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HomeSecondaryNotesTHEMES IN THE DOLLS HOUSE

THEMES IN THE DOLLS HOUSE

 

THEMES IN THE DOLLS HOUSE

THEMES IN THE DOLLS HOUSE:MARRIAGE AND LOVE

At the beginning of the play, Nora and Torvald appear to be very happily married, even to themselves. Nora talks joyfully about her love for Torvald, and Torvald refers to Nora using affectionate pet names. At first the Helmers seem happy, but over the course of the play, the imbalance between them becomes more and more apparent.

Their loving marriage stands in contrast with the lives of the other characters. For example, the marriage of Krogstad and Mrs. Linde was based on necessity rather than love, and were unhappy. Dr. Rank, on the other hand, was never married, and it is later revealed that he has silently loved Nora for years.

Yet although Nora and Torvald’s marriage is based on love (as opposed to necessity, as was the case with Krogstad and Mrs. Linde), it is still governed by the strict rules of society that dictated the roles of husband and wife. It is clear that Nora is expected to obey Torvald and allow him to make decisions for her.

At first it seems that Nora and Torvald both enjoy playing the roles of husband and wife in a way that is considered respectable by society. However, Nora soon reveals to Mrs. Linde that she secretly borrowed the money from Krogstad behind Torvald’s back, and therefore has already broken both the law and the rules of marriage at the time. This creates a dilemma: Nora broke the rules of marriage, yet did so in order to save her husband’s life – a true act of love.

By the end, the marriage breaks apart due to a complete lack of understanding. Nora Helmer, the “doll” wife, realizes after eight years of marriage that she has never been a partner in her marriage. At the play’s conclusion, she leaves her husband in order to establish an identity for herself that is separate from her identity as a wife and mother.

The main message of A Doll’s House seems to be that a true marriage is a joining of equals. The play centres on the dissolution of a marriage that doesn’t meet these standards.

There is a lot of talk about love in A Doll’s House. Throughout the play we hear of and see many different forms of love: familial, maternal, paternal, and fraternal. Romantic love even blossoms for two of the secondary characters, namely Krostad and Mrs Linde. However, for the main characters, the Helmers, true romantic love is elusive.  They finally discovered that true love never existed between them.

THEMES IN THE DOLLS HOUSE

WOMEN AND FEMININITY

Nora has often been painted as one of modern feminist heroines. Over the course of the play, she breaks away from the domination of her dictatorial husband, Torvald. Also throughout this play, there is constant talk of women, their traditional roles, and the price they pay when they break with tradition.

When A Dollʼs House was written in 1879, a wife was not legally permitted to borrow money without her husbandʼs permission. On her wedding day, a woman transferred from living under the authority of her father to under that of her husband.

Poverty had already forced women into the workplace early in the nineteenth century, and the Norwegian government passed laws protecting and governing women’s employment. By the middle of the 19th century, Norwegian women were permitted inheritance rights and the right to an education. But many of the rights provided to women favoured the lower economic classes. Employment opportunities for women were limited to low paying domestic jobs, teaching, or clerical work. Middle class women, such as Nora, noticed few of these new advantages. It was the institution of marriage itself that restricted the freedom of middle class women. Universal women rights were eventually achieved in 1913, making Norway the first country in Europe to have equal voting rights for men and women.

PRIDE, HONOUR, RESPECT AND REPUTATION

The men characters in A Doll’s House are obsessed with their reputation. Some have good names in their communities and will do anything to protect it; others have lost their good names and will do anything to get them back.

THEMES IN THE DOLLS HOUSE

Honour

Honour is extremely important to Torvald; it is what motivates his behaviour. Early in the play, his value for honour is the reason he gives for sacking Krogstad, claiming that because he once displayed a lack of honour, it means that Krogstad is forever dishonoured. When he learns of his wife’s mistake, Torvald’s first and foremost concern is for his honour. He cannot appreciate the sacrifice that Nora has made for him; he is only concerned with how society will react to his family’s shame. For Torvald, honour is more important than family and far more important than love; he simply cannot imagine anyone placing love before honour. This issue brings out the glaring difference between Nora and Torvald.

Pride

Like honour, pride is another quality that Torvald upholds. He is proud of Nora in the same way one is proud of an expensive or rare item or possession. When her scandal threatens to be exposed, Torvald is very fearful of losing his public pride. Instead of accepting Nora with her misperfections, Torvald instead rejects her when she is most in need of his support. His pride in himself and in his possessions blinds him to Nora’s worth and value. Nora is left with no choice but to leave him. Only when she has made the decision to leave Torvald does she begin to develop pride in herself.

