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How Does Ibsen Portray The Hidden Intellect Of Women In A Doll’s House And What Is The Significance Of This Characterization?

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Henrik Ibsen mainly expresses the theme of Power in his novel: A Doll’s House. This novel was written in the 19th century, and the story was set in Norway. The purpose of choosing this setting is a women’s place in society. Men were the ones who have the power and not the wives. Henrik Ibsen portrayed this problem by concocting a metaphoric story about it. However, the female characters, in A Doll’s House, were the ones who actually have the power. As an example, we have Nora, the protagonist of this story and Mrs. Linde, her friend.

At the beginning of the story, one would say Nora is a childish and obedient wife. She achieves what her husband, Torvald Helmer, requests her to do. Henrik Ibsen, in A Doll’s House, gives women an indirect power and to men, an imaginative power. Torvald thought that he was the boss of the house and the one who governs his family. It was clearly amiss! Nora, by her childish actions, manipulates her husband for him to give her money. The reader may undoubtedly have thoughts that Helmer has the power because he is the man. No! All this time, Nora was controlling Torvald and to be able to handle him easily, she acts like she was submissive. These gestures show that women gain power honestly instead of men who use all sorts of dangerous ways to achieve their goals.

Moreover, one can take, for example, Mrs. Linde. She is Nora’s dearest friend. After the death of her husband, she wanted to go back to her ex-lover, Krogstad. However, it was not for love but for an advantage. She wanted to support her friend Nora who encountered an acute problem with Krogstad. During the conversation, Krogstad thought he was the one who has power because Mrs. Linde returned back to him. Woefully, it was not what it seemed. Mrs. Linde was the one who has the power. As one can notice, Ibsen uses the same characterization for both women: Nora and Mrs. Linde. Kristine Linde let him think he was the one who has power but she was indirectly controlling him. Again, those actions show that women are already bold and powerful.

During the nineteenth century, women’s place in Norwegian society was still considered inconsequential. Due to the apparent lack of potent exemptions, the female did not endeavour to talk nor argue about anything which she and a male differed upon. Henrik Ibsen, who incontestably acted as one of the founders of modernism, and is considered as the father of realism, limns the reality of this society throughout his masterpiece of theatrical craft named A Doll’s House. After his brilliant play was published in 1879, numerous readers remained perplexed yet astonished by Ibsen’s pragmatic painting of Norway’s society. In this play, Henrik Ibsen substantiates how women, during this time, were intellectually undervalued. Many people may think this remarkable play is male-dominated; however, the playwright typically manifests legitimate concerns about human rights in general, but particularly women’s rights. Throughout the plot of A Doll’s House, Henrik Ibsen realistically portrays the hidden intellect of women in Norwegian society with the help of literary devices such as symbols and indirect characterization to prove men’s inanity.

A reader can subconsciously analyze the title of a drama to discern which themes will be introduced in the play. Henrik Ibsen already captures the reader’s attention with the name of his play: A Doll’s House. A doll typically represents a small-scale figure of a human being used predominantly as a child’s toy. With that information, one can already deduce that a character shall be cynically manipulated. Therefore, to accentuate even more the social context of the play, Henrik Ibsen properly includes the term: “house.” All along the play, one of the main characters named Mr Helmer expresses the significance of the house’s material by mentioning: “An atmosphere of lies infects and poisons the whole life of a home” (Ibsen 28). Withal, one may eagerly expect the “doll’s house” to represent Nora Helmer’s home but must not omit the fact that a doll’s house is made out of plastic which, most of the time, scarcely conveys counterfeit. This ambiguous statement brings back the reader to the first argument concerning the doll. One would assume the doll merely represents the protagonist of the play named Nora Helmer. However, ‘the house’ backs up all the theories and indirectly expresses the convincing illusion of men’s sovereignty in Norway’s society.

During the whole play, Nora Helmer, the female protagonist, is seen as a naïve woman and a spendthrift. The audience can observe her husband’s dominance in the house. Consequently, the audience directly thinks the title represents the ultimate stage for Torvald Helmer’s play with his wife. Farther on, Nora also agrees with Mr Helmer’s preeminence by stating: “Certainly Torvald does understand how to make a house dainty and attractive” (Ibsen 31). This phrasing implies that she recognizes being her husband’s doll according to Norway’s societal norms. Nonetheless, Nora Helmer finally expresses her thoughts of the house’s atmosphere in Act Three: “Our home has been nothing but a playroom. I have been your doll-wife” (67). This sentence promptly stimulates the audience’s reflection, which transports them back to their initial assumption about the title’s meaning. The odd fact that Nora Helmer was aware of her husband playing with her suggests she was not ignorant.

Nora benefits tremendously from this situation and demonstrates her malignancy, but she is nonetheless considered as the doll mentioned in the title. Consequently, Nora’s living space is not veritably a house but simply an illusion. The message conveyed from the title of the play would instantaneously instigate the critical mind of the lecturer. Somehow, those two key symbols, the “doll” and the “house”, automatically paint women’s perception of a male-dominated society. The playwright, through this literary technique, aimedto reveal the innocence coupled with the maleficence of women’s brilliant intellect to provide the reader with a synopsis of how most Norwegian males, in the nineteenth century, were genuinely deceived. This naturally leads to the true verdict of the title A Doll’s House: it represents Nora Helmer’s playground. The playwright equally uses indirect characterization to adequately illustrate women’s power in his play.

