Gender In ‘A Doll’s House’ And ‘The Importance Of Being Earnest’
A Doll’s House and The Importance of Being Earnest were both written in the late nineteenth century at a period in time when gender roles in society were not only significant to the structure of society but were restrictive and oppressive to individuals. This was particularly true in the case of women who were seen as the upholders of morals in polite society and were expected to behave accordingly. A Doll’s House and The Importance of Being Earnest challenge society and its inclination to categorise and expect certain behaviour of individuals based on their gender.
In its historical context A Doll’s House was a radical play which forced its audience to question the gender roles which are constructed by society and make them think about how their own lives are a performance for Victorian society.
A Doll’s House illustrates two types of women. Christine is without a husband and independent at the start of the play whereas Nora is married to Torvald and dependent on him and his position at the bank. Both begin at different ends of the spectrum. In the course of the play their paths cross and by the end of the play each woman is where the other started. It appears that a woman has two choices in society; to be married and dependent on a man or unmarried and struggle in the world because she does not have a man.
Women are expected to fulfil the role of ‘angel of the house’ which expects a woman to perform a submissive role by standing by her husband and staying faithful whatever he does, Nora survives in her relationship with Torvald by deliberately taking a submissive role. Yet there is a double standard regarding the expectations of men. Men are the dominant figures in any male-female relationship particularly marriage expecting their wife to obey their decisions and their will. By conforming to these roles both man and woman can be sure of securing a respected position in society.
Nora engages in a mutually dependent game with Torvald in that she gains power in the relationship by being perceived as weak, yet paradoxically she has no real power or independence because she is a slave to the social construction of her gender. Her epiphany at the end at the play realises her and her marriage as a product of society, Nora comes to understand that she has been living with a constr…
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…her defiance to no longer comply with the gender constructions of society. Ibsen, therefore, criticises society’s compliance with the constructions of the culture and urges us to be more like Nora is at her epiphany. Lady Bracknell is memorable for her comically masculine traits and character. Not only does Wilde shatter our gender expectations, but ridicules the compliance of individuals in the performances that they make for society. Both plays raise questions regarding the submission of men and women to society’s presumptions and pressure regarding gender, and criticise individuals for conforming without asking questions. Each play makes us question our own performances for society and the performances of others in our lives. Nora’s realisation that she has married a construction is as unnerving now as it was to its contemporary audience because it forces us to look at our own behaviour and that of others around us, presenting us with a frightening and menacing awareness that we also may be existing in false and constructed lives.
Ibsen, Henrik. A Doll’s House. 1879. New York: Dover, 1992.
Wilde, Oscar. The Importance of Being Earnest. London: Penguin, 1994.