A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen
The following essay will critically analyse a passage from the play “A Dolls House” by Henrik Ibsen. Between the pages 222 and 225 there seems to be a shift in the plot, as Nora takes a different attitude towards her and Helmer’s relationship. All of a sudden instead of trying to preserve it, she wishes to leave the house. It could be argued that her radical change in mind is not irrational or unprovoked. Before she starts getting changed to leave, Helmer had just finished forgiving her, for he had received and read Krogstad’s second letter which included the forged document, but prior to this he had basically told her that he could no longer love her: Helmer: “…Oh, to think that I should have to say this to someone I’ve loved so much-someone I still …. Well, that’s all over now-it must be;”
Then spontaneously he starts forgiving her as he had received the second letter, everything else he had told her before was forgotten. It is very cold of him to go from one thing to another, hence it cannot possibly be believed that his feelings are true for Nora. People do not love a person one moment, and then deny them it, or vice versa. Nora’s reason for leaving, as she explains, is that she feels he doesn’t love her: Nora: “You’ve never loved me, you’ve only found it pleasant to be in love with me.” As well as her taking no part in family decisions or even her own, as she and Helmer have never sat down to have a serious discussion, in the past eight years, until now.
She is his doll and has no say in her own future, let alone her owner’s (Helmer). Another aspect, included in the book’s theme, is sexism, an attitude which stereotypes people according to gender. In forgiving Nora, Helmer makes various comments characterised as sexist. Firstly, he tells Nora: Helmer: “…It was just you hadn’t the experience to realise what you were doing.” Here he is referring to the crime she committed to forging her father’s signature, to obtain the loan from Krogstad. This simple sentence shows Helmer’s lack of confidence in Nora’s decisions, he appears to be treating her as a child. He speaks of her inexperience when in reality she is an adult, who has lived long enough to distinguish right from wrong.
The manner in which he forgives her is as though he believes she did not know what she was getting into, like a child who plays with matches without foreseeing the consequences. Still, he goes on to say: Helmer: “…I shouldn’t be a proper man if your feminine helplessness didn’t make you twice as attractive to me.” Alone in itself, this sentence has a lot to say for Helmer’s opinion on a man’s and woman’s place in society.
In saying “proper man” means he has guidelines by which a man should act, and the part of “feminine helplessness demonstrates he believes all women to be helpless. His finding her attractive due to this can be explained by the typical sexist desire to be superior to his partner. Although the example of sexism is very strong in this extract, throughout the book it is not as obvious, and there are other factors of the theme which are more prominent. One of these is Nora’s infant behaviour, which Helmer seems to fuel with his attitude towards her: Helmer: “…Ah, you don’t know what a real man’s heart is like, Nora…..I’ll be both your will and your conscience.”
This sort of control that Helmer is exerting over Nora would be like that of a father’s over his daughter. Nora recognises this, and further on she compares Helmer with her father and reaches the conclusion that they both treat her the same. Furthermore, Helmer scolds her: Helmer: “…Why, what’s this? Not in bed?” I remember my own father telling me this in similar words when I was younger and was out of bed after my bed-time.
Unfortunately, Nora, an adult, is still living through the same. Finally, the title “A Doll’s House” suggests the situation Nora is living in, as she describes the to Helmer at one point. She is the doll that was previously owned by her father, but now she is married to Helmer and he controls her. The metaphor is obviously between Nora and a doll, but Henrik also portrays this image through the scenery. The house is what Helmer provides for Nora and her children like someone would for their dolls.