THEMES IN THE DOLLS HOUSE

LIES AND DECEIT

The tension that runs throughout A Doll’s House comes from Nora’s fear of her secret being discovered. Her great terror being exposed leads her to tell a lie after a lie. When her web of lies finally reaches a climax, her marriage proves too weak to bear the strain.

At the beginning of the play, Nora appears to be a dutifully obedient and honest wife, however it is quickly revealed that she is hiding a serious secret from her husband—the fact that she borrowed money from Krogstad to finance a trip to Italy that she claims saved Torvald’s life. This confirms that all her statements about never disobeying or hiding anything from him were nothing but deceitful. When she reveals her dishonesty to Mrs. Linde, Mrs. Linde insists that she ought to confess to Torvald immediately, insisting that a marriage cannot succeed when husband and wife are not completely honest with each other.

But Nora is not alone in telling lies and being deceitful. Krogstad is also revealed to have committed a forgery. The fruits of their acts of deception are devastating: Krogstad’s reputation is ruined, and Nora is forced to leave her husband and family at the end of the play.

It should however be noted that the motivation behind Nora’s dishonesty was love – she lied in order to save her husband’s life. Furthermore, she wouldn’t have been deceitful if it weren’t for societal law dictating that women were not allowed to handle financial matters independently. Therefore Nora’s deceit was not the result of a personal flaw, but rather an attempt to commit a noble act of saving her husband’s life that went awry.

Dr. Rank also comes out as deceitful and dishonest. He has been deceiving both Nora and Torvald for years about the depth of his feelings for Nora. Only when she attempts to seek his financial help does Nora finally see beneath the surface to the doctor’s real feelings. He has been lusting for his best friend’s wife all those years. Nora is so shocked to discover this that she automatically decides not to ask Dr. Rank for financial assistance.

Torvald, who has been deceived throughout most of the play, is finally revealed in the final act to be the one most guilty of deception. He has deceived Nora into believing that he loved and cherished her, while all the while he had regarded her as little more than his property.

THEMES IN THE DOLLS HOUSE

MONEY AND MATERIALISM

Throughout the entire play everyone is talking about money, as if it was a god. As the entire issue starts over a debt, the play revolves around money and who has it as well as who does not have it. It is a prevailing theme due to that.

In the very first scene, Nora gives the porter one shilling, telling him to “keep the change”, thus indicating her relaxed attitude to money and spending. The next scene with Torvald almost entirely revolves around the subjects of money, spending and borrowing, with Nora portrayed as a spendthrift. Torvald has very strong views on borrowing and debt. He says to her, “That is like a woman! But seriously, Nora, you know what I think about that. No debt, no borrowing. There can be no freedom or beauty about a home that depends on borrowing and debt.”(Pg 3)

A need for money affects all the major characters in A

Doll’s House. In the beginning of the play it is revealed that Torvald was recently promoted and will receive “a big salary.”(Pg2) However, he still criticizes Nora for overspending, arguing that they need to be cautious financially. Mrs. Linde is in desperate need of a job following the death of her husband. Krogstad’s replacement at the bank leaves him threatening to reveal Nora’s secret in order to get his job back because he fears he will lose his source of income. Indeed, the bank works as a symbol for the pervasive presence of money in the characters’ lives.

Throughout the play A Doll’s House, the characters spend a good deal of time talking about their finances. Some are said to be doing quite well financially, and some have the promise of their finances improving in the future. Others are struggling to make ends meet. Either way, each character’s financial status seems to be a defining feature.

In the play, money symbolizes the power that the characters have over one another. In the first Act, Torvald’s ability to dictate how much Nora spends on Christmas presents shows his power over her. On the other hand, the debt that Nora owes Krogstad allows him to have power over her and Torvald. Both Nora and Mrs. Linde cannot earn large incomes because they are women; their inability to access significant amounts of money shows the power that men have over the women in this society.

It is also clear that, while earning money leads to power, it can also be dangerous. For instance, even if money actualized Nora and her family’s trip to Italy, the debt she owed Krogstad soon became a source of terror, dread, and shame. The thrill of obtaining money soon became a nightmare for her.

