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A Comparison of Happiness and Power in Paradise Lost by John Milton and A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen


Happiness is a luxury only the powerful can pay for. In light of this view compare representations of happiness and power in Paradise Lost and A Doll’s Home. (30 marks)

In both Paradise Lost and A Doll’s House, to say just those in power truly experience the luxury of joy would be a somewhat reductive statement. Arguably, there are premises to argue that Eve, as an embodiment of the weak female in a patriarchal society, never receives the empowerment she desires, regardless of all efforts to strive for self-reliance, understanding and consequently, joy. Adam does, nevertheless, forgive her towards the end of the poem and their love ends up being more powerful, maybe signifying a version of a happy ending. The title of the poem in the very first location, however, ‘Paradise Lost’ recommends a loss of complete happiness and fulfilment and due to their own actions, Adam and Eve’s Paradise and Paradise is changed and damaged. Like Eve, in A Doll’s Home, Ibsen’s Nora symbolises the patriarchal stereotype of a supressed woman. Nora freely proclaims that she was never ever really happy under the limitations of her function as a housewife and a mother, but as she leaves her household looking for herself she arguably ends up being empowered. In spite of the absence of resolution at the end we, the reader are offered the impression that Nora will discover, at least a better life than the one by Torvald’s side. On the other hand, to state Nora’s abandonment of her household makes her powerful might be contested thinking about the patriarchal context the play was written in. Nora perhaps does find joy by leaving her family, but from a patriarchal point of view, for a lady to leave her ‘responsibilities’ as a wife and a mother is a lady abandoning her function which, arguably, renders her weak and disempowered.

Patriarchal and masculine power is a main theme to both texts which arguably causes suffering, not happiness as the repression of ladies triggers their better halves to ‘stray’ in seek of self-reliance. Both men at some time lose the females that they love even if temporarily, thanks to their pride and desperation to keep patriarchal power. Arguably, Torvald plays up to this stereotype as the strong heroic protector wanting that ‘often […] some awful threat might threaten [Nora] so [he] might offer [his] life [his] blood, everything for [her] sake.’ Nick Worrall argued that ‘his security depends on sensation superior,’; and as Torvald indulges in this patriarchal principle of a male hero, this statement rings true, depicting the concept that for a male to feel powerful, they must entice therefore power and ‘remarkable [ity] over their partners. It appears, however, that Torvald’s words are false and empty as when confronted with the chance to save his partner by supplying the ‘wonder of wonders,’ it appears, he is unable to trade in his pride for the happiness of his marital relationship. Rather, he states, ‘no male can be expected to compromise his honour, even for the individual he loves.’ Probably, Ibsen meant to use Torvald to represent the gender inequality in the time he was composing, and the value of patriarchal male pride put even above the significance of family and marital love. Perhaps by having Nora leave, Ibsen was trying to say that putting excessive importance on being the stereotyped masculine figure and overlooking female rights would just lead to unhappiness. Perhaps, this is seen where Torvald’s male pride results in Nora’s realisation that he is unable to attend to her (have not you been happy here?/ No; never. I utilized to think I was. However I have not ever been happy’) and consequently his anguish as she abandons him in search of her liberty.

Also, following Eve’s disobedience (‘she plucked, she consumed, earth felt the wound’) Adam is initially unable to put aside his masculine pride for the joy of their relationship, and so in spite of maintaining power he does not seem to be provided as pleased. This is made apparent when Adam’s address of Eve modifications from ‘sole Eve’ to ‘ingrateful Eve’ as he blames and reprimands her: ‘bad lady.’ Like Torvald, Adam is unable to look previous Eve’s disobedience, which causes him to be bitter rather than happy as perhaps, he is driven by his sexism and desire for power, and not his love. Weathers was of the opinion ‘that bitter antifeminism […] accompanies young masculinity,’ a statement which appears to describe not only Adam’s behaviour, reflected by his twisted pet names however Torvald’s too as he also mocks Nora’s womanhood with insulting remarks: ‘senseless female.’ In both texts, the male characters utilize the noun ‘female’ to reprimand and mock their wife’s gender, probably, to make themselves feel powerful and for that reason delighted. This attitude of male supremacy was common in both contexts, but especially in the 1600’s evidenced in Milton’s divorce systems: ‘who can be oblivious that lady was developed for male and not man for lady.’ Probably, Milton’s views are revealed plainly through Paradise Lost as Eve is supressed and put back in her location, ‘safe and seemliest by her spouse’s side’ and we are offered the impression that had she listened to her spouse, the fall would never have taken place: “Would thou hadst heartened to my words (Adam).” We see however, that this power, like with Torvald, does not bring joy but anger and animosity and it is not till Adam is able to forgive his partner, and let go of his pride that he is able to pass the ‘trial of going beyond love’ and much better their relationship. We see then that for both male characters in these texts, their desire for patriarchal power does not supply them with the luxury of joy but presses their spouses away and makes them bitter and resentful. For Torvald, he is not able to correct his relationship and is left at the end of the play miserable, and disempowered, but for Adam, in spite of the fall and his subsequent disempowerment, his relationship with Eve is rebuilded and we, the reader, is entrusted to the impression that they enjoy.

