Women made many sacrifices in the late 1800s. Some sacrifices were expected and some went unrecognized. Nora spares her dying father from knowledge that would surely distress him and breaks the law in the process. Nora makes a risky financial agreement with Krogstad which saves Torvald’s life, yet she must hide her ingenuity. Mrs Linde sacrifices her true love in order to marry well and support her relations. Whether expected or unrecognized, sacrifice of some description was part and parcel of being a woman during this period.
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Women couldn’t conduct business or control their own money. This is illustrated in the first scene when Torvald establishes himself as the controller of the family’s money, and Nora as the “spendthrift” (10). Nora is given an allowance for housekeeping from Torvald, whilst Mrs Linde must marry well in order to support her relatives financially. Whilst women received an education, they were not educated for responsibility as seen by Nora’s involvement in forging her father’s signature on the loan bond. Nora’s shortsightedness in regards to financial concerns is also illustrated by her dismissive attitude towards responsibility to lenders.
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NORA. They? Who would bother about them? I should not know who they were.
HELMER. That is like a woman. (1.22)
Women only had limited scope with which to control money and that usually only within the realms of household expenses.
One of the most important roles in a woman’s life was to make a good marriage. Once safely married, there were many advantages – at least on the outside. Because men were the bread-earners, women didn’t have to worry about procuring money to feed the family. All they had to do was ensure that the money they were given by their husbands stretched as far as it needed to cover all household expenses. Nora is excited and so thankful when Torvald gives her extra money for the Christmas housekeeping. Nora says, “Ten shillings—a pound—2 pounds! Thank you, thank you, Torvald; that will keep me going for a long time” (1.27). It was society’s expectation that all women aspired to be married and once married, there was no getting a divorce. No matter the nature of the internal relationships between husband and wife, an illusion of domestic felicity must be upheld at all times. This is illustrated by Torvald’s terror when Nora tells him that she is leaving him. Torvald says, “To desert your home, your husband and your children! And you don’t consider what people will say!” (3.307). Torvald is not as concerned with Nora as he is with outward appearances. Marriage would have been a suffocating environment for women who aspired to achieve any measure of independence.
As much as the married state was aspired to, being single was frowned upon especially for women at marrying ages. It was acceptable that women were single only long enough to procure a good marriage. To remain single for too long indicated some defect of nature and thus the societal stigma attached would remain making life fraught with difficulty. On first being reunited with her school friend Christine Linde, Nora asks a series of questions to qualify exactly how much of nothing, Christine actually has.
NORA. And he left you nothing?
MRS LINDE. No
NORA. And no children?
MRS LINDE. No
NORA. Nothing at all, then.
MRS LINDE. Not even any sorrow or grief to live upon. (1.108)
Women left widowed like Mrs Linde would have to scrape by on whatever jobs they could find. Similarly, Nurse who had to adopt out her illegitimate child says that she was “obliged to, if I wanted to be little Nora’s nurse” (2.18). Women left in a single state were left in a precarious situation both financially and socially.
One of the most interesting roles of women highlighted in this play, is the consideration of women as chattels or possessions – dolls to be dressed up and twirled around for show. In Act I, Nora encourages this notion by saying to Torvald, “I will do everything I can to please you, Torvald!—I will sing for you, dance for you” (428). It’s almost as if wives and women are not real people with depth. In the final act, Nora admits her part in the doll’s house. She says, “I have been your doll-wife, just as at home I was papa’s doll-child” (3.286). The idea of Nora as an object to be admired and not someone to have a serious conversation with is illustrated by Torvald’s many pet names for her. His first line in Act I is, “Is that my little lark twittering out there?” (1.4). His next line is, “Is it my little squirrel bustling about?” (1.6). In Act I, Torvald calls her more by his many pet names than he does her actual name. Nora’s later frustration with Torvald’s inability to take her seriously is summed up when Nora says, “In all these eight years—longer than that—from the very beginning of our acquaintance, we have never exchanged a word on any serious subject” (3.269). Women, similar to children, were to be seen but not (seriously) heard.
- Ibsen, Henrik. A Doll’s House. Project Gutenberg, 2008. Web. 18 May. 2010
- Davidoff, Leonore, and Catherine Hall. Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class. London: Routledge, 1987. Print.
I. Thesis. Justice and injustice in the relationships between the main characters of A Doll’s House
II. The transformation of Nora’s expectations for the future
a) The husband’s career promotion and Nora’s hopes for a better future
b) Mrs. Linde asks for Torvald’s assistance in applying for a position in the bank
c) Nora’s secret. Mr. Krogstand starts blackmailing Nora to keep his position in the bank
d) Social injustice in Torvald’s attitudes to people who are less powerful and influential, such as Mr. Krogstand and Mrs. Linde
III. Nora’s early stereotypical ideas of a happy life
a) “Armload of packages” (43) as Nora’s ideal of a good life
b) Wealth changes Nora’s attitudes to Christmas
c) The lack of money makes Nora selfish and unjust toward her husband’s efforts to make the family’s living
IV. Social justice and injustice in other characters’ deeds
a) The differences between Kristine and Krogstand’s methods of making their living
b) Relativism of Krogstand’s situation: blackmailing – that is, injustice toward another person, is the only means for Krogstand to achieve social justice
c) Anna-Marie’s capitalistic worldview and her understanding of justice based on this worldview
V. Conclusion: the final change in Nora’s personality and the selfish nature of her rebellion against social injustice
The Notions of Justice and Injustice in Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House
In A Doll’s House, Henrik Ibsen examines conventional roles of men and women in the nineteenth century. In the play, Nora exemplifies the conventional feminine standard of the period. She seems to be powerless and confines herself through patriarchal expectations, which signify a woman’s social role at that time, that is, of a wife and mother. In turn, the masculine perspective measures feminine conduct during that period. Finally, Nora makes a decision to break up with her family in order to become independent. She does this also in order to gain and assert her personality through social identity. However, her deed is rather a manifestation of her selfishness than her rebellious spirit. This means that none of the gender parties in this play can be considered as completely just or unjust. So, the paper considers various manifestations of justice and injustice in the relationships between the main characters and considers the social background of their decisions and deeds.
