English Comp. II
A Marriage Like No Other
In the realist drama “A Doll House” by Henrick Ibsen, the dramatic tension of this twisted and harrowing play is heightened through Ibsen’s idea of what he wanted in the play and the sensational introductions at the beginning of each individual act. Ibsen cleverly uses dramatic conventions to expose the flawed value system of this, and the standard, picturesque family. He takes a stand regarding the backwards and demeaning institution of marriage in those days. He also exposes the prejudice in gender roles and personal integrity. Using the climax of drama surrounding the main character, Ibsen shows the flaws of the patriarchal system with a cleverly disguised metaphor.
Ibsen mocks the stifling moral climate of the family by showing how men used conditioning with an individual’s identity to further the pursuit of his self-determinism. The continued imposition of controlling gender roles is brought to life through the doll house metaphor, revealing the entrapment of the family. Metaphorically, the doll house is a moral safeguard for the values of social determinism, which Ibsen uses to expose the limitations of the external forces used in conditioning Nora’s existence into being more like a doll. Ibsen wrote, “There are two kinds of moral laws, two kinds of conscience, one for men and one, quite different, for women. They don’t understand each other; but in practical life, woman is judged by masculine law, as though she weren’t a woman but a man” (Haugland). Nora’s objectification is enforced through Torvald’s use of degrading nicknames like, “my songbird”, “lark”, and “squirrel”. While Torvalds continual use of “my” implies Torvald’s concept of ownership over Nora because of their superficial marriage. At the same time, Torvald’s strict adherence to the typical male-controlled principles limits his capacity to be able empathize with Nora’s cry for freedom. Essentially, Henrick successfully adopts the doll house metaphor to be able to attack the mores of stifling patriarchy, which forces Nora to compromise her identity and freedom in order to adhere to the rigid social ideologies of the system.
Ibsen’s rich exploration of the family system inevitably results in Nora forcing her own separation from her doll metaphor. Kristine and Krogstad function as integral components for Nora’s eventual transformation by illuminating the truth of the Helmer marriage stating, “no more lies, tricks… they must understand each other”. Their marriage was based off lying to each other and using whims and distractions to keep the lies in the dark. Torvald used manipulation and force to conform Nora to societal ideals of a wife. Nora uses lies and goes behind his back to try and uphold the face of their marriage. According to Amy Grant, “Every good relationship, especially marriage, is based on respect. If it’s not based on respect, nothing that appears to be good will last very long”. Nora and Torvald’s marriage is nothing like this ideal; he controls everything that goes on in their marriage and lives. Nora tries to keep their flawed marriage afloat behind her husband’s back, but all comes to light when Krogstad introduces the catastrophic force of the play through his expressive letter in Act 2. Ibsen establishes the combination of a genuine relationship between Krogstad and Kristine next to the tastelessness fallacy of a relationship the Helmers’ have in their marriage. This direct comparison of what marriages could be convincing Nora to excel the limitations of the traditional family trope she is trapped in with Torvald.
The dramatic irony of the Tarantella dance is that one would “think your life depended on this dance” and Nora’s statement, “31 hours to live,” foreshadows the impending death of the doll metaphor imposed on her throughout the play. This is further accentuated through Finney’s statement that Nora’s cry for emancipation from the Tarantella dance. This is evident in “she returns from her frenzied state, back to the role of a wife and mother, only as a springboard from which to emancipate herself.” Nora realizes even if she leaves the dance, she will only return to a marriage that stifles her and forces her to change who she is to please her husband’s ideals of what she should be as a wife. Moreover, Nora evolves from a forced doll identity in Act 1 to an awakened woman in Act 3. “For Torvald to be able to see Nora as she really is—as a human being that is smart and capable. Nora suggests that this is nearly impossible, that Torvald cannot change” (Sinead). Her transformation demolishes the artificial foundations of the doll house, revealing the harsh winter landscape, and frees her to become independent and run from the marriage that entrapped her in the first place. By fracturing the doll house metaphor, she shows how women can become empowered by leaving behind husbands, those who force them into empty marriages and crumble their identity into a paper doll form that they find more pleasing to their societal ideologies. (Cron)
In a play wrought with drama and shocking plot twists, Ibsen finds nooks and crannies to expose the harsh realities of marriage in that time period. He pulls a doll house metaphor throughout the entire play in order to show how societal ideologies of gender roles in traditional marriages stifle the women and give undue power to the men. Nora uses the entrapping metaphor to show the problems in their own marriage, and she exposes to the audience how little their marriage resembles that of a healthy marriage. Through the use of the Tarantella dance, he breaks Nora out of the marriage entirely, therefore shattering the dollhouse as well. Ibsen uses cunning plot twists and very telling interpersonal relationships to expose all of the wrong in the gender roles associated with traditional marriage.
Cron, Shannon. “Background of ‘A Doll’s House’ – 19th Century.” A Dolls House, Saint Olaf College, May 2014, pages.stolaf.edu/dollshouse/historicalcultural-context/.
Haugland, Charles. “A Modern Marriage: Ibsen & A Doll’s House in Context.” Huntington Theatre Company, Huntington Theatre Company, 2018, www.huntingtontheatre.org/articles/dolls-house-articles/Gallery/Dolls-House-Program-nNotes/.
Sinead, Kayla. “A Doll’s House.” Owl Eyes, Owl Eyes, 2018, www.owleyes.org/text/dolls-house/analysis/character-analysis.
Grant, Amy http://quotesgram.com/marriage-counseling-quotes/