Krogstad is a moneylender, and money (or lack of it) has had a major effect on his life. We learn that Mrs Linde ended her relationship with him many years ago because of his lack of financial security, choosing to marry a richer man instead. Throughout his life Krogstad has been poor, struggling to support his family, and it is this dependency on financial income that leads him to blackmail Nora in an attempt to keep his job at the bank. Mrs Lindeʼs life has also been directly affected by money, or lack of it. Her late husbandʼs business collapsed, leaving her with nothing to live on, and since then she has had to work hard to survive.

Dr Rank is the only main character who appears to be comfortable financially, having inherited money from his late father. However, although he is financially comfortable he is terminally ill, referring to his body as being “bankrupt.”

Torvald in particular focuses on money and material goods rather than people. His sense of manhood depends on his financial independence. He was an unsuccessful lawyer because he refused to take “unsavory cases.” As a result, he switched jobs to the bank, where he will primarily be dealing with money.

THEMES IN THE DOLLS HOUSE

THE SACRIFICIAL ROLE OF WOMEN

In A Doll’s House, Ibsen paints a bleak picture of the sacrificial role held by women of all economic classes in his society.

In order to support her mother and two brothers, Mrs. Linde found it necessary to abandon Krogstad, her true but poor lover, and marry a richer man.

The nanny had to abandon her own child to support herself by working as Nora’s and later as Nora’s children’s caretaker. As she tells Nora, the nanny considers herself lucky to have found the job, since she was “a poor girl who has got into trouble…” (Pg 50)

Though Nora is economically advantaged in comparison to the play’s other female characters, she nevertheless leads a difficult life because society dictates that Torvald be the marriage’s dominant partner. Torvald issues rules and looks down on Nora, and Nora must hide her debt from him because she knows Torvald would never accept the idea that his wife had helped save his life. Furthermore, she must work in secret to pay off her loan because it is illegal for a woman to obtain a loan without her husband’s permission.

Nora’s abandonment of her children can also be interpreted as an act of self-sacrifice. Despite Nora’s great love for her children, as seen in her interaction with them and her great fear of corrupting them, she chooses to leave them. Nora truly believes that the nanny will be a better mother and that leaving her children is in their best interest.

All the three women in the play have made some kind of personal sacrifice in their lives in order to fulfill the roles which society expects of them. Nora, besides risking her dignity by borrowing money on behalf of her family, she also has sacrificed all her own opinions, thoughts and ideas and adopted Torvaldʼs views as her own. Besides that, she has been saving every bit of money she had and working odd hours of the night to repay Krogstad. And at the end of the play she sacrifices her home, family and children for the sake of her own self-discovery.

Mrs Linde, after her husbandʼs death, continued to make personal sacrifices for the sake of her family, taking on any work she could to support them financially.

Anne-Marie, on the other hand, sacrificed motherhood for a respectable job, which was all too common for young unmarried mothers in the 19th century.

PARENTAL AND FILIAL OBLIGATIONS

There is a strong emphasis throughout the play on the importance of parental and filial responsibility, and of the effect that the actions of parents have upon their children.

THEMES IN THE DOLLS HOUSE

Parental obligations

Nora, Torvald, and Dr. Rank believe that a parent is obligated to be honest and morally-upright, because a parent’s immorality is passed on to his or her children like a disease.

For instance, Dr. Rank has a disease that is the result of his father’s wickedness. Dr. Rank implies that his father’s immorality, which included affairs with many women, led him to contract a venereal disease that he passed on to his son, causing Dr. Rank to suffer for his father’s misdeeds. He talks about the unfairness of this, of the sins of the father being passed on to the son.

Torvald, on the other hand, talks about a parentʼs immorality being passed on to the children like a disease. He voices the idea that one’s parents determine one’s moral character when he tells Nora, “Almost everyone who has gone to the bad early has had a deceitful mother” (Pg 30) He speaks about Krogstad poisoning his own children with lies and immorality. He also refuses to allow Nora to interact with their children after he learns of her deceit; for fear that she will corrupt them.

Nora is referred to as being like her father, having inherited a lot of his qualities. It is also important to note that she never had a mother, with Anne-Marie fulfilling the maternal role in her life.

Anne-Marie was forced to give away her own child to take on the role of Noraʼs maid; in contrast Nora chooses to leave her own children at the end of the play.

Filial obligations

Filial means the duties, feelings or relationships which exist between a son or daughter and his or her parents.

