Debates have been going over for years for A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen is one of the first feminist works in the 19th-century. Henrik Ibsen himself has been perceived as a social realist by some parts of the society due to referring and raising awareness to socially repressed women. However, the ideology of feminism is not necessarily only about defending women’s rights, the doctrine of this ideology is equality. This written assignment aims to discuss feminism as a theme in A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen.
A Doll’s House is a play in which the woman’s role in society is reconsidered through the relationship of Nora Helmer and her husband Torvald Helmer. Being able to say “I am here” as a woman and being able to draw a line on the past experiences in an era where the soul is trapped, where a person’s individuality is seen as a toy, requires an understanding beyond the time. In which means, Henrik Ibsen perceived the role of women in the play in a very different point of view compared to the society of the time. The play mainly focuses on the bourgeois morality under the influence of the religion along with the remnant of the bourgeois nuclear family’s feudal order, patriarchy. It is also a rebellion against the notion that a woman does not have a role or an identity other than being a wife and a mother. In the process of social modernization, the conflicts between the social institutions and an individual who is progressing both economically and intellectually are also present. This also examines the mistakes in the essence of the hierarchial order and the patriarchal family, which is present in the play.
The play was translated to numerous amount of languages, including Turkish. The Turkish translators of A Doll’s House, Jale Karabekir and Feride Eralp say that since the day that this play was written, it caused debates within both the feminist and socialist societies, and as a character of the play Nora became a symbol of women’s liberation movement. One of the reasons for the universality of this play was the questioning and criticism of the patriarchal system, along with the discussion of honour.
Ibsen’s A Doll’s House reflects the mirror relationship between theatre and the reality along with the transitivity, and the moral values in Torvald’s personality and Nora’s revolt. Therefore, he play could be considered as Henrik Ibsen’s first modernist play. The fact that the of the most significant social indicators of modernity being the emancipation and the individuation of women also supports this idea. However, feminism was not directly chosen as a theme. In a speech, Henrik Ibsen said that the play’s theme was not women’s rights, but rather “the need of every individual to find out the kind of person he or she really is and to strive to become that person.”. Nonetheless, he also uttered that he must disclaim the honour of having consciously worked for the women’s rights movement. Additionally, it should be kept in mind that the feminist ideology does not refer to the superiority of women, in fact, the ideology discusses humanism along with gender equality. Therefore, themes such as liberalism, humanism and realism can be observed within the play and included in the theme of feminism as well.
A Doll’s House starts with a scene where Nora is called as a squirrel by her husband Torvald, and she does not seem disturbed or offended about it. She seems in love with her husband’s money as she is asking for more and more, saying that she will go and shop gifts for Christmas and New Year. Her husband, Torvald, continues giving money to her. Nora seems satisfied with the money she gets, and she gets happier and happier as she gets more money.
There is an important metaphor in the play whose importance cannot be ignored, and this motif is slamming the door. Nora, who grew up under the control and the pressure of her father, then married Torvald who never treated her equally, slams the door. This is an allegory to a strong, independent and liberal woman, which was more commonly used in 20th and 21st-century literary contexts, and even within the lyrics of songs. Gloria Gaynor’s hit ‘I Will Survive’ is an example of this metaphor. (“Go on now, walk out the door…”).
Notwithstanding, another important factor within the theme of feminism in the play is the way terminology such as honour and dignity is perceived. Especially in conservative societies, or in an aristocratic atmosphere the importance of these terminologies cannot be underrated. As these words determine the moral values of the family due to their lifestyle, special attention was given to them. Particularly, the moral values of a family were usually determined by unmarried women’s virginities. However, this does not mean that this was the only way to measure honour; in fact, the women had to obey the male family members of their family. In the case of A Doll’s House, Nora was constantly under the pressure of her father. It is possible that her past experiences caused her to revolt because of this. The oppression towards women would cause some kind of reaction in the end, which is similar to the phrase in Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex: “All oppression creates a state of war. And this is no exception.”
Philosophical movements such as humanism, realism and libertarianism can be included or discussed with the concept ideology of feminism. In A Doll’s House and in many other plays of Henrik Ibsen, these philosophical movements are thoroughly used. Feminism is, in this case, is an extension of the usage of philosophical movements in the play. Once again, revolting against oppression raises awareness within the society, which is not common during the 19th-century’s Norway. It is possible to observe more frequently to see examples of women’s reactions to oppressions later in 20th and 21st-century literature and philosophy, such as in the works of Simone de Beauvoir, Hannah Arendt and Virginia Woolf. Moreover, it can be seen that the work had influenced the Norwegian society of the 19th-century to step out of social norms. To conclude, it cannot be proven that Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House is the source or the start of feminist ideology, however, it could be said that the play, in fact, did raise consciousness among the society.