Gender Roles in Literature
Throughout the history of literature, gender has played a significant role in how the characters were portrayed. The female gender is commonly depicted as being the weaker character while the male gender stronger. The male gender is often considered to be more rational thinking and women being more irrational. Ibsen uses these stereotypical gender traits throughout his play “”A Doll’s House,”” but then he later reverses the stereotypes towards the end of the play to display that inner strength and weaknesses are characteristics of being human and are not based on being male or female.
Ibsen’s play “”A Doll’s House,”” is written to focus on the gender roles most commonly displayed during the Victorian society. During the Victorian period males were always the ones that went to work, handle all the business matters and where considered to be the head of the household leaving their wives to care of the household chores and tend the children. During this time only unmarried women were allowed to hold jobs. Ibsen’s characters Helmer and Nora were a perfect example of how a married couple lived during the Victorian era. Torvald was a bank manager and managed all the money and he often commanded Nora on what to do and when to do it. Nora, being the traditional wife during this time was only allowed to stay at home and tend to the household duties and raise their children.
Torvald asserted his dominance over Nora early in the play in several different ways. He often refers to Nora as a pet by calling her animals such as “”lark”” and squirrel.”” Torvald says, “”Come, come; my little skylark must not droop her wings. What is this! Is my little squirrel out of temper? (Taking out his purse.) Nora, what do you think I have got here?”” (Gardner 2017). Torvald show his control over Nora when he “”takes her by the ear,”” this act represents his physical, emotional and financial control over her, in return Nora quietly accepts the nicknames he’s given her and that displayed her feminine weakness.
Nora’s character encountered several problems throughout Ibsen’s play, just because she was a female during the Victorian period. When Torvald became ill, the doctor informed them that for him to get better, it would be best for them to move south, however, for them to make the move they would have to scrounge up the funds of two-hundred and fifty pounds. Because they did not have the money to make the trip, they would either have to take out a loan from the bank or hope that Torvald overcame his sickness. During the Victorian period then men were in charge of the household finances and because of this Torvald felt that if they were to take out a loan from the bank that his reputation would be defaced. Nora knew that they were in desperate need of the money and chose to take matters into her own hands and take out a loan without Torvald’s knowledge and forged her father’s signature on the paperwork. Because Nora is unable to apply for the loan herself this causes her to be the weaker person in her marriage to Torvald. By not being able to sign for a loan during this time often lead women to believe that they inadequate because they were female. During this time frame society deemed that women were mentally and emotionally unstable and it often resulted in impulsive behavior.
Victorian society values strong male traits such as those of strength, stability, and logic. Torvald’s character in A Doll’s House is an example of a secure, stable and rational male. He is in charge of his home, family and over all of the family finances. His masculinity is displayed in his marriage when he constantly refers to his wife, Nora by using pet names, which in returns weakens her character image. This type of behavior from Torvald makes it’s clear that he will never incorporate Nora’s or her opinion with any situation that is of great importance, such as the finances and he doesn’t allow her to hold any responsibility other than being a housewife and his pet. This behavior between a husband and a wife was typical during this period. Torvald is the money maker, he is employed at a rather large bank and makes a decent salary. He tells his wife “”It’s so gratifying to know that one’s gotten a safe, secure job, and with a comfortable salary.”” He’s apparently satisfied with his self-image and his reputation, how he appears to everyone else is important to him that’s why he didn’t want to take out the loan. He’s also so caught up in his reputation that he disapproved of Krogstad working at the bank because his character is a widower with small children and Torvald thinks he is incapable of raising children to own his own.
Once the Ibsen established Torvald and Nora’s stereotypical gender personality traits in the play, he decides to reverse them. He displays that strength, weakness, stability, impulsivity, and logic are all human traits not necessarily traits associated with gender roles. Ibsen shows that these traits are held and displayed equally by both genders and that neither gender has more of one quality than the other. Nora finally realizes that her gender is her downfall and is the reason she is unable to have the fulfilling life she desires. “”Nora’s claim that she is ‘first and foremost a human being’ (Moi, T. 2006, p.274) She attempts to discuss her feelings about their marriage with Torvald You don’t understand me. And I’ve never understood you either-until tonight.We’ve been married now eight years. Doesn’t it occur to you that this is the first time, we two, you and I, man and wife, have ever talked seriously together?’ (Isben) Nora, unlike her stereotypical emotionally unstable female character remains calm when she tells him I’m a human being, no less than you-or anyway, I ought to try to come one (Isben) Her comments to her husband demonstrations that she considers her duties as his wife and mother to their children to be her human responsibilities, not responsibilities that should be defined to her just because she is a woman.
In “”A Doll’s House,”” Ibsen keeps the setting close to the real-life situations that married couples encountered during the Victorian period. The play depicts the struggle of women encountered to obtain their independence aside from their husbands. Ibsen’s teaches the audiences that individuals must be able to view themselves as human beings and be capable of taking care of themselves despite what society deems proper for them at the time. “”A Doll’s House”” is Ibsen’s effort for a social revolution not only for women but also for every human. He displays that masculinity is lost as the female gender desires to become more independent. However, the power struggle between the two genders will continue he notes in the play that it is perfectly acceptable for men to share their power with women.
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