Escaping the Cage of Marriage in A Doll House
A bird may have beautiful wings, but within a cage, the beautiful wings are useless. Within the cage, the bird is not fulfilling the potential for which it was created – it is merely a household decoration. In Ibsen’s symbolic play A Doll House, Nora is the bird, and her marriage is the cage. Externally, Nora is a beautiful creature entertaining her husband with the beautiful images of a docile wife, but internally, she is a desperate creature longing to explore her potential outside the cage of her marriage. In a society dominated by the expectations of men, Nora must choose between the obligations determined by her role as wife in opposition to the obligations of self, in determining her true identity. Within the context of love, she commits forgery, and through this deception, discovers her marriage is nothing more than an illusion, and she nothing more than a doll within Torvald’s house.
In Act I, the Christmas tree symbolizes the Helmer’s marriage. Externally, the tree is beautifully decorated, but internally it is dying because the tree has no roots to feed it. Nora and Helmer are playing the roles that society has taught them. He is the strong provider and protector; Nora is the helpless little woman who depends on him. Like the Christmas tree, the Helmer’s marriage is just an image of beauty, dying on the inside. After Krogstad informs Nora that he intends to blackmail her, she tells the maid to bring her the tree and set it in the middle of the floor (center stage) (1581). Nora begins to decorate the tree:
[I’ll put c]andles here [and] flowers here. That terrible creature!
Talk, talk, talk! There’s nothing to it at all. The tree [is] going to be lo…
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…ond the cage, the beautiful wings carry the bird into a life worth living. A life where the birds have the opportunity to accomplish the obligations of their creation is the only life worth living.
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Gray, Ronald, ed. Ibsen-A Dissenting View: A Study of the Last Twelve Plays. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1961.
Ibsen, Henrick. A Doll House. The Bedford Introduction to Literature: Reading, Thinking, Writing. 5th ed. Ed. Michael Meyer. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1999. 1564-1612.
Northram, John. “Ibsen’s Search for the Hero.” Ibsen: A Collection of Critical Essays. Ed. Rolf Fjelde. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1965. 107-113.
Templeton, Joan. “The Doll House Backlash: Criticism, Feminism, and Ibsen. PMLA 104.1(1989): 28-40.