Sometime after the publication of “A Doll’s House”, Henrik Ibsen spoke
at a meeting of the Norwegian Association for Women’s Rights. He explained to
the group, “I must decline the honor of being said to have worked for the
Women’s Rights movement. I am not even very sure what Women’s Rights are. To
me it has been a question of human rights” ( ). “A Doll’s House” is often
interpreted by readers, teachers, and critics alike as an attack on chauvinistic
behavior and a cry for the recognition of women’s rights ( ). Instead its theme
is identical to several of his plays written around the same time period: the
characters willingly exist in a situation of untruth or inadequate truth which
conceals conflict and contradiction ( ). In “A Doll’s House”, Nora’s
independent nature is in contradiction the tyrannical authority of Torvald.
This conflict is concealed by the way they both hide their true selves from
society, each other, and ultimately themselves. Just like Nora and Torvald,
every character in this play is trapped in a situation of unturth. In “Ghosts”,
the play Ibsen wrote directly after “A Doll’s House”, the same conflict is the
basis of the play. Because Mrs. Alving concedes to her minister’s ethical
bombardment about her responsibilities in marriage, she is forced to conceal the
truth about her late husband’s behavior ( ). Like “A Doll’s House”, “Ghosts”
can be misinterpreted as simply an attack on the religious values of Ibsen’s
society. While this is certainly an important aspect of the play, it is not,
however, Ibsen’s main point. “A Doll’s House” set a precedent for “Ghosts” and
the plays Ibsen would write in following years. It established a method he
would use to convey his views about individuality and the pursuit of social
freedom. The characters of “A Doll’s House” display Henrik Ibsen’s belief that
although people have a natural longing for freedom, they often do not act upon
this desire until a person or event forces them to do so.
Readers can be quick to point out that Nora’s change was gradual and
marked by several incidents. A more critical look reveals these gradual changes
are actually not changes at all, but small revelations for the reader to …
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…the one written before it. In a letter to
Sophie Aldersparre, Ibsen explained, “After Nora Mrs. Alving had to come” ( ).
The same idea two years letter spawned “An Enemy of the People”. The three
plays share the common idea of characters existing in situations of falsehood
until something causes them to reevaluate their existence. Instead of exploring
their personal freedom every moment of their lives, Ibsen’s characters had their
eyes cast down on the path of least resistance. This is simply a more strict
version of Ibsen’s primary theme in all his works: the importance of the
individual and the search for self-realization.
Brunsdale, Mitzi. “Herik Ibsen.” Critical Survey of Drama. Ed. Frank N.
Magill. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Salem Press 1986. pg982.
Clurman, Harold. Ibsen. Macmillan, 1977, pg223. Rpt. in Twentieth-Century
Literary Criticism. Ed. Sharon K. Hall. Vol. 8. Detroit: Gale, 1982. pg154.
Shaw, Bernard. “A Doll’s House Again.” The Saturday Review, London, Vol. 83,
No. 2168, May 15, 1897: 539-541. Rpt. in Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism.
Ed. Sharon K. Hall. Vol. 8. Detroit: Gale, 1982. pg. 143.