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Analysis of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House: Feminist or Humanist? Ashley J. Smith


Henrik Ibsen’s well recognized play, A Doll’s House, has actually long been considered a mainly feminist work. The play concentrates on the relatively pleased Helmers, Nora and Torvald, who appear to have an ideal life. Nora is charming, sweet, and stunningly stunning, and Torvald is a rich and successful banker. Obviously, the couple has actually gone through difficult times in the past; in their very first year of marital relationship, the couple was very bad and struggling to make ends fulfill when Torvald fell ill. Nora admits that they needed to take a trip to Italy to offer Torvald time to recover, and in order to fund such a trip, she was required to secure a loan from among Torvald’s colleagues, informing her hubby the money was from her father. Nevertheless, when Nora mentions these bumpy rides, it seems to simply highlight the good fortune the couple has fallen under now. Rich, appealing, and popular, the Helmers appear to be the best family. Yet the old adage is true: appearances are tricking. As Nora reveals more about how she has actually been privately working to settle the loan to Krogstad, Torvald’s coworker, it becomes clear that there is a great deal of tension under the calm surface area of the couple’s home life. This stress mounts as Torvald informs Nora that he wants to fire Krogstad from the bank, and Krogstad consequently threatens to expose Nora’s lies to her other half if she does not discover a method to conserve his job. The play’s action intensifies, finally culminating in Torvald’s discovery of a letter Krogstad has composed, revealing the fact about Nora’s loan. Upon discovering that his better half has actually tricked him, Torvald becomes irate, and is instantly worried about preserving his own image– although Nora’s deceptiveness allowed Torvald’s recovery, for which he would most likely be grateful. At this point, Nora’s improvement from a ridiculous, childish woman to an intelligent, independent lady is total. She realizes that Torvald saw her just as a doll and leaves him.

Audiences and critics have a variety of varying reactions to Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, but the most shared conception of the play is that it is, without a doubt, a feminist text. In her article entitled “The Doll Home Backlash: Criticism, Feminism, and Ibsen,” Joan Templeton discusses the various methods which A Doll’s House is indeed a play that deals with the concern of feminism and females’s rights. She mentions that:

[W] hen Nora discovers that she has tasks higher than those of a ‘better half and mom,’ obligations she names as ‘tasks to myself,’ she is voicing one of the most standard of feminist principles: that females no less than guys have an ethical and intellectual nature and have not just a right but a duty to establish it (Templeton 32).

Templeton argues that Nora’s very improvement from childlike and naive to motivated and strong-willed is in its very essence feminist; furthermore, the feminism of the play prevails no matter whether Ibsen planned it to be so. And it seems fairly probable that Ibsen did not in truth intend A Doll’s House to be checked out as highly feminist, specifying at a banquet provided to him by the Norwegian Women’s Rights League that he “should disclaim the honor of having actually worked knowingly for the women’s rights movement … my job has actually been the description of humanity”(Templeton 28). Upon checking out such a statement, it appears clear that Ibsen did not compose A Doll’s House with the intent of penning a landmark feminist work.

Following that logic, there are a number of other critics who highly disagree with Templeton’s assertion that Nora (and subsequently the play as a whole) is naturally feminist. British play critic Michael Billington is one who disagrees with this interpretation of the play as feminist. Upon seeing a production of A Doll’s House at the Southwark Playhouse in London, Billington composes that, “Far from a straightforward feminist clarion call, the play becomes a complex research study of two people who both need to reconstruct their identities” (Guardian Unlimited). Here, Billington changes the focus from the character of Nora, who is the main tenet of Templeton’s argument, to the characteristics of the relationship between Nora and Torvald. In this way, the focus becomes less about Nora having problem with her sense of self, and more about the identities of both characters. Likewise, in a rebuttal of Templeton’s essay on feminism in A Doll’s House, Michael Werth Gelber composes, “In the dollhouse of Torvald and Nora, both husband and wife experience jailed advancement, which neither may ultimately outgrow” (Gelber 361). Billington and Gelber, along with numerous others, appear to check out Ibsen’s classic as humanist rather than feminist, arguing that Ibsen’s message was not that women must make every effort to find themselves, however that all people ought to engage in a look for real identity.

