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A doll’s house

1. Henrik Ibsen is considered the father of Modern Drama and Realism. The playwright was seen as a social critic and agitator for women’s rights and a pioneer in the transformation and revolution of modern drama. His play A Doll’s House angered the establishment because it exposed and challenged common ways of thinking. European theatres in the 19th century were expected to represent the strict mores of family traditions of the time, while his plays sought to attack realistic social problems associated with gender roles. He had a critical eye and emphasized the issues of morality. Through his style he developed a set of dramatic theatrical conventions with the aim of bringing greater fidelity of real life to scripts and performances by using method acting. He depicts the social realities of his time with theatrical formats such as ‘problem plays’, which were set to expose something about society, such as corruption and hypocrisy. Moreover, he liked to engage in complex characters, such as rebellious women, (praised) abusive husbands and (underestimated) sensitive men. These typesets had the aim to highlight the limited scope of expectations put onto the individuals of the time.

2a. Exposition: It is when Nora comes home from Christmas shopping. Torvald and Nora get into a discussion about her spending habits. We get to see the foreshadowing of how oppressive and condescending Torvald is and how their relationship dynamic escalates.

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2b. Rising Action: Nora gets an unexpected visit from her old friend Mrs. Linde. As they talk, Linde tells her about being a widow and how lonely she is. Nora also confesses her biggest secret. In the meantime, Linde hopes she can get a job from Torvald. Krogstad’s visit and blackmailing is also an aspect of conflict because he threatens Nora to tell her husband about her past crime.

2c. Climax: Torvald reads Krogstad’s letter and his later reaction. Torvald has to fire someone for Mrs. Linde to get a job, so he fires Krogstad, Nora is in a lot of debt because of her sick father’s medical bills. Krogstad is related to Nora’s debt collector and is aware of her situation. Nora’s marriage is on the line because of a letter Krogstad wrote to Torvald about Nora forging her dad’s signature to get a loan for Torvald’s medical bills.

2d. Falling Action: Krogstad threatens Nora to tell her husband her big secret if he does not get his job back. He lends her money. Nora didn’t do it right as she forges a signature.

2e. Resolution: Nora leaves Torvald. She believes it would be best for everyone if she finds herself.

3. Women ought to have opinions of their own on subjects of public interests.

Women should be able to vote.

Women should have a right to education

A right to their own dignity and independence, identity.

To take on traditional male roles, to be taken seriously, to be considered equal.s

Women were expected to restrict their sphere of interest to the home and family – cooking, cleaning, and child rearing.

Women were not encouraged to obtain a real education.

Women were not encouraged to obtain a real education or pursue a professional career.

They were considered second-class citizens and had no access to birth control.

After marriage, women did not have the right to own their own property, to keep their own wages, or sign a contract.

Women could not vote, they were shut out of political activity.

Their free time was not supposed to be spent socializing – it was devoted to doing laundry, sewing, maintenance of the house and family.

The lack of freedom: Nora had to stay home and to attend her duties as a woman. She had no right to her own independence or sphere of interest

The lack of property rights: Nora needed a man’s signature – her husband’s or her father to sign a contract or obtain a loan

4. Her dad’s doll

Her children are her dolls

Torvald’s doll

Letting people dictate her entire life

She becomes a human, as in her own person by breaking free from the norms established to what being a woman is. She is a submissive doll per se, as she corresponds to the ideal wife of the era, yet she rebels in small ways as the story unfolds. She acts and dresses like a doll. She is controlled by her husband and his expectations until she breaks free from them and becomes an individual.

5. His most predominant trait is being an arrogant, two-faced human being. He is a product of his times. He condescends and patronizes Nora, acts like he’s the dominant partner. Since she must hide her loan from him, as a stereotypical husband, he could never accept the idea that his wife helped save his life. He is very self-involved. He does not see her as a partner, but rather as a toy, a child, something he owns. As her husband, Torvald does not respect her nor treat her like an adult capable of making her own decisions. Also, he feels empowered by the fact that he is dominating her as her husband. This reinforces his position of authority adding on to having a new position at the bank. He indeed views Nora as a plaything to be teased, belittled and admire at the same time. Overall, Torvald is very concerned with his place and status in society. He allows his emotions to be defined by societal standards. He embraces the belief that a man’s role is to protect and control his partner. He enjoys being the one Nora relies on and interacts with her as her superior. Even if he embraces the power he has as a man, he is the one who is more childlike: ‘Torvald is so fastidious, he cannot face up to anything ugly’ claims Dr Rank (Ibsen, 1879). He finds that he must be sheltered from the realities of the world. Torvald is overly conscious of what other people’s perspective of him and his position in the community. For example, his explanation of rejecting Nora’s request that Krogstad be kept at the office would make him ‘a laughing stock in front of the entire staff’ (Ibsen, 1879), suggests that he prioritizes his reputation over his wife’s desires. This demonstrates his internalized need of respect from the public’s eye in his reaction to Nora’s deceit.

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He claims that she ruined his happiness, yet he insists that she stays at the house in order to save the appearance as a wholesome family.