The protagonist of A Doll’s House is a woman named Nora Helmer. Ibsen shows how Nora’s design of perfect life gradually transforms when her secret unravels. Promotion of Nora’s husband to a bank manager in the town bank makes her convinced that she will live a worry free and careless life ahead. Conversely, Nora’s notion of a magnificent life totally changes as her long-kept secret is exposed. The play begins at Christmas time and a larger income begins after the New Year. The beginning of a new life makes Nora excited. However, the ideal life starts to change when Mrs. Linde, an old friend, visits Nora’s home. Mrs. Linde is searching for a job and has come to Helmer’s house for help via Nora’s husband. Torvald gladly offers Mrs. Linde a job, yet Nora is ignorant that this is a step closer to the revealing of her secret. Nora realizes her husband’s ability to offer Mrs. Linde a novel job as the story continues. She sees the benefits of assisting Mrs. Linde get a job, as Mr. Krogstand, who holds her secret, misses an employment opportunity.
“Do as you please. But let me tell you this- If I lose my position a second time, you shall lose yours with me” (688). During this instance, Mr. Krogstand exploits the influence he has on Nora in order to secure his job. Mr. Krogstand tells Nora that in case he loses his job at the bank to Mrs. Linde, he shall inform Nora’s family about her secret. Nora begs Torvald to get Mr. Krogstand a position in the bank; this is to guarantee the wonderful life before the New Year. Nevertheless, Torvald decides not to give the position to Mr. Krogstand and Mrs. Linde. The play has various illustrations of justice through the economic and social conditions of the characters. Each individual’s economic and social conditions undermine their relations with others. The rich as seen in the play exploit the less fortunate and the weak. In A Dolls House the play by Henrik Ibsen, justice manifests through economic and social conditions. The rich and strong exploit the poor and the weak. They are obsessed with material possession. Most characters in the play are in various ways affected by the acquisition or lack of money. Their ways of thinking and living revolve around justice and economic empowerment.
Nora’s outlook of life and way of thinking revolves around her financial conditions and material wealth. At the beginning of the play, Nora is going home from a shopping trip and gets to her house with an “armload of packages” (43). There is also a boy following her carrying a Christmas tree. At the apartment, Nora informs Hellene, one of the house maids, to conceal the tree from the kids until it gets decoration. As Torvald gets to the apartment, Nora asks him for cash to “hang the bills in gilt paper” (45) for the Christmas tree decoration. In the play, this Christmas tree indicates Nora’s obsession with cash. Nora did not intend anyone to view the tree decoration to show off the new wealth. In the past, Nora decorated the tree on her own, and spent the whole day doing so. Presently, she cannot do that as it will make her think poor; therefore, Nora spends a lot of money on decorations and presents for the tree as they can afford. Nora belongs to a higher social class and this makes her spend a lot of money. She pays double for the same item as she tells the boy escorting her to keep the change. The situation shows the lack of justice and Nora confirms this by insisting, “we can borrow until then” (44), while Torvald’s income will not be there for three months. Nora claims that previously they used to save each penny they got with Torvald from odd jobs to supplement their income.
Justice is unfulfilled in the play as Nora becomes more selfish and claims that in case something happens to Torvald after borrowing money, “it just wouldn’t matter” (44) as they borrowed the cash from strangers. It shows that they are not in a position to return the borrowed money, thus making the creditors suffer or face losses. In addition, presently because of their higher social standing, Nora feels her responsibility is past others and only minds of her personal interests. Nora does not care for the “strangers” she borrowed, and concentrates only on what she can get from others. Additionally, this is shown when Kristine, who is Nora’s friend, goes to visit. Nora just mentions her husband’s novel job by saying she is happy and feels light as now they “have stacks of money and not a care in the world” (49). She gets a wise answer from Kristine, saying it is better to simply have the necessities in life. On the other hand, Nora says that is not sufficient and she needs “stacks and stacks of money” (50). Injustice manifests, when Nora informs Kristine how she borrowed money for her Italy trip, and that she has worked so hard to pay back the cash to have peace. Nora equates freedom with gaining wealth, claiming being economically empowered makes her (56) “carefree and happy.” Nora realizes that despite her freeing herself from her debts, she if financially enslaved to her husband and as a woman, she has to be dependent on her husband. Nora says divorce leads her to “closing out their accounts,” (108). Furthermore, Nora feels that this means renouncing the marital vows and financial dependence as personal and human freedom are not in economical terms only. Her life outlook changes with the change in economic conditions and this indicates injustice in how human beings view financial conditions…
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