Essay on Comparing the Portrayal of Women in A Doll’s House and Hedda Gabler

Portrayal of Women in A Doll’s House and Hedda Gabler


     The extent to which Ibsen directly sympathized with feminists is still debated, but this is somewhat irrelevant when considering his portrayal of women. Ibsen had a deep understanding of the nature of women and a strong interest in the manner in which women were treated by society. This resulted in the creation of female protagonists such as Nora Helmer, in A Doll’s House, and Hedda Gabler, in a work of the same name. The character traits of each woman are remarkably developed and the portrayal of marital relationships is equally convincing.  Ibsen’s emphasis on the Victorian husband’s attitude towards his wife provides tremendous insight.


The manner in which the behavior of married couples was dictated by society is explored by Ibsen in A Doll’s House, partly through Torvald’s blind determination to adhere to the right set of rules. David Thomas goes so far as to say that ‘Torvald unthinkingly lives out his role as the authoritarian husband’ as ‘men were far more likely to be dominated by the social prejudices of their day’ (Thomas 73). Ibsen highlights this notion by giving Torvald a dominant role over Nora which is sometimes almost comical in its intensity. He takes delight in perceiving his wife as a silly childlike figure, affectionately taunting her by referring to ‘you and your frivolous ideas’, and moaning in what is clearly an approving manner that she is ‘just like a woman’ (Ibsen 2). When she takes an interest in Dr. Rank’s health matters, Torvald exclaims gleefully, ‘Look at our little Nora talking about laboratory tests!’ (Ibsen 71). He is not unlike a proud father, amused that his daughter has expressed naÔve curiosity regarding a matter o…

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…understand the potential of women, Ibsen makes his own perceptions particularly convincing.


Works Cited and Consulted:

Clurman, Harold. Ibsen. New York: Macmillan. 1977

Heiberg, Hans. Ibsen. A Portrait of the Artist. Coral Gables, Florida: University of Miami. 1967

Ibsen, Henrik. Four Major Plays. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998

McFarlane Henrik Ibsen, preliminary notes for A Doll’s House, dated 19 October 1878, in “A Doll’s House: Commentary,”

Appendix II to The Oxford Ibsen, vol. V, trans. James Walter McFarlane (London, 1961

Northam, John. “Ibsen’s Search for the Hero.” Ibsen. A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall. 1965

Shaw, Bernard. “A Doll’s House Again.”  Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism.  Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1979.

Thomas, David. Henrik Ibsen. New York: Grove, 1984

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