A Doll’s House: Ibsen’s Take on Dark Crevices in Society

“It must be delightful to have what you need”, says one Mrs Linden in Henrik Ibsen’s ‘A Doll’s House’. The delight that the lady talks about seems to be a prerogative of the male protagonist of the play – Mr Helmer – Nora’s husband. Helmer is a prototype of masculine self-importance under the veneer of a caring and protective partner who calls her wife a ‘song-bird’ but also sets a condition – the bird “must never sing false notes”.

But that was exactly what Nora was doing. She was forcing herself into believing that she “should not think of doing” what her husband disapproves of. Yet, her friend Mrs Linden’s widowed and solitary existence made her remark “how free your life must feel”.

Nora is the Doll in the play who accepts the attires of rules and ethics her husband buys for her and she tries to fit into those apparels so that she remains “sweet little lark” to her husband. She accepts her “subordinate position” but continues with her agility just “to live and be happy”.

She remains the most misunderstood character of all, which makes her throw questions at people around her. “You all think I’m fit for nothing really serious”, is a statement that came from a rather docile woman. She has been treated like a mere prop whose duty is to raise children and listen to every sermon her husband delivers.

No one has an iota of idea of the sacrifice she had made for her husband in the past and she feels unimportant, unattended and unwanted. Nora is in search of reassurance from Mr Helmer; she wants some space in their marital episode. Nora seems to live with the fear that “worse things might happen”.  In a fit of anxiety, Nora puts forth a significant question to her husband: “Isn’t it good of me to have given in to you”.  Mrs Linden, who claims to be a friend, thinks Nora knows “so little of the troubles of life”. This is a cause of disquiet in readers’ minds because they know the truth.

But Nora knows that “there is something glorious in waiting for the miracle”

The dramatist shows a 19th century housewife in Nora who is ready to pay any price to keep a ‘grand secret’ a secret. She pleads her husband to listen to her suggestion for the greater good, but Mr Helmer rubbishes her pleadings as “incredible obstinacy”. According to Helmer, going by wife’s will is like being under “petticoat government”. He prefers her woman to remain “helpless and bewildered” because then only she becomes “doubly dear in his eyes”. He calls Nora his “own little lark again” and “wretched woman” at same breath.

The final act of the play is a where climax and denouement stood in a queue. The tension builds upon the fate of the secret, which made way for Nora’s realization that she is being used by both her father and husband. It strikes her that she is treated like playthings. Final call is taken and Nora is seen breaking all fetters of conjugality and going out in the open to figure out a way for herself.

Unlike Mr Helmer, Nora does not believe that leaving husband is like forsaking “holiest duties” since she has other “duties equally sacred” – the duties towards herself. She vents out as she says, “you can’t teach me to be a fit wife for you”.

Ibsen, the Norwegian playwright, penetrates deep into a European family, which has secrets to hide, truths to conceal and relations to reveal. His play in three acts is a well-spun manuscript of codified society with morality dictating term to marriagehood.  It is through Nora’ rebellious rebuttals (although belated) that the playwright takes a dig at the self-serving nature of correctness and rectitude. He elicits the common facets of the culture of 19thcentury world when “people go rooting and snuffing around in search of moral rottenness”. The can of hypocrisy is opened and exposed.

If you tag this play as a feminist one, you are partly right. You are partly wrong because you look at feminism as an easy tool to launch scathing attacks on male clan. It is rather an effort to send egotists to correction homes where they learn a lesson or two on mutual respect and mutual admiration.

Ibsen gives Nora the time to choose between society and I.


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