Term Paper: Doll's House While Ibsen May Have Exaggerated

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¶ … Doll's House

While Ibsen may have exaggerated to some extent Nora's status within their marriage for theatrical purposes, the overriding sentiments of what a wife and mother should be were an accurate portrayal of women in that time.

Women at the end of the 19th Century and the "Cult of Domesticity"

How Torvald relates to Nora

Examples from Act I

Examples from Act II

Examples from Act III

How Nora relates to Torvald

Manipulation

Lies

Nora's Solution

Henrik Ibsen wrote his play, a Doll's House, at a time when women's lives were closely aligned to home, marriage and family. While some women were actively working for more rights by the end of the 19th century, they were the exception, and most women allowed their lives to be defined by the views of the day regarding what women should be. While Ibsen may have exaggerated to some extent Nora's status within their marriage for theatrical purposes, the overriding sentiments of what a wife and mother should be were an accurate portrayal of women in that time.

WOMEN at the END of the 19TH CENTURY

By the end of the 19th century, a "cult of domesticity, "or a set o beliefs about how wives should act, had been solidly established among the middle class in Europe as well as in America (Hartman, PAGE). This was a set of cultural beliefs regarding what the appropriate role of a married woman should be. People believed that the role of wife and mother, performed in submissive ways, was sanctioned by God. She raised the children, served her husband, managed the household, and was expected to be an example of moral living for her children (Hartman, PAGE). As one popular magazine said in 1884, "A really good housekeeper is almost always unhappy. While she does so much for the comfort of others, she nearly ruins her own health and life. It is because she cannot be easy and comfortable when there is the least disorder or dirt to be seen." (Hartman, PAGE).

These standards are reflected in Ibsen's play. While both Nora and her friend Christine are ready to sacrifice for their families, they do so for far more important reasons than a relentless pursuit of dirt. Christine marries a man she does not love so she can care for her mother and two younger brothers, while Nora commits a crime in order to save her husband's life. By comparing the magazine article with the kinds of choices Nora and Christine had to make, we see Torvald's actions, focused on trivialities and not noticing the strengths of the woman he imagines he has married.

The popular culture of the day could have encouraged women to seek more education, but instead, women were encouraged to focus obsessively on their home and families (Hartman, PAGE). Torvald wanted this of his wife Nora to an extreme degree. The extreme degree may have been a literary device, but it was based on reality.

During this period of time, "women's work" as homemaker was extolled as meeting a higher purpose: As one writer said,."..some one said that woman's best work is that which is unseen by mortal eye...that this work is the steady uplifting and upholding of a higher standard of living; it is the reaching forward and upward, both for ourselves and others, towards a loftier life for as a rule, and it is a rule that has few exceptions, woman creates the atmosphere of the home." Other writers of the time saw housekeeping as God's divine plan for women as well (Hartman, PAGE). Thus it is understandable that Nora would see the lies she told as well as the crime she committed as signs that she was an unfit mother who would inevitably corrupt her children because of her misdeeds.

Ibsen's play reflects the shifting views of the time. Although Torvald sees Nora as childlike and as someone whose primary role is to amuse him, he is more than willing to hire her female friend. Clearly, both Torvald and Nora know that some women are beginning to live lives that involve some independence, but this is not the kind of wife Torvald wants. He says early Act I of the play that he hopes she will never change: "And I would not wish you to be anything but just what you are, my sweet little skylark."

HOW TORVALD RELATES to NORA

Torvald frequently criticizes Nora, but says that he doesn't want to see her change. He wants her to help give the appearance of a proper home, but also values Nora's ability to amuse her. These observations are sprinkled throughout the play. Using names for her that emphasize his superior position, Torvald stays in charge of their relationship. In fact, the only time he calls her by her real name, Nora, he is lecturing her. He lectures her about her careless spending, scolds her for speaking to Krogstad, and essentially orders her to never lie to him.

However, Torvald sets her up to need to lie to him. Even though Nora's actions save his life, she knows that he would not be able to accept that level of help from her, and would be opposed to the debt she incurred. She has to lie to him about it. At the same time, Torvald expresses a belief common to the time, that mothers must be a moral example for their children, stating that "nearly all young criminals have had lying mothers."

Torvald also demonstrates that he feels a need to guide all women within his sphere of influence. He plans on hiring Nora's friend Christine at the bank where he works. In Act III he sees Christine's knitting, and suggests that she take up embroidery instead because it is more "graceful" than knitting. When he looks at women, he is concerned with surface appearances above all else.

Torvald's actions and views only make sense because of the "cult of domesticity" that existed about women during the time this play was written.

EXAMPLES FROM the PLAY

Torvald seems to genuinely care for Nora within his restricted view of her, calling his/her "skylark" and his little squirrel." He scolds her for spending money in anticipation of his raise, saying that a "home that depends on loans and debts is not beautiful because it is not free. However, once she has agreed with him, he gives her more money to spend, demonstrating that part of his relationship with her is about controlling her.

Later, he again accuses her of wasteful spending, and says she has inherited the trait from her father, but assures her that he loves his "lovely little singing bird," referring to when she sings and dances to entertain him. He recalls a time when she was busy with a project and how bored he was when she did not have time to entertain him. He says he does not want her to change. These incidents emphasize his view of her as a plaything for him.

In Act II his control over Nora continues. He has designed the dress she is to wear to a party and in addition intends to teach her to perform a dance in exactly the way he envisions it. At this point she has become even more of a controlled toy to him. Before she was a beautiful doll, but now she is a beautiful puppet with Torvald pulling the strings. The sentiments of the time suggested that women should willingly serve their husbands in all ways. In today's world his attitude would be bizarre, but at the end of the 19th century his relationship to her is just an extreme form of prevailing views about women's roles.

In Act III Torvald continues, seeing Nora as chattel as well as a beloved plaything, and can't conceive of the idea that she would, or even should be allowed to, spurn his sexual advances, saying, "Am I not your husband?" His desire for total dominance over Nora is so complete that the death of his best friend, Dr. Rank, will benefit their relationship. He then professes that he wishes Nora were in danger so he could risk all to save her. However, when the opportunity arrives to save her, when he finds out that she has forged her father's signature on a loan and then lied to him about the source of the money, an event that could now come crashing down around her, instead of protecting her he turns on her, calling her a hypocrite and a liar. In addition, it becomes clear to Nora that Torvald is not thinking about her. He is only concerned about how he will look to others. He worries about his reputation if her crime is exposed. Instead of thanking her for taking such an extreme step to save his life, he insists that she must not see the children so they will not be tainted by her moral failings. Torvald believes that once the document is disposed of… [END OF PREVIEW]

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