The play suggests that children too have an obligation to protect their parents. Nora recognized this obligation, but she ignored it, choosing to be with, and sacrifice herself for, her sick husband instead of her sick father.

Mrs. Linde, on the other hand, abandoned her hopes of being with Krogstad and undertook years of labour in order to tend to her sick mother. Mrs Linde has fulfilled her filial responsibility by dedicating her life to care for her mother, at the expense of her own personal happiness. Her motherʼs illness has directly affected the life she has led and the personal decisions she has made.

Ibsen does not however pass judgment on either woman’s decision, but uses the idea of a child’s debt to her parent to demonstrate that familial obligation is not one way – it is reciprocal.

THEMES IN THE DOLLS HOUSE

THE UNRELIABILITY OF APPEARANCES

Over the course of A Doll’s House, appearances prove to be quite misleading and hide the true reality of the play’s characters and situations. Our first impressions of Nora, Torvald, and Krogstad are all later proved quite wrong.

Nora, at first, seems a silly, childish woman, but as the play progresses, we see that she is intelligent, motivated, and, by the end of the play, a strong-willed, independent thinker.

Torvald, on the other hand, though he appears as the strong, benevolent husband, reveals himself to be cowardly, petty, and selfish when he fears that Krogstad may expose him to scandal.

Krogstad, who initially appears to be a vicious, ruthless blackmailer, later reveals himself to be a much more sympathetic and merciful character. He also turns out as an earnest lover. Indeed, the play’s climax is largely a matter of resolving identity confusion – we see Krogstad as a loving merciful man, Nora as an intelligent, brave woman, and Torvald as a helpless, sad man.

Situations too are misinterpreted both by the audience and by the characters. The seeming hatred between Mrs. Linde and Krogstad turns out to be love. Nora’s creditor turns out to be Krogstad and not Dr. Rank, as the audience and Mrs. Linde had thought. Dr. Rank confesses that he is not just a friend to Nora but instead he is in love with her, to Nora’s and the audience’s surprise. The seemingly ruthless Krogstad repents and returns Nora’s contract to her, while the seemingly kindhearted Mrs.

Linde fails to help Nora, leading to Torvald’s discovery of Nora’s secret.

THEMES IN THE DOLLS HOUSE

GENDER ROLES

A Doll’s House exposes the restricted roles of women during the time of its writing and the problems that arise from a drastic imbalance of power between men and women.

Throughout the play, Nora is treated like a child by the other characters. Torvald calls her his “pet” and his “property,” and suggests that she is not smart or responsible enough to be trusted with money. Neither Krogstad nor Dr. Rank take her seriously, and even Mrs. Linde calls her a “child.” Nora seems unperturbed by the views of others about her; even calling herself “little Nora” and promising that she would never dream of disobeying her husband.

However, there are clues that she is not entirely happy with the limited position she has as a woman. For example, when revealing the secret of how she borrowed money to finance the trip to Italy, she refers to it as her “pride” and says it was fun to be in control of money, explaining that it was “like being a man.” (Pg 21) Nora seems to wish to enjoy the privileges and power enjoyed by males in her society. She seems to understand the confinement she faces simply by virtue of her sex.

Nora’s dissatisfaction with her status as a woman intensifies over the course of the play. In the final scene she tells Torvald that she is not being treated as an independent person with a mind of her own. According to her, the bitter solution to this issue is to leave married life behind, despite Torvald’s begging that he will change. Nora’s problems arise because as a woman she cannot conduct business without the authority of either her father or her husband. When her father is dying, she must forge his signature to secure a loan to save her husband’s life. That she is a responsible person is demonstrated when she repays the loan at great personal sacrifice.

The men in this play have a very conservative view of the roles of women, especially in marriage and motherhood. Torvald, in particular, believes that it is the sacred duty of a woman to be a good wife and mother. Moreover, he tells Nora that women are responsible for the morality of their children. In essence, he sees women as childlike, helpless creatures detached from reality on the one hand, but on the other hand as influential moral forces responsible for the purity of the world through their influence in the home.

The men of A Doll’s House are in many ways just as trapped by traditional gender roles as the women. The men must be providers. They must bear the burden of supporting the entire household. They must be the undoubted kings of their respective castles. Besides providing for their families, the men are obsessed by a desire to achieve higher status. Respectability is of great concern to both Torvald and Krogstad. When Nora’s borrowing is revealed, Torvald’s first thoughts are for his reputation. On the other hand, Krogstad is obsessed with achieving success now that he has changed his character. He intends to one day take over Torvald’s job and run the bank.

