How Has The Content And Cultural Elements Developed Through The Interactive Orals In A Doll’s House?
A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen is a 19th century Norwegian play with a lot of controversial parts to it. This means that historical context matters a lot when understanding the play. Social class, gender roles and status at the time of the play all change the understanding of how the play was received back when it was originally produced. From the interactive oral, I discovered that the context of the time period affects the audience and reception of the play more than I thought before. Something that was continuously brought up were the roles of men and women and classes in society. The historical context showed how Ibsen’s play deviated from the traditional type of play and went against the norms of society at the time. The use of gender roles and classes also explains the motivations of many characters throughout the play, especially Torvald’s.
Without the context, it would be difficult to understand Torvald’s motivations. We also discussed the topic of problem plays. From this discussion, we learnt that Ibsen’s play deviated because before A Doll’s House people were only exposed to light- hearted comedic plays. Ibsen changed this by creating a play that touched on societal problems. Some even say that Ibsen (created the form of drama) VAGUE with his play in the 1890s. This gives the play contextual importance, as it most likely shocked audiences and made them uncomfortable. The context of the time period really helps justify characters’ motivations and also helps provide insight into how an audience in the 19th century may have reacted to the play.
This led to discussion of the divide between the reaction of men and women to the play at the time. Since the play reflects a traditional household at the time, the audience will be able to take the messages and morals of the play and apply them to their own lives. This play could possibly have the audience revaluate their own marriages and the state of their households. Men and women will compare themselves to the characters of Nora and Torvald. There’s a chance that this play of a separation between Nora and Torvald could have led to couples who watched the play splitting up.
The masks of Nora in A Doll’s House
In A Doll’s House, by Henrik Ibsen, Nora is a very mysterious character. Nora initially is perceived by the audience as a middle-class housewife with two young children, but she has different masks all throughout the play, often acting in a different way around and in different people and scenarios. There are two compelling reasons as to why Nora has these masks that hide her true self, the first is the idea that she herself doesn’t know who she really is. Some would say that the play is a Bildüngsroman drama, which would mean Nora finds out who she is during the play and that is the reason for her masks. The more sinister reason is that these masks are simply a form of manipulation over the other characters and especially her husband, Torvald. Nora has two different main masks, the childlike one, and the more mature adult one.
Nora’s first mask is presented at the beginning of the play, and this is the role of a spend-thrift child-like woman who loves to spend money. First, she hides macaroons from Torvald (Ibsen 23). Macaroons have connotations of luxury and rarity, indicating that she’s spoilt. Also hiding macaroons portrays her as a child who’s done something wrong and who has to hide it from their parents, so they don’t get caught. Additionally, her husband, Torvald calls her patronizing names such as “squanderbird”, “little spendthrift”, “little songbird”, and also “little squirrel” (Ibsen 24-25). All of these names are small pest-like animals, and there is clear repetition of Torvald calling Nora “little”. The names that he uses all have common connotations of pet, insignificance, and also voiceless. The use of small animals as nicknames shows her insignificance, and how little choice she has. Additionally, these animals are small and harmless, and usually are kept in a cage as a pet. This shows her home and Torvald having the key as slightly more sinister, as it potentially implies that she’s trapped. Her home as the cage, and Torvald with the key. Another thing this shows is Torvald’s perception of her, that she’s a small animal that needs protection and help from him. This is ironic because in the play Nora is the one who saves Torvald, by borrowing money to take the trip that saves Torvald’s life. Thus, showing that this is a mask that Nora performs, that she is not truly child-like.
Moreover, we can also see Nora conform to Torvald’s condescending nicknames: “Hm. If you only knew how many expenses we larks and squirrels have” (Ibsen 26). This is said like a joke from Nora, but as we found out later in the play Nora does have expenses: she has to pay back the loan from Krogstad. Nora refers to herself as what Torvald is treating her like. This creates a sinister side of Nora, that she embraces the nicknames when she wants something from Torvald. In the above dialogue, it’s when she wants money from Torvald as a Christmas present. She tries to please to please him by agreeing with his nicknames in an attempt to get Torvald to do what she wants him to do. Eventually this becomes a recurring theme throughout the play, and it shows her manipulative side. How she uses the child-like mask to get what she wants from Torvald. The most evident is when Nora wants Helmer to let Krogstad keep his job at the bank. The dialogue: “If little squirrel asked you really prettily to grant her a wish”, “Squirrel would do lots of pretty tricks”, “Your little skylark would sing in every room” and “ I’d turn myself into a little fairy and dance for you” all show Nora’s willingness to conform to what Torvald wants or believes her to be in order to get what she wants (Ibsen 60-61). The masking of her personality by reducing herself to a squirrel is very manipulative. Ibsen wanted to make a play about the troubles of households and married couples and he captures the idea of manipulation that reflects badly on both Torvald and Nora. The audience are annoyed at Torvald for falling for Nora’s tricks and Nora for manipulating her husband instead of being honest.
