Monday, 21 March 2011

Book Review: A Doll’s House

A doll's houseA Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen

Publisher: Haldeman-Julius Company

Category: Play

Challenges: Nordic Challenge, A Year of Feminist Classics

Synopsis: Nora and Torvald are married with children. Events connected with Torvald’s promotion at the bank causes a secret to come to light and their lives are changed forever.

My Thoughts: I really enjoyed this book although I was confused at first. Nora and Torvalds relationship was so totally antifeminist that I couldn’t figure out if that was why this book was included in A Year of Feminist Classics or what.  And then it became clear in the last bit, where I could easily have highlighted everything Open-mouthed smile.

This play spoke to me in a way that I find interesting because Nora’s life is far removed from the life I live or can even see myself living. The infantilising of Nora by Torvald was so completely jarring for me. With the names he calls her and the fact that he does not seem to believe that she can be trusted to take care of anything on her own.

A year of feminist classics

I want to try and answer some of the questions asked over at the Year of Feminist Classics blog here.

2. Throughout most of the play, Torvald treats Nora, his wife, like an overgrown child or a care-free pet, and she does kind of act like one. But by the end we realize that Nora is not the shallow, vapid creature she appears at first to be; she has been, at least in part, consciously playing a role. Why? Has it been to her benefit or her loss?

I think many of us at one time or another play a role in our lives that might not be entirely us (I think this is especially true about teenagers who aren’t sure of who the actually are). I think that Nora plays a role because it is the role she thinks she should have. Her society in general infantilises women by not allowing them to make contracts (unless they are widowed) or really make decisions on their own. I also think that Torvald enforces this view by further infantilising her through his words and actions. I think in general it has been to her loss. She has lost a period in her life that should be a time when one grows and finds oneself and she has not had the chance to do this. Although I think she has chosen to continue the role herself I wonder how much choice she actually had. She has no evidence that Torvald wants anything other than a pretty little thing at his side. She is not financially independent and has no real chance to become so. Yes she continues her role but I think she is in effect stuck in that role.

4. Torvald tells Nora, in the end, that “I’d gladly work for you day and night, Nora–go through suffering and want, if need be–but one doesn’t sacrifice one’s honor for love’s sake.” Nora responds by saying that “Millions of women have done so.” This line gave me chills. It was this, above everything else in the play, that resonated with me and felt still too relevant today. What resonated with you?

This is what resonated with me as well. The fact that Nora has to subdue her own wishes and wants. She is not important in the family. Women then and now to different extents and in different ways are often forced to change themselves to fit into a certain mould and thus sacrifice their honour. I do think that to a certain extent this also applies to men both then and now. This is always what happens when we put expectations on groups of people without looking at them as individuals. 

Another aspect that resonates with me in this play is the danger with keeping secrets in relationships. These secrets can be, as in the case in this story, about money or other physical things or they can be about emotional aspects. Nora keeps the loan a secret and this leads her to have certain beliefs about Torvald and how he will react. Despite most of us knowing that these secrets are bad they continue to happen today, another aspect of the story that is timeless.

The question regarding fictionalising an individual’s life to make a larger point is one I want to take out of this review and write something bigger. It is something I’ve been thinking about off and on for a while.

Overall this was a quick read but important read. The ideas it presents are still relevant today and I highly recommend it to anyone.


Copyright ©2011 Zee from Notes from the North. This post was originally posted by Zee from Notes from the North. It should not be reproduced without express written permission.


Nymeth said...

Love your answers, especially the first one.

Stephanie M. Hasty said...

i love this play and teach it to high school students who always emotionally vomit at the beginning and don't know who to be angrier at by the end.

Anonymous said...

Very thoughtful post. I read this last weekend and have yet to write my own thoughts down. I have a feeling you are going to get a lot of submissions for A Doll's House in the Nordic Challenge this month :)