Role Playing and Control in A Doll’s House Essay

This essay will explore the issue of roles, or game playing, in A Doll’s House. This concept is one key to approaching the play, and particularly Nora’s role. Let me further make the observation that one crucial factor in the roles Nora plays is that she needs to be in control, to take the lead role, as it were, using other people either as supporting actors or audience and that she writes her own script.

This notion helps me to deal with a question which frequently arises here: How can one woman make so many unexpected transitions? How is it possible for the child-wife to play the adult female tease (with Dr. Rank), the capable determined businesswoman (in her secret dealings with the debt), the frantically desperate woman thinking of suicide, and, above all, the coldly independent mature woman at the conclusion of the play? Well, one common feature these manifestations of Nora’s character all have is that they enable her to control others, to assert herself without really attending to, listening carefully to, learning from, or acting on what other people say.

Consider for a moment why Nora would not have told Torvald long ago about the debt. The reason she gives is interesting: she doesn’t need to at this point in her life–she’s young enough and pretty enough to exert her control over him in other ways (and telling about the debt would shatter her image as the clueless but sexy child-wife). However, she is looking forward to using that event in the future, when she can no longer rely upon her looks. How exactly this would help restore his affections may not be clear, but there is certainly a sense that Nora hopes it will make her more important to him. The fact that Nora thinks of her relationship with Torvald in …

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…d she did it (society be damned). Moreover, the hard disciplined work over many years necessary to repay the loan is a tribute to Nora’s determination and skill in carrying out her own project, all the while sustaining her own marriage in quite another role.

This quality lies at the heart of Nora’s heroic character. Her confidence in herself, in her abilities to control the situation, to solve the problem, has led to her success and has confirmed, in her eyes, that she is right. She flouted society’s laws, worked hard, and is now about to reap the success of that action by handing over the final payment. It has not been easy, and there are times when a certain strain shows through (as in that mention of the word “Damn”), but there’s no sense that Nora feels that she has been compelled to act in this way, that she has not freely chosen to be the person she is.

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