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Norway’s society was monopolized by persuasive people, particularly men, while women were mainly secluded in their houses. They were systematically considered as mother-women: women whose sole duty was to take care of their children. The audience thus remarks the difficult condition women were in during the nineteenth century; a circumstance which would not allow them to sufficiently emancipate themselves. Nonetheless, to confirm the male’s irrationality, the dramaturge employs masculine characters to define the feminine characters’ power. For example, one can cite the protagonist Nora Helmer. The audience would certainly express doubts about the reliability of Nora Helmer’s trickery. Nonetheless, the audience would accurately recall the first deceit this female protagonist made in Act 1:

HELMER: ‘Hasn’t Miss Sweet Tooth been breaking rules in town today? […] taken a bite at a macaroon or two?’

NORA: ‘No, Torvald.’ (5)

As previously stated, Torvald does not view his wife Nora as his equal and minimizes her by solemnly giving her pet names. In Act One, Torvald calls for his wife: ‘Is it my little squirrel bustling about?” (2). This phrasing expresses Torvald Helmer’s minor consideration of his wife: he does not perceive her as a human being. For the sake of duping someone, one may risk playing along. Nora Helmer benefited from the situation to validate his ignorance. That is why the audience can comprehend Nora acting childishly to delight her spouse: ‘Your squirrel would run about and do all her tricks if you would be nice and do what she wants.’ (Ibsen 34). With this act, Nora appears vulnerable to make Torvald believe he is the one who seized the control. The plot of the play is Nora’s secret: giving back money to a doctor so that her husband gets better. Nonetheless, women were unauthorized to financially aid their husband no matter what. This represents the tremendous pride Norwegian men contained during the nineteenth century. However, the position women were in did not provide them with the right to gain money themselves; that is why Nora borrowed money from Krogstad, another masculine character. Anew, the audience would consider Nora as a frivolous spendthrift who does not try to emancipate herself. Nonetheless, one would note her way of acting as a play to delude her husband. In Act 1, Torvald Helmer concludes his viewpoint of his wife by saying: ‘That is like a woman! […] you know what I think about that. No debt, no borrowing.’ (21).

Nora Helmer, to carefully make her duplicity perfectly executed, she also tricks her lender, Krogstad by providing him with the power he longed for. When Nora was gently persuading her bestower to not render him back his appropriate money, Krogstad replied proudly: ‘How will you be able to prevent it? Am I to understand that you can pay the balance that is owing?’ (Act 2, Pg 44). By displaying correctly her apparent resignation, Nora was capable to indirectly command Krogstad. Intending to completely manifest her influence, this female protagonist requests some considerable help to her childhood friend: Mrs Linde. This shows how women were united and weren’t counting on men. Krogstad was in genuine love with Mrs Linde who prudently withdraws herself from him because of her money deficiency. Justly considering that situation, Nora seeks help from Mrs Linde so that she could delight Krogstad; who will then forget his money he had to get back from Nora. That is why towards the end of Act Three, Mrs Linde tells to Krogstad: “We two need each other.” (Pg 54). Ultimately, the audience can witness how Nora managed to not reimburse Krogstad and at the same time, prove to her husband how vigorous she can be. Her husband humbly beseeches her to not depart from the house after the discovering of Nora’s secret; which emphasize more her wife’s dominance. Torvald Helmer briefed her in Act 3: “But to part! – To part from you! No, Nora, I can’t understand that idea.”(Pg 71).

With the effective use of two male protagonists, Torvald and Krogstad, Henrik Ibsen was able to indirectly characterize Nora’s elusive status to promptly introduce the audience the role of each male figure throughout the play. This gallantly leads to the satisfactory conclusion that Women’s extraordinary power needed to be transparent by the frequent use of male’s foolishness.

Women, in the nineteenth century-Norwegian society, were not allowed to occupy another role except being a mother-woman. Triggered by that mentality, Henrik Ibsen adequately portrays the remarkable female’s power deceiving men’s foolishness throughout his successful play: A Doll’s house. After sufficiently instructing, to the audience, the importance of introducing female dominance with the use of symbols in the title, the playwright employs also the male’s figure to create an indirect characterization. With the valuable help of literary techniques, Henrik Ibsen was able to efficiently transport women’s intended message during that time which correctly was: emancipation and freedom.


  1. “A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen.” Meyer, Goodreads, 1 Jan. 1970,
  2. McCorgray, Daisy. “Ibsen: The Dramatist Who Gave Women the Leading Role.” The New European, The New European, 12 Feb. 2017, 1-4887303.
  3. “Doll.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster,
  4. Ibsen, Henrik. A Doll’s House. HALDEMAN-JULIUS COMPANY, 12AD.
  5. Drawing by the student

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