A Doll’s House was written and published in 1879, and as such, Ibsen was certainly familiar with the dominating mindsets concerning women. Prior to the 20th century, ladies were expected to follow their hubbies and concern themselves just with matters of frivolity and entertainment. In fact, years earlier United States President Thomas Jefferson summarized the mindset of the time when he resolved the issue of females and literacy, saying that, “Female education needs to focus on ornaments and the amusements of life … dancing, drawing, and music” (www.vst.cape.com). Females were not expected to inform themselves or end up being independent, which made sure complete reliance on their partners. These widespread beliefs were surely understood to Ibsen, and while he declares that his purpose was never to call attention to women’s problems, the concept of feminism dipped into least a subconscious function in the writing of A Doll’s House. At the same Norwegian Ladies’s Rights League banquet where he claimed that addressing women’s rights was not his objective, Ibsen states, “I am not even quite clear as to simply what this women’s rights motion actually is … It is the women who shall fix the human issue” (Gelber 361). Although Ibsen declares that he is unaware of the women’s rights movement, he puts the duty of handling the human rights motions in the hands of females, revealing that at the minimum, he has a deep regard for and self-confidence in women.

A Doll’s House includes a protagonist who is meant to be an example to ladies and human beings alike, showing the importance of discovering a sense of self and a real identity. Females and guys, both then and now, can look to Nora to see the ways in which one truly should discover his/herself. When Nora finally realizes that she is only a doll to Torvald, she states, “I’ve been carrying out techniques for you, Torvald. That’s how I’ve survived. You wanted it like that … It’s since of you I’ve made nothing of my life” (Ibsen). Although relationships resembling Torvald’s hold over Nora were much more common in the 1870s, they are not obsolete even today. However, dominance now can occur both ways; in some relationships, women manage the guys just as guys manage the ladies in others. In this way, the feminist and humanist themes of A Doll’s Home still use to modern-day times.

It is tough to state with absolute certainty what Ibsen genuinely intended when he wrote A Doll’s Home. Did he indicate for Nora to become a groundbreaking figure in female literature? Or was she just a character who realized that her only responsibilities and tasks were to herself, despite her gender? A closer take a look at the play just seems to puzzle the matter. For example, one can analyze her remarks to Mrs. Linde on what it indicates to Nora to be “complimentary.” She says, “Free. To be free, definitely complimentary. To hang out playing with the kids. To have a clean, lovely home, the method Torvald likes it” (Ibsen). An advocate of reading the text as humanist rather than feminist may argue that this is barely the sort of declaration a female activist would make. Yet supporters of the play as a feminist text would most likely refute this claim, stating that this statement precedes the point in the play where Nora makes her astounding improvement, and that this comment originates from an altogether different character: one who has not yet found the true obligations of womanhood.

After what seemed like limitless exploration of the play, I found it extremely tough to come to a concrete conclusion on whether this text is humanist or feminist. Yet maybe that isn’t what is necessary. Maybe Ibsen didn’t mean the play to be read definitively as one or the other, but to be read by each individual reader in whichever method he/she wished to read it- feminist, humanist, neither, or both. Both readings of the play are similarly valid, equally supportable, and similarly interesting. And more notably, neither interferes with the sheer mastery of Ibsen’s use of language and general writing design. A Doll’s House, whether it be feminist, humanist, or even communist, is a play that encourages growth, self-empowerment, and self-reliance.

Functions Mentioned

Billington, Michael. “A Doll’s Home.” Guardian Unlimited 8 Nov. 2003.

Gelber, Michael Welth. Ibsen and Feminism. PLMA, Vol. 104, No. 3. May 1989. p. 360-362. www.jstor.org.

Reflecting on Race, Class, and Feminism. 26 Nov. 2003. www.vst.cape.com.

Templeton, Jean. The Dollhouse Backlash: Feminism, Criticism, and Ibsen. PMLA, Vol.104, No. 1. Jan. 1989. p. 28-40. www.jstor.org.

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