On the other hand, the patriarchal stereotype categorises women as weak, yet in both texts, the female characters empower themselves by striving for independence, knowledge and happiness. Towards the end of A Doll’s home specifically, we are offered the impression that Nora will find joy as she understands that she has ‘another duty which is equally sacred, a task towards [herself]’ Jakovlievic argued that ‘Ibsen provides the image of a pleased household plagued with dissatisfied performatives’ however arguably, as the play draws to a close this image is shattered and the patriarchal pretences are revealed as Nora states: ‘you were never ever in love with me, you just believed it was fun to be in love with me.’ Nora’s realisation that her marriage is a façade perhaps causes her choice to step away from her hubby in search of independence, knowledge and the happiness those involve. It might be argued that Nora’s look for independence suggests Ibsen’s view as a humanist and as some have actually argued, a ‘proto feminist,’ who believed that it was not a ‘question of ladies’s rights’ however of ‘human rights.’It appears, nevertheless, that though Ibsen’s desire was for gender equality, Nora’s liberty would not have actually been genuinely possible in Ibsen’s modern society. Ibsen’s inspiration for Nora was a buddy, Laura Keeler who when getting out of the confining, patriarchal parameters, was punished by her other half and positioned into a psychological asylum. It seems then, that though we are given the impression of empowerment and happiness Nora’s journey is not a true representation of what was accessible for women in the 1800’s. Similarly, Eve is repressed by the male figures in her society and anticipated to ‘study home good’ under the function of the 17th century ideal homemaker. Like Ibsen’s, Milton’s ideology seems to run through his text through the presentation of Eve as she is restricted from gaining understanding such power that features it. This seems to mirror Milton’s attitude towards females, who in his own life had prohibited his daughters from a complete education. As a result, it seems that unlike Nora, Eve does not triumph in her look for self-reliance but rather is laid with the repercussions of the fall: pain in kid birth, death and the gift to future generations of genetic sin, ‘who may have lived and joyed never-ceasing happiness.’ Regardless of these consequences, nevertheless, as book 9 starts among Eve’s primary arguments for ‘divid [ing their] labours’ is to get away the danger of the tempter, Satan (‘how are we pleased, still in fear of harm.’) As Satan is the most penalised, advised to hell, based on the continuous temptation of fruit that relies on ash, despite Eve’s inability to achieve independence, the elimination and penalty of Satan does dissipate the perpetual fear of ‘the wicked one’ and permit herself and Adam to cohabit in peace, harmony and happiness. Overall, we are provided the impression that through a journey towards independence, Nora will discover a sense of freedom and happiness in the future. Eve’s search for independence is not a source of empowerment as she is ladled with the repercussions of the fall and forcibly put back at her hubby’s side, we do, however, think that without power Eve is still able to find some peace and happiness, as the danger of Satan is no longer a real one and her relationship with Adam is fixed up.

In conclusion, the males in these texts would have been expected by their contemporary audiences to wield masculine power as patriarchal figures. It appears nevertheless, that their desire to keep therefore power limits them from a pleased life, as it drives their other halves away searching for self-reliance. Adam is able to fix up with his spouse and eventually more than happy once again however probably, Ibsen uses Torvald to recommend that those who are not ready to share their power will never ever be able to put aside their pride for the sake of love and joy. The ladies in these texts demonstrate that independence and knowledge gives power and happiness, however where Nora is able to get what seems a happy ending, Eve is put back in her location and ladled with the consequences of the fall. Eve, though totally disempowered does seem to find some sense of joy, as she and Adam are able to reconcile their differences, and without the risk of Satan can live their lives in harmony.

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