6. Nora was worthy of Dr. Rank’s truth, he does not try to put on an act; he doesn’t try to control her or treat her like a doll. He respects her, trusts her and has genuine concern for her well-being. Dr. Rank acts as a foil to Torvald. It reveals Torvald’s failing as a husband. He exposes the moral weakness of his friend. He does not care about what other people think of him. It contrasts with Torvald rampant anxiety about his reputation which he values more than his wife’s feelings. Dr. Rank shows consideration for the people he cares for. He accepts his fate with stoicism. For example, Torvald feels threatened by Nora forging her dad’s signature. Torvald worries more about his reputation than the intention behind Nora’s risky act so that he could go to Italy and recover from his deadly disease. Even if it means losing his wife, he’d rather maintain public appearances. On the other hand, Dr. Rank does not care about his reputation. Another instance is when Dr. Rank retires to his room to die in a private manner, in peace. It shows humility and a symbolic contrast with Torvald’s attitude towards the world.

Furthermore, Dr. Rank’s sincere love and respect for Nora contrasts heavily with Torvald’s belittlement of his wife. He treats and disciplines her as if she was a foolish child. Additionally, his criticism of his wife’s loving actions to save him, even if illegal, is equivalent of his self-involved anxiety over her bringing disgrace to his name.

On top of it, Dr. Rank tells Nora as he warns her of Krogstad’s past criminality as a `sufferer from a diseased moral character`. He also serves to inform us about Torvald’s superficiality: ‘Herlmer’s refined nature gives him an unconquerable disgust at everything that is ugly. I won’t have him in my sick room’ (Ibsen, 1879). The fact that Dr. Rank avoids exposing Mr. Helmer of anything shows that Torvald is the one who is ignorant and sheltered from the world, and not Nora.

Their close relationship shows that Nora appreciates his non-judgemental attitude towards her. It points to the fact that her relationship with her husband is lacking in many ways. Both men love Nora in different ways. One is toxic and the other one is unrequited. The issue is that she does not share the same sentiment yet he illustrates all the values and qualities a decent and loving partner should have.

He listens well to her inquiries and laments, as Torvald does not. Rank treats her with dignity, as Torvald has a condescending attitude when addressing his wife. Dr Rank does not act as if she is inferior. What is pitiful is that Dr Rank will never be able to be that loving husband because he is dying and never had the chance to have a romantic relationship with Nora. The juxtaposition of Dr. Rank and Torvald in this story is the most interesting aspect of it all. His death might symbolize the couple’s death as well.

7. Teeth rotting- weight problems- dentist involves money – not ladylike – rebellion vs submission. The foreshadowing of Nora’s future rebellion;

The macaroons symbolize her rebellion against her husband as she eats them behind his back. The macaroons are like the forbidden fruit. Nora cannot eat them because her husband tells her not to. He tells her that it’s to keep her appearance well-kept and that it isn’t good for her health. He does not want her to gain weight or her teeth to rot in case she has to go to the dentist and have to pay a huge bill.

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8. Struggle for freedom: The Tarantella, Dancing the poison out of the body

‘But my dear Nora, you are dancing as though your life depended on it’(Ibsen, 1879).

The Tarantella is native to Southern Italy. It’s associated with a psychological illness characterized by an extreme impulse to dance and widely believed that it was caused by the bite of the tarantula. Tarantism was only cured by performing the dance. (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica)

It represents a side of Nora that she cannot reveal. It is a passionate dance that allows her to drop the mask of the typical, submissive wife. At first it can be perceived as Nora using performance to please Torvald. He admits to desiring her more and enjoys the fact that it is a show which impresses other people as well.

Symbolism: Nora’s final attempt at being Torvald’s Doll. She dances in a promiscuous manner suggesting that she is fighting for her marriage to work out. She dances to maintain her appearance as a good yet desirable wife in order to keep his attention before their relationship is ruined by the letter.

In retrospect, it could represent her trying to rid herself of a poison, a metaphorical burden, due to the nature of the dance and its historical context. Poison could represent her life as a doll, the letter from Krogstad combined with Torvald’s reaction to the latter.

It could be Nora’s attempts at postponing Torvald from reading the letter which could destroy their lives. She dances to preserve herself. She does it in childish manner in order to get him to be devoted so he doesn’t read it.

It mainly symbolizes Nora’s independence and self-expression, which could displease Torvald. Nora will not abide by his demands and exercise control.

The tarantella could also symbolize the time spent in Italy, their purpose of being there – getting rid of poison in Torvald (his disease). Nora’s poison could mean Krogstad and the loan.

The Tarantella might illustrate the subservient nature of women in the 19th century. Nora’s dance is an attempt at maintaining her appearance as a traditional wife until the letter is discovered.

Also the surrendering of Christina to Krogstad indicates that the subservience of women is rooted in that society. Even the most hardworking, strong women could barely escape it.

9. She was expecting Torvald to go to the newspaper and take the fall for her. ‘But no man would sacrifice his home for the one he loves […] oh you think like a headless child’ […] Hundreds of women have done it for men’(Ibsen, 1879). yet Torvald has too much pride to do it for her. Nora wants to reach a point where her marriage becomes functional after the fact and an equal marriage. Nora refers to the expectation that her husband will take the entire blame for her actions upon himself.

