A Marriage Like No Other
In the realist drama “A Doll House” by Henrick Ibsen. Moreover, the dramatic tension on the play is heightened through Ibsen’s submission of the play and the sensational introduction at the beginning of each act. Ibsen provides dramatic conventions to expose the flawed value system of the family, regarding the institutions of marriage, prejudice gender roles and personal integrity.
Ibsen mocks the stifling moral climate of the family in conditioning an individual’s identity in the pursuit for self-determinism. The imposition of prejudice gender roles are brought to life through the doll house metaphor, illuminating the entrapment of the bourgeoisie. Metaphorically, the doll house is a moral safeguard for values of social determinism, which Ibsen exposes the limitations of external forces in conditioning Nora’s existence as a doll. Her internalization of the pre-determined housewife role and Torvald’s internalization of the patriarch role maintains the illusory deception of the dolls house. Nora’s objectification is enforced through Torvald’s gendered language, “my songbird”, “lark” and squirrel” and the diction of “my” connotes Torvald’s ownership of Nora in their superficial marriage. Simultaneously, Torvald’s strict adherence to patriarchal ideologies, limits his capacity to empathize with Nora’s cry for emancipation, evident in the subtext “give me pennies of my own”.
Essentially, Ibsen successfully adopts the doll house metaphor to attack the mores of patriarchy, which forces Nora to compromise her identity and freedom to rigid social ideologies.
The superficial institutions of marriage disfigure one’s sense of personal identity, justifying Nora’s cry for liberation from patriarchal ideologies which disempower women of her time. The combination of the stage direction “wagging his finger” and the patronizing tone “was little Ms. Sweet Tooth naughty?” showcases the detriments of social oppression in limiting one’s ability to undergo self-actualization. The diction “little” connotes Nora’s submission to Torvald’s internalization of dominant ideologies, mirroring the disempowerment of women in the bourgeoisie. Moreover, the symbolic Tarantella dress reflects Torvald’s idealized perception of Nora as his “pretty little thing”, reiterating Nora’s objectification. The power imbalance within the Helmer marriage justifies Nora’s deceit, evident in the dramatic irony “I wouldn’t do anything you’d disapprove of”. This notion is juxtaposed with Nora’s statement “I saved Torvald’s life by signing my father’s name and got the money”. Nora’s deception subverts Torvald’s strict adherence to the imposed social ideologies, which Kristine echoes these patriarchal sentiments, “a wife cannot borrow money without her husband’s permission”. The conflict of gender limitations drives the tragic force of the play in Act 1, ending at a climactic moment to heighten the tension in Act 2. In essence, Ibsen successfully generates a greater degree of empathy for Nora, as he mirrors the disempowerment of the social and economic limitations of women in the bourgeoisie.
Ibsen’s rich exploration of the bourgeoisie, inevitably results in Nora’s detachment from her doll metaphor. Kristine and Krogstad function as catalysts for Nora’s transformation, through illuminating the truth of the Helmer marriage, “no more lies, tricks… they must understand each other”. While Krogstad initiates the tragic force of the play through his symbolic letter in Act 2. Ibsen establishes the juxtaposition of the authentic relationship of Krogstad and Kristine to the superficiality of the Helmer marriage, compelling Nora to transcend the limitations of the bourgeoisie. Moreover, the parallel of Nora and Krogstad subverts the values of social determinism, as Krogstad elevates himself through the social hierarchy despite being deemed “morally sick”. Essentially, an unexpected union of the two derives from a compromised understanding, as both characters are criminalized for their acts of personal integrity. Thereby, Ibsen invites the audience to evaluate their personal values, emphasizing the importance of self-determinism overriding social conformity. Ibsen exposes the flawed value system of the bourgeoisie and forewarns of the detriments of an individual’s life being overridden by social morality. The dramatic irony of the Tarantella dance “anyone’d think your life depended on this dance” and Nora’s statement “31 hours to live” foreshadows the impending death of Nora’s doll metaphor. This is further accentuated through Finney’s statement of Nora’s cry for emancipation from the Tarantella dance, evident in “she returns from her frenzied state, back to the role of a wife and mother, only as a springboard from which to emancipate herself.” Moreover, Nora evolves from a doll identity in Act 1, evident in Rosenburg’s claims “Ibsen began with a maltreated stuffed Nora doll” to an awakened woman in Act 3. Her transformation demolishes the artificial foundations of the doll house, thus revealing the harsh winter landscape, embodying reality. Therefore, it is best “to go out into the real world, and discover the truth for herself and her values”.
Moreover, Ibsen’s subversion of the well-made play is evident in the final scene of the play, where Nora “slams the door” and leaves the audience with a climactic ending. Ibsen juxtaposes the beginning and final scene of the play to showcase the disparity of Nora’s transition throughout the play. Her first appearance connotes her disempowerment in the bourgeoisie lifestyle, which is then contrasted to the final scene, where she “puts on the cloak and turns on the lights”. The illumination of the truth compels Nora to extricate herself from the Illusory deception of the door house, thus abandoning the false union of her superficial marriage and burden of motherhood. Nora is virtually unrecognizable by the end of Act 3, as Ibsen courageously abandons the doll metaphor, thus emphasizing the importance transcending social limitations to maintain an identity.