Rights of Women in “A Doll’s House”
Around the eighteenth century, especially eighteen seventy-nine, the time when a A Doll House by Henrik Ibsen had been published; the rights of women were limited, meaning they were not allowed to vote. Typically women did not have the same rights and opportunities as men, and were under their control and seen as objects. Women were not considered capable of achieving a status and were on the bottom of societies social classes. They were not entitled to any training, government jobs, and were not permitted to handle their own money. Ibsen denied the belief of women’s rights, but was a believer of human rights. Henrik’s works during the time were seen as scandalous because he often presented different morals throughout them. As the complex relationship between main characters Nora and Torvald Helmer experienced major changes throughout the play, Ibsen conveyed the oppression of women, and how Nora battles it in her marriage as the play progresses.
The initial relationship between the two characters Nora and Torvald is presented as strong and untroublesome. According to the standards for relationships at the time, their marriage is conveyed as normal and each partner is portrayed as they are doing their part in the marriage, correctly. What makes their relationship complex is that their entire relationship is based upon a “”false sense of reality;”” it has been made because of Torvald’s domineering attitude as man of the house, and Nora is treated like Torvald’s child and property. Torvald is in control of Nora because he is the man and she is the women. During the period of the play, women were not in control and did not have as equal of opportunities as men and were usually seen as objects; Ibsen convey’s that concept throughout the entire play. One example of the oppression of women is the use of pet names by Torvald, to his wife Nora.
The nicknames Helmer projects towards Nora may seem normal and and almost as they are cute nicknames, but really they oppress Nora and show how Helmer treats Nora as if she is his property:
HELMER (calls out from his room). Is that my little lark twittering out there?
NORA (busy opening some of the parcels). Yes, it is!
HELMER. Is it my little squirrel bustling about?
HELMER. When did my squirrel come home?
NORA. Just now. (Puts the bag of macaroons into her pocket and wipes her mouth.) Come in here, Torvald, and see what I have bought.
HELMER. Don’t disturb me. (A little later, he opens the door and looks into the room, pen in hand.) Bought, did you say? All these things? Has my little spendthrift been wasting money again? (1.4-10)
They are married, but their relationship is childlike; Torvald treats her as if she is his little “”doll.”” He treats her as his pet by calling her his “”little lark,”” “”little squirrel,”” and “”little spendthrift.”” Before each nickname he would say the word little in an attempt to turn the insulting pet names into sweeter ones. Roles played by each character in the relationship are Torvald treating Nora as “”his little doll”” and Nora treating Torvald as he is the man of the house and holds authority over the family. He sees her as his little doll who is there to please him and for him to admire. Nora is shown as being submissive towards Torvald; he thinks that she is there to bring him pleasure. He has a job at the bank, and Nora cares for the children, does housework, and works on her needlepoint.
Complexity in the relationship can be demonstrated by the lack of consistency in the play. The relationship of Nora and Helmer changes throughout the play because in the beginning it seems to be going well and both characters seem happy, but as the play advances, the true nature of their relationship begins to become more apparent. Torvald is in love with an allusion of Nora, and Nora has never actually seen Torvald for how he is, she has seen him as more of a “”romantic hero”” rather than as a self-centered person, who prioritizes his work, and who is unromantic:Comment by Stuart Teso-Warner:
HELMER. My dear, I have often seen it in the course of my life as a lawyer. Almost everyone who has gone to the bad early in life has had a deceitful mother.
NORA. Why do you only say–mother?
HELMER. It seems most commonly to be the mother’s influence… (1.471-473)
The relationship between Nora and Torvald does not endure the conflicts of the play very well. Some of the major conflicts in a Doll House include pride, betrayal, and unrequited love (one-sided love). Pride is a major conflict that mainly has to do with Torvald; he is too prideful and it negatively affects his and Nora’s relationship negatively. Nora secured the loan that saved Torvald’s life when he was sick, but she got the money illegally so Torvald cannot accept the fact because if anyone found out, it would damage his pride:
NORA. Good Heavens, no! How could you think so? A man who has such strong opinions about these things! And besides, how painful and humiliating it would be for Torvald, with his manly independence, to know that he owed me anything! It would upset our mutual relations altogether; our beautiful happy home would no longer be what it is now. (1.197)
Betrayal is also another major conflict because Nora lies to Torvald by forging her father’s signature on the loan to help Torvald when he was sick. Unrequited love is one of the largest conflicts because it is a theme that is intertwined throughout the entire play. Torvald is in love with an allusion of Nora, and Nora does not see Torvald for who he truly is; she is also in love with an allusion of Torvald. When Torvald does not defend his wife, their marriage cracks and falls apart towards the end of the play. The relationship of Nora and Torvald does not endure the conflicts of the play well, because their marriage falls apart in the end.
The portrayal of the complex relationship in the play during the time was very important because it exposed society for how women were being oppressed and would show importance to women during the time who had been fighting for equality.