Norwegian Cultural Themes in A Doll's House

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A Doll’s House is a play by Henrik Ibsen set in Norway's Bourgeois society of the late nineteenth century. During this period of economic boom, the Norwegian society valued respect and status above all else. Financial success, a debt-free lifestyle, upward social mobility, moral guilt, and a stable and secure patriarchal family were the essential values and ideals in the Victorian Era. The social structure supported and reinforced the patriarchal ideology, relegating women to economic, social, and psychological dependents of men. The role and position of women in society was a sensitive issue, and any form of feminism provoked debate and controversy in society. Ibsen depicts this socio-economic structure through the eyes of Nora Helmer. She is married to a wealthy man, Torvald Helmer, and they live in relative affluence. However, to maintain their upper-middle-class standing, the couple has to abide by strict and suffocating standards. Nora Helmer bears the brunt of these societal expectations because she cannot work or own property. The community views her as Torvald's doll-wife, an object of pleasure and admiration. Nora's tribulations in her marriage and society highlight the gender roles, the family life, and the socio-economic landscape of Norwegian society during the late nineteenth century.

Although the Helmer family is influential, Nora's gender influences her social roles and contributions within the family. Aside from being inferior to men, women are also homemakers and mothers who selflessly dedicate their lives to serve their husbands and family. They raise children and carry out menial jobs within society. These family and societal expectations define gender roles during the Victorian Era. The “feminine roles” reduce the productivity of women and make them powerless in a male-dominated world. They are dependent on men, creating an inferiority complex.

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The patriarchal values of the family reduce Nora's influence within the family since Torvald holds the power and control. The family life in A Doll’s House relegates Nora to the position of a slave. She is an object to perform tricks and be controlled by Torvald, and it explains why Torvald calls Nora a 'little skylark” that does what he demands (Ghafourinia & Baradaran 428). Nora notes that her children are her toys because she is also her husband's toy. This objectification of women depicts the unequal distribution of power within the family. Since “a woman cannot be herself in contemporary society”, she faced severe challenges that hindered her social progress (Ghafourinia & Baradaran 427). Nora’s complaints and challenges highlight the inequality in the family where the husband holds all the power and the wife is a slave.

Finally, women in Bourgeois society are financially dependent on their husbands because middle-class women are discouraged from working. Although Nora lives in an upper-middle-class society, she is powerless and has little control over her family's finances. She resorts to forging her father's signature to get a loan because women could not borrow money without their husband's consent (Hooti & Torkamaneh 1106). However, Nora exposes herself to Krogstad's blackmail and has to convince her husband against firing Krogstad to keep her secret. Besides, Nora begs for gifts and money from Torvald because she is financially dependent on her husband. The socio-economic dependence on men ensures that men control Nora's life, making her a second-class citizen.

Nora's character connects to the broader idea of Ibsen's play, highlighting the social injustice, the subordination, and the mistreatment of women in a conservative society. Women endure untold suffering and are second class citizens who survive at the whims of their male counterparts. Ibsen wants to show her audience that a feminist revolution in the Western world would transform the structure of society. Nora challenges the status quo and leaves behind her doll-wife status for an uncertain future. Her actions are a nod to the women's suffrage, and it provokes the debate among conservatives who prefer to hold on to cultural norms and traditions.

Henrik Ibsen's play sparked debate on the role of women in society. Although it pits conservatives against liberals, it challenges oppressive cultural norms in Norway. By focusing on the oppression of women, Ibsen advocates for the recognition of women's rights as part of the broader human rights. Women are human beings who require equal benefits and privileges that men enjoy, and this play helps to advocate for equality in society. Ibsen portrays the mixture of hope and fear in Nora. The oppression and fear instilled in women inspire her to take a strong position and venture into a future that promises equality for all sexes.

In conclusion, A Doll’s House is a famous play that gives the audience an insight into the socio-economic and political challenges that women face in society. It highlights the uneven distribution of power, inequality, and the impact of gender roles in society. Ibsen illuminates the problems that women face and ensures that people in society talk about them. Nora's decision to leave her doll-house is an inspiration for present and future generations on human rights.

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