Both the 1879 patriarchal play ‘A Doll’s House’ directed by Henrik Ibsen and Emma Donoghue’s 2010 modern novel ‘Room’, challenge audiences to confront the conflict between submitting to isolation and finding freedom in oneself. Ibsen and Donoghue focus on protagonists whose desires extend further than their current circumstance. Ibsen challenges readers to examine the importance of freedom, using techniques in his play to oversee the social isolation of Nora, evoking sympathy for the hardships she endures while striving for freedom. Donoghue conversely, through techniques of a novel text, incorporates the view of Jack, a child who makes readers express sympathy for his beliefs and desire to remain in captivity. Essentially, both texts explore characters who struggle for freedom but discover that freedom is a challenge.
Both authors examine the environmental isolation which threatens happiness, using a range of techniques to allow characters to combat this isolation with distraction. In A Doll’s House, Ibsen uses repetition of nicknames and childish behaviours of Nora to show that, under the control of Torvald, she must uphold her compliance to her lifestyle. When interacting with Torvald, she acts ‘playfully’, leading Torvald to call her pet names such as ‘squirrel’ or ‘little songbird’, whereas all other character dialogue sees Nora with reason and maturity. Ibsen uses this repetition to suggest that Nora when acting in her relationship, must create cheerful conversation to deal with her lack of self-freedom. Donoghue similarly uses irony, which Ma creates for herself and Jack to believe they are living happily, throughout the novel. ‘Sundaytreat’ given by Ma and Jack’s captor, Old Nick, carries positive connotations but is seen in a light which demonstrates their isolation. This implicit ‘treat’ Donoghue created, suggests that Ma wants to give Jack the joy of receiving gifts and allow Jack to believe Old Nick is generous, to disguise their isolation. Together, Ibsen and Donoghue suggest people will distract themselves and create positive aspects of their environment to handle their separation and in doing so, suffer the consequences. Throughout the play, Ibsen upholds the irony of the title ‘A Doll’s House’ using setting and stage direction when Nora and Torvald invite friends over for dinner or discussion. It is made evident that this setting is a form of her isolation in Act Three when Nora points out she was never happy living ‘as if…in a Wendy house’ and never felt like a ‘proper wife’. It can be inferred from Ibsen’s simile and dialogue, that Nora’s environment could only take away her happiness and sense of self. Contrastingly, Jack never knew life outside his environment, meaning he believed he lived freely. Donoghue uses irony in Jack’s desire to go back ‘to bed…in Room’, demonstrating the comfort he had while growing up in confinement. The setting of Room allows audiences to express sympathy for Jack’s limited understanding of the world and his circumstance. Donoghue – through the use of a novel text – is also able to use Jack’s first-person narrative perspective to show the persistent effects of isolation on Jack’s social capabilities as he does not understand the ‘scary’ world and its social normalities. Differently, Ibsen’s scripted text does not highlight Nora’s physical state but more so describes the effects of isolation in her social interaction. Ultimately, both authors construct physical boundaries which create mental isolation and in doing so, force the characters into behaviours deemed harmful.