By the end of the play, these traditional ideas are truly put to the test.

THEMES IN THE DOLLS HOUSE

INDIVIDUAL VS. SOCIETY

Nora, a dutiful mother and wife, spends most of the play putting others before herself. She thinks little about herself to the extent of engaging in an act of forgery and taking a debt for the sake of her husband’s health. She doesn’t stop to worry about how these actions might impact the lives of her husband and children. Even when she plans to kill herself near the end of the play, it is not to hide her shame but rather because she thinks that if she is alive then Torvald will ruin himself in trying to protect her.

Similarly, Mrs. Linde admits that, without a husband or any family members to care for, she feels that her life is pointless. Therefore both women find a sense of meaning in their lives through serving others and performing the caring, obedient role that society requires of them.

However, Nora later learns that prioritizing her duty as a wife and mother cannot lead to real happiness. She realizes that while she thought she was sacrificing herself to protect her love, in fact no such love existed. It becomes clear that Torvald would never have sacrificed his reputation to protect her. She therefore decides to leave him in order to develop a sense of her own identity. The play ends with Nora choosing to put herself as an individual before society’s expectations of her.

Some characters, however, are more concerned about themselves as individuals rather than the society. A good example is Krogstad. Throughout most of the play, it seems that he cares more about his reputation than anything else. Punished by society for his act of forgery, he is desperate to reclaim respectability in the eyes of others. However, he realizes that he will only achieve happiness through truly reforming himself and regaining the personal integrity that he lost, rather than the outward respectability.

In a similar way to Nora, Krogstad learns that society’s view of him is meaningless if he doesn’t respect himself as an individual.

THEMES IN THE DOLLS HOUSE

BETRAYAL

Betrayal is a theme of this play in several ways. Nora has betrayed her husband’s trust in several instances. She has lied about borrowing money, and to repay the money she must lie about how she spends her household accounts and she must lie about taking odd jobs to earn extra money. She also chooses to lie about eating macaroons which her husband has forbidden her.

Torvald betrays Nora when he rejects her pleas for understanding. Torvald’s betrayal of her love is clearly shown when he doesn’t want to understand that Nora took the loan because of his own welfare. To him, she threatened his otherwise good reputation in the eyes of the society, which was an unforgivable sin to him. This was the reality that Nora requires to finally awaken from; her previous view about her husband and their marriage was just but a sham.

Mrs Linde also betrays Krogstad when she opts to marry a richer man because Krogstad was too poor to help her sustain her sick mother and needy siblings.

GROWTH AND DEVELOPMENT

In Act I, Nora is portrayed as nothing more than a “doll,” a child who has exchanged a father for a husband without changing or maturing in any way. But as the play progressed, she realized that she had no identity separate from that of her husband. Torvald owned her just as he owned their home or any other possession. She was finally forced to face the reality of the life she was living. She realized in the final act that if she had to develop an identity as an adult, she must leave her husband’s home. When Nora finally gave up her dream for a miracle and, instead, accepted the reality of her husband’s self-centredness, she finally took her first steps toward maturity. She realized the inequity of her situation; she also recognized her own self worth. Her decision to leave is a daring one that indicates the seriousness of Nora’s desire to find and create her own identity.

THEMES IN THE DOLLS HOUSE

THE HOME

The fact that the play is called A Doll’s House means that home might be a prevalent theme. Early on in the text, the home is seen as a thing of joy, a place of comfort and shelter. The idea of home is enmeshed with the idea of the happy family, which the Helmers seem to be.

Toward the play’s conclusion, however, the imbalance of power in the family becomes an issue. Now the seemingly happy home is revealed as having been an illusion – a doll’s house – that hid the gulf between the Helmers. The Helmers’ home is really more of a prison than a shelter.

The title, A Doll’s House, implies that everything is a façade, an illusion. Just like a doll that has a plastered smile on its face, the doll’s house hides the problems in the marriage.

THEMES IN THE DOLLS HOUSE

ALL DOLLS HOUSE NOTES FORM 1-4 WITH TOPICAL QUESTIONS & ANSWERS

PRIMARY NOTES, SCHEMES OF WORK AND EXAMINATIONS