Her childish persona is present in most scenes at the beginning of the play, and not just with Torvald. In the scene where she catches up with Mrs Linde, she rests her arms on Mrs Linde’s knee and is seen energetically jumping about and clapping during the conversation (Ibsen 32). Resting both her arms on Mrs Linde’s knee is imagery of a child who sits at the knee of the mother. This, along with her childlike energy, makes her seem very childlike, and this seems to be her natural self. Even when she plays with the children, she doesn’t appear like a mother with children to the audience, it’s more like a child with dolls to play with. She even refers to them as “lovely little baby dolls” (Ibsen 43). This also links with the title of the play; ‘A Doll’s House’ in that her children are to her dolls, just like she is to her husband, a doll.
Furthermore, the mask of a childish persona that Nora has for most of the play seems almost to be a façade when we get hints of what she is capable of. This echoes the tragedy genre and how she’s a tragic heroine; her masks are ultimately going to be uncovered. The first time we see a glimpse of Nora stripping away the mask is when she recounts to Mrs Linde how she managed to save her husband’s life (Ibsen 35-36). It comes as quite a surprise to Mrs Linde and by extension the audience that Nora managed to keep such a large secret from her husband and save his life. Nora’s secrets show that her true self is masked from Torvald, she only acts like a child around him and he couldn’t possibly imagine Nora being able to borrow money and keep it a secret from him. Also, when Nora and Krogstad converse, it’s very down to business and Nora acts like a different person when interacting with him. This is especially evident when comparing her when with Krogstad and with Torvald. “Oh, one has a little influence, you know.” is Nora acting like a responsible, influential adult (Ibsen 44). “I shall show you the door” is another time Nora acts assertive and commanding. In her exchanges with Krogstad she acts very different than with others, thus showing her mask when interacting with others (Ibsen 46). Her masks and secrets cause many problems and are the driving force of the plot. She doesn’t tell the truth: she lied to Krogstad and forged the signature, and then lied to her husband about where she got the money from. This intent by Nora to scheme and use a mask to conceal herself and to get what she wants ends badly when the truth comes out. As soon as Nora is shown to have secrets and masks, it foreshadows that these secrets are going to come out and she will be ‘unmasked’ by the end of the play. Mrs Linde sets it into effect when she says, “Helmer must know the truth”, signifying that she is tired of Nora’s deceit and masks (Ibsen 84). We can also see, that when Helmer uncovers the truth his mask also comes off and Nora sees him as he truly is for maybe the first time. Her fantasy of Torvald stepping in and saving her by taking the blame doesn’t happen, and this seems to trigger her ‘unmasking’. “Nora says “We have never exchanged a serious word on a serious subject.”, this line from Nora symbolizes that she’s always been child-like with Torvald and he has never seen her true self, just the mask of a child (Ibsen 97). Nora finally acts and says what she really wants to without her having to put on a show.
In conclusion, Nora has one stand-out mask, and that is the one concealing her more serious side and shows her to be childlike. She uses the mask during every interaction with Torvad. This means he never knows her more serious side and would never expect her to be able to lie and borrow money. This causes a rift between Torvald and Nora, and in the end leads to Nora leaving Torvald after she realizes that she’s had a mask on for their entire marriage. Ibsen structures the play to end without knowing whether or not Nora does well without Torvald and the element of risk shows that she is going her own way. The audience sympathize with Nora as many people know what it’s like to have to act like someone else inorder to fit in or please someone. In the end, the antagonist of the play isn’t Krogstad but rather the masks that Nora hides behind.
- Ibsen, Henrik. A Doll’s House and Other Plays. London, Penguin Books Ltd, 2016
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Introduction A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen is a 19th century Norwegian play with a lot of controversial parts to it. This means that historical context matters a lot when […]