A Doll’s House and Room explore ideas about the importance of liberty and how one’s freedom defines their future. Both Nora and Jack take measures to find freedom, shown through pursuing new experiences and in doing so, breaking free of their past. In A Doll’s House, Ibsen uses the symbolism of Nora’s ‘nibbling’ on macaroons, ‘forbidden’ by Torvald. This action of ‘hidden’ defiance against the rules demonstrates Nora’s fight for rebellion and freedom from her straining relationship. Ibsen suggests that this repetitive manner also foreshadows her further acts of finding freedom. While Ibsen constantly highlights small acts of freedom, Donoghue emphasises the physical freedom Jack experiences all at once as he follows through with Ma’s escape plan. This underscore is made with the narrative perspective of Jack, unlike Ibsen’s scripted dialogue. Donoghue uses imagery which Jack expresses while being outside for the first time, taking in the light and ‘the air so strange [which] smells like apples’ before jumping from Old Nick’s truck, creating hope for readers. This act of breaking free implies that freedom is crucial as it defines Jack’s future which allows him to experience new objects such as ‘shoes’ and ‘bees’. Both Ibsen and Donoghue use these techniques to emphasise the social and physical freedom that both Nora and Jack pursue. This highlights that liberty cannot be obtained purely on desire, but on acting upon belief. Ibsen uses character development of Nora to dramatically demonstrate her final act of finding freedom as she divorces Torvald and leaves her family as she cannot stand living the way she did. Ibsen presents this development from Act One to Act Three as she is progressively provoked by her isolation of deceit, changing her appearance from compliant and childish to manic and eventually strong-willed. This rejection of an oppressive role of a wife implies that only freedom could bring Nora true happiness, whereas Donoghue suggests the liberty of a child is of utmost importance. Repetition is used in Room to enhance the audience’s emotions and fear for Jack as he escapes, demonstrating the importance of freeing himself. While in the truck, Jack ‘stay[s] stiff stiff stiff’ to avoid being caught and is ‘running running running’ to find help, making readers imagine the escape and sympathise with him. Through this, Donoghue places importance in finding an opportunity to take liberty. Through these acts of rebellion against situation, both characters differently break free of isolation. Ibsen and Donoghue highlight the effects of restriction and furthermore the significance of acting upon the desire for freedom.
Ibsen and Donoghue explore the struggle of truth, constructing the idea that freedom and independence is not exclusively the key to happiness. The motif of letters is used by Ibsen to demonstrate the reveal of lies and therefore, the loss of control Nora has over her relationship with Torvald. The letters of Nora’s forgery and payment lead to her diminished fairy-tale ending, as she comes to terms with the truth. From this, Ibsen presents the message that struggle follows accepting the truth, allowing readers to feel sympathy for Nora’s position. Likewise, Donoghue causes her readers to feel sad for Jack’s misinterpretation of the world which Ma had to create for him. Donoghue uses the TV in Room as an allusion to Plato’s Cave Theory as Ma attempts to protect Jack’s ideas of reality. Jack’s ‘shouting’ in response to being told about ‘real things’ outside suggests he has apathy for real happiness and does not want to leave the comfort of Room, in contrast to Nora’s desire to leave her home and old ideals. Both authors use literary techniques to display the struggle characters face in coming to terms with the truth, even though it sets them free. It is argued that with facing freedom, comes the difficulty of dealing with deception. Ibsen uses Nora’s inner dialogue to express the impact of breaking off from her role and losing control over her family. Nora starts to become scattered at the thought of Torvald discovering her disloyalty, whimpering about seeing ‘The children…never again’, which brings about sadness for Nora’s state of mind after she frees herself of her lies, although difficult for her to face. It is proposed that finding one’s sense of self and breaking free of old habits is full of struggle, similar to Donoghue’s presentation of how Ma and Jack handle their new lives. Likewise to Jack’s desire to return to the haunting Room, Donoghue creates irony in Ma’s suicide attempt while in hospital, to contrast the freedom she and Jack now live in. This technique, along with the plot which predominantly explores life for Ma and Jack post-escape reveals the struggles after finding freedom. Although the characters in A Doll’s House and Room break routine and are forced to come to terms with the truth, both texts’ characters differently explore the struggles of freedom. Nora’s freedom is viewed positively, whereas Ma and Jack’s new-found freedom is defined as traumatic. Ultimately, the finding of freedom and uncovering of truth Nora and Ma and Jack experience warns the audience of the consequences associated when being thrown into a harsh reality.
Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House and Emma Donoghue’s Room explore the harms of physical, mental and social isolation placed on them due to authoritative figures. They both suggest that environmental separation can control and ultimately ruin one’s state of mind and sense of self, limiting opportunities and happiness, similarly using techniques of symbolism, irony, repetition and more within their personal prisons to evoke sympathy for the suffering leads. Using different text types, Nora’s freedom is seen as positive, whereas Ma and Jack’s freedom is traumatic. Essentially, both Ibsen and Donoghue suggest that although finding freedom sets one free, freedom will come challenging and can consume oneself.