Nora’s Symbolism in Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House
In every society power is the bringer of fortune and influence. In his play A Doll’s House, Henrik Ibsen portrays, through the character of Nora, the power women are gaining in patriarchal societies. Nora, who symbolizes all women, exercises her power throughout the entire play. She cleverly manipulates the men around her while, to them, she seems to be staying in her subordinate role. In all three acts of the play Nora controls many situations and yields the most power.
Act I, along with the introduction of Ibsen’s tone and style, brought the introduction of power. It seems that since the Helmer household is symbolizing patriarchal European society that male characters should bare the most power. However, this is not true. Nora, a woman, yields a great deal of the power over the men in the play. In act I it becomes obvious that Nora has forged documents for a loan in order to save her husband, Torvald’s, life. This deed in itself shows that she has power to be manipulative and deceitful. But also in act I Nora uses one of her most powerful weapons, influence over Torvald, to threaten Krogstad. Krogstad is a malicious character who puts the Helmers’ reputation in jeopardy by threatening to reveal Nora’s illegal actions. Nora, on the other hand, will not stand for this type of slander and says to Krogstad,
“Nora: Sometimes one has a tiny bit of influence, I should hope. Because one is a woman, it does not necessarily follow that–. When anyone is in a subordinate position, Mr. Krogstad, they should really be careful to avoid someone who– who–
Krogstad: Has power?
Nora: Exactly.” (21)
Nora uses an understatement by making i…
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…r over many years (or acts), until they have enough power to “shut the door” on the patriarch. The entire course of the play takes place in the Helmer household, which represents the patriarch, until the last scene where Nora leaves the house to show the beginning of women-powered societies. Nora’s power-yielding role in Ibsen’s play further proves that women were and still are gaining power in male run societies.
Ibsen, Henrik. A Doll House (1879). Trans. Rolf Fjelde. Rpt. in Michael Meyer, ed. The Bedford Introduction to Literature. 5th edition. Boston & New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s Press, 1999. 1564-1612.
Shaw, Bernard. “A Doll’s House Again.” Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1979.
Templeton, Joan. “The Doll House Backlash: Criticism, Feminism, and Ibsen.” PMLA (January 1989): 28-40.