent and that she can not think on her own.

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Whenever she begins to voice an opinion Torvald quickly drops the pet-names and insults her as a women through comments like; "worries that you couldn't possibly help me with," and "Nora, Nora, just like a woman."(1565) Torvald is a typical husband in his society. He denied Nora the right to think and act the way she wished. He required her to act like an imbecile and insisted upon the rightness of his view in all matters.

Nora is a dynamic character in this play. Meyers quote is stating that Ibsen has characters who struggle with their "authentic identity." Nora is clearly an example of one of these characters. She goes through many changes and develops more than any other character. Nora, at the beginning and throughout most of the play, is "inauthentic character." An inauthentic identity is when a person believes their personality is identical to their behavior. However subconsciously they know that it is not true. Nora was inauthentic because her situation was all that she was ever exposed to. She is a grown woman that was pampered all her life by men. Nora was spoon-fed all of her life by her father and husband. She believes in Torvald unquestionably, and has always believed that he was her god or idol. She is the perfect image of a doll wife who revels in the thought of luxuries that she can afford because she is married. She is very flirtatious, and constantly engages in childlike acts of disobedience such as little lies about things such as whether or not she bought macaroons. Nora goes through life with the illusion that everything is perfect.

When a woman of that time loves as Nora thinks she does nothing else matters. She will sacrifice herself for the family. Her purpose in life is to be happy for her husband and children. Nora did believe that she loved Torvald and was happy. She had a passionate and devoted heart that was willing to do almost anything for her husband. At first she did not understand that these feelings were not reciprocated. Torvald does not want a wife who will challenge him with her own thoughts and actions. The final confrontation between the couple involves more oppression by Torvald, but by this time Nora has realized the situation he wishes to maintain. Torvald calls her a "featherbrained woman" (1606) and "blind, incompetent child " (1609) even though she saved his life. Nora expected Torvald to be grateful to her. This does not happen. When Torvald says, "Now you have wrecked all my happiness- ruined my future..."(1606) and "I'm saved!"(1606), Torvald exhibits his self-absorbed nature. The fury Nora saw after Torvald's opening of the letter showed Nora a strange man. Someone she had not been wife to, someone she did not love. Their marriage is fake and mutually beneficial because of their social status. They are not really in love. Nora says, "Yes. I am beginning to understand everything now."(1606) It is now that she can begin to apprehend her forgery was wrong, not because it was illegal, but because it was for an unworthy cause. This is when the readers see Nora embark into her transformation of her authentic character. Nora decides that the only way to fix the situation is to leave Torvald and her children and find herself independently.

Slowly Nora's character is forced to discontinue her inauthentic role of a doll and seek out her individuality, her new authentic identity. She comes to realize that her whole life has been a lie. She lived her life pretending to be the old Nora, and hid the changed woman she had become. The illusion of the old Nora continues well after she becomes a new person. When she realizes that responsibilities for herself are more important, Nora slams the door on not just Torvald but on everything that happened in her past. It took time to evolve into a new person, but after she did she became a person who could not stand to be oppressed by Torvald any longer. Nora says, "I've been your wife-doll here, just as at home I was Papa's doll-child."(1608) Ibsen uses the idea of a "doll" because a doll always maintains the same look, no matter what the situation. A doll must do whatever the controller has them do. Dolls are silent and never express opinions or actually accomplish anything without the aid of others. This doll is Nora's inauthentic identity.

Her authentic identity is in the process of being built while Torvald calls Nora his "little lark", his "little squirrel", and a child. Nora grows even stronger. It is complete and presented to the readers when Nora when she stands up to Torvald and does the opposite of what he wants. Nora tells Helmer at the end of the play that, "I have to try to educate myself. You can't help me with that. I've got to do it alone. And that's why I'm leaving you now" (1609). Nora tells Helmer, " . . . I'm a human being, no less than you-or anyway, I ought to try to become one." (1609) She does not tolerate Torvald's condescending tone or allow him to manipulate her any longer. Nora must follow her own convictions now and decide for herself what her life will be in the future. Her rebirth has led to her own independence. Another man will never again control her and she is now free of her controlling husband.

In conclusion Michael Meyers quote "The common denominator in many of Ibsen's dramas is his interest in individuals struggling for and authentic identity in the face of tyrannical social conventions. This conflict often results in his characters' being divided between a sense of duty to themselves and their responsibility to others." is applicable to Nora in A Doll House. Nora Helmer is a character struggling to realize her authentic identity. Her husband Torvald has always established her identity. Throughout the play Torvald was condescending towards Nora and forced her to act and look in a way that pleased him. Nora allowed Torvald to play dress up with her and no matter what the situation Nora has to consistently remain Torvald's quiet, happy, little doll. Nora ends her doll life by leaving her doll house to learn and explore on her own. She is no longer a doll under the control of her master.
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