Essay on The Heroic Nora Helmer in Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House

The Heroic Nora Helmer in Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House

 

What does it mean to be a hero?  According to Webster, a hero is someone “of great strength [and] courage” who is “admired” for his or her “courage and nobility.”1  Stretching this definition a bit further, I would argue that a hero is someone who uses this strength, courage, and nobility to help or save others.  Nora Helmer, in Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, leaves her husband and family at the end of the play-a move that can be viewed as either very selfish or very heroic.  Because Nora uses her strength and courage in effort to save others and herself from the false “doll’s house” life they are living in, her final act of leaving home is truly heroic.  Nora saves her children from being raised by a mother who doesn’t know the first thing about being a mother and she saves Torvald by no longer enabling him to live the false life he has built for himself.  Finally, she saves herself by taking herself out of the “doll’s house” and into the real world to discover who she is and what she believes.

Although leaving her children is quite possibly one of the most difficult things for a mother to do, Nora, through great strength, does this to save them from being raised by herself: a woman who doesn’t know how to be a mother.  Some may argue that Nora’s move is purely selfish because her children, who love her dearly, have their lives wrapped up in her very existence.  She is their playmate and, very likely, the only parent who will take any time for them since their father seems much more interested in his job than his children’s lives.  How can she just abandon her children, leaving them helpless? 

These arguments are solid, but they are ove…

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… I would make the case that we can all learn from Nora’s action of leaving her home and her security.  At one point or another, we all have places or situations in our lives that we need to abandon in order to stretch ourselves beyond the comfortable “doll’s house” we are immersed in.  This “doll’s house” could be a relationship, an addiction, a career, or even a physical place.  Whatever our “doll’s house” might be, do we have Nora’s same strength, courage, and nobility to leave it?  If we do, we may, in some way, save not only ourselves but also those closest to us, and therefore become heroes like Ibsen’s heroine Nora.

Note

1. “Hero,” Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, 1976 ed.

2. All references to A Doll’s House are from Henrik Ibsen, Four Major Plays, trans. James McFarlane and Jens Arup (Oxford and New York: Oxford UP, 1981).

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