Nora in A Doll’s House (1888) represents the oppressed woman of all ages. She begins as a conventional housewife dominated by her husband Torvald Helmer. From the role of a docile housewife she gradually emerges as a rebel with a cause. In the last decade of nineteenth century she got worldwide attention as a rebellious protagonist who fought against patriarchy. However, she begins as a conventional housewife of nineteenth century and it is the force of circumstances that brings about a sudden awakening in her.
She stormed the complacent society, and the play became the subject of debates and discussions. She challenges the male domination by slamming the door on her puritan husband and leaving his three small children. She refuses to live with a “stranger” who treats her as a doll wife, imposes all his restrictions on her, but does not support her at the greatest crisis of her life. In Pillars of Society Ibsen also created a liberated woman named Lona Hessel, the protagonist who surpassed the male characters and thereby introduced a new dimension to drama.
The most striking thing about Nora’s character is her mental growth. In the first and second Acts Nora dutifully plays the roles of a devoted mother preparing for Christmas and a wife who dares to forge her father’s signature to defray the expenses of a trip to Italy for the restoration of her husband’s health. As a member of patriarchal society she accepts the affectionate pet names given by her condescending husband such as “little squirrel” , “little skylark” “little featherbrain” and “little “scatterbrain”.(Ibsen.148).
Her delight at her husband’s promotion as bank manager with promise of “heaps and heaps of money”(p.155) is eclipsed by the emergence of a Machiavellian blackmailer named Krogstad. Nora makes a desperate attempt to live happily and peacefully by reinstating Krogstad, who is also implicated in forgery, but gets involved in more lying. But Helmer refuses to be seen influenced by his wife. Helmer’s vanity is hurt by Christian name calling by his classmate which Nora thinks as petty.
Throughout the play her innocence is interpreted by Helmer and Mrs.Linde as immaturity. She tells Nora : “You are only baby, Nora”(p.158) To Helmer she at times appears to be “extremely obstinate” and “irresponsible”(p.187).Without this trait, her desertion of her husband and children for going on a solo journey of self-education and self-discovery would not be dramatically convincing. At the climax she waits for the miracle to save her from the blackmailer; but it never happens.
A letter from Krogstad shatters their eight-year-old conjugal life. She charges her husband: “You and Papa have committed a grievous sin against me: It’s your fault that I’ve made nothing of my life.(p.226) But Helmer was too much of a prig to regard her anything more than a spendthrift wife. Her responsible act of borrowing money on her own is so much frowned upon by him that he calls her “a liar, a hypocrite – even worse a criminal!” (p.221) He considers her unfit to bring up the children, and later laments that he is “brought so pitifully low all because of a shiftless woman.” (p.221) Yet after the critical situation is saved by Mrs.Linde, Nora emphatically rejects the proposal of perpetuating the façade of marital life “only in the eyes of the world of course.”(p.221)
Nora is not simply the protagonist of A Doll’s House, she has become the symbol of women’s protest against the dead laws, conventions and the religions of all society. Her awakening is every woman’s awakening. Her assertion for individual freedom has a universal appeal: “I must stand on my own feet if I’m to get to know myself and the world outside.” (p.227)
Watts, Peter (Trnsl.). Ibsen: Plays. Harmondsworth. Penguin. 1965
All quotations are from this edition.
November 19, 2007
“You’ll see I’m man enough to take it all on myself.”p.190
Nora is affected vy Helmer’s belief that an atmosphere of lie and hypocrisy of a mother vitiates the atmosphere of a home Nora is pale with fear and says in distress: “Corrupt my little children – poison my home? That’s not true! It could never, never be true.” P.181 ..Nora is awefully fightened to hide the truth