The only way that they would get back together is if Torvald would show that he cares more for her than his reputation. The wonderful thing she believed DOES NOT happen. She ends up leaving and making decisions of her own. She then stops having expectations from him.

The `wonderful thing` that actually happens is her `awakening`; her freedom and quest to find her sense of self is finally accomplished.

10. They were both in love at one point in time. Mrs. Linde was forced to marry another man because of her unfortunate circumstances; she had a sick parent and little brothers to care for so she chose to marry a man who had financial stability. At the time, Krogstad was heartbroken. Now, Christine is a widow and they reunite. Krogstad still has feelings for her. They can now communicate openly. This is a missing aspect in the Helmer’s union. Now that they are both honest with one another and actually respect each other, they come to an arrangement. They get back together so she can take care of his children and they won’t be alone anymore. At first, Krogstad questions her motives as she points out that the letter is still in Torvald’s letterbox. Krogstad thinks that she only engaged herself to him to save Nora, but Christine retorts: “When you’ve sold yourself once for someone else, you never do it again” (Ibsen, 1879). Even if she originally hoped to convince him to remove the letter, she still feels that Mr.Helmer deserves the truth. This shows how they treat each other as equals unlike the Helmers who keep secrets from one another. As Torvald lacks respect for Nora’s intellect, Krogstad and Mrs. Linde see each other as equals. They are willing to stand side by side. Krogstad and Christine are fortunate to have found love again. Sincere love seems to be a quintessential missing element in the Helmers’ relationship. Since Mrs. Linde decided that Nora and Torvald must face each other and their issues, she lets Torvald read the letter and indirectly contributes to Nora’s freedom. Interestingly enough, they are still marrying for convenience and it suggests that Christine isn’t worth anything without a man. Yet she made the decision herself and they now have mutual respect for each other. It still is a form of traditional arrangement to save one another; but she’s not a widow anymore and he’s not bitter and alone anymore.

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11. Self-discovery – Finding herself and her freethinking mind- Educate Herself

Duties: To be a wife and a mother. To remain a slave to the patriarchy

Duties to herself: She wants to find herself and become educated about the world instead of remaining ignorant and in a cage. She finally evolves into her own human being, as Torvald keeps trying to pull her into the happy wife role model which she is trying to break free from. She is now more than a mere puppet; she is a human with her own individuality and freedom of thought.

12. Act 1: She is very submissive. She lets her husband treat her like a child. She tries to concentrate on her family duties. She doesn’t mind being belittled; she is oblivious to it. She allows him to be condescending with her. The act of rebellion is eating that macaroon and confessing her big secret to Mrs. Linde.

Act 2: She behaves differently around other people, for example, she gets to be comfortable around Dr. Rank although she keeps thinking about Torvald’s reaction to the big secret, instead of herself.

Act 3: She is not submissive anymore. She stands up for herself and is taking a strong position. She leaves Torvald and her children to be reborn again as her own person

13. Maid = lowest class, subservient job – convenience –unhappy relationship because her man ran off- feel bad for Nora

Anne-Marie was a mother and a wife who has been abandoned by the father her child. She was left alone and had to take a nursing job offered by Nora’s father. Christine married a man out of survival in the past. She had fewer opportunities, yet comes to an arrangement with Krogstad out of convenience and mutual benefit. Nora is of a higher class, stays in her toxic marriage until she decides to leave and become her own person. Their positions in life demonstrate different outcomes and ways of handling their situation in each social climate with what is given to them as opportunities. Anne-Marie did what she had to do out of survival; Christine out of convenience and survival, yet she had a choice later on; ‘I don’t see the point to just live for myself’ kind of outlook on life. Nora chose her survival to become a self-actualized individual. They all share the act of sacrificing their own happiness out of economic necessity, except Nora at the end where she breaks free from the traditions and norms by standing up for herself and to her husband.

14. Hiding the loan – eating macaroons

1) Torvald’s ridiculous reaction to the news:

He reacted poorly. He was hysterical when he read the letter. He didn’t seem slightly concerned by the intent behind the act nor did he care to consider Nora’s feelings. He was more concerned about his reputation. She was convincing herself that perhaps he would sacrifice his honor for her and take the blame for what she did which was entirely done for his sake. She put herself at risk for him. He showed no gratefulness. He valued his image more than the women he supposedly loved. He always treated her like a doll as if she was a nincompoop until the very end. His approach turned her off and made her realise how much of a selfish man he was and that he didn’t really love her, only the idea of her under his thumb. She realized she was better without him and she deserved better.

2) Self-discovery

She does not understand why the world is the way it is, questions it, and wants to see if it is right or wrong and if she’s right in doubting the normality of her situation. She wants to be free and have a purpose of her own. She wants to define her own identity. She wants to be able to think for herself and not have to depend on a man’s sincere devotion or a man’s love to be happy. She wants to define her own world and create her own happiness.

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