The Significance Of The Character Development Of Nora Over The Course Of A Doll’s House

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'A Doll's House” by Henrik Ibsen was published in the 19th century. The play caused great controversy for the unheard of and modern behavior of a married woman called Nora in Norway, challenging 19th-century gender roles in a male-dominated world. At first, Nora goes along with her role as an ideal innocent housewife, but as she uncovers Torvald’s true beliefs she finds the courage to become an individual and leave her household. Nora’s character development from fragile and immature to independent and courageous exposes the idealized doll-like role of women and the social constraints at the time, criticizing gender power dynamics and the importance of image to society.

At the beginning of the play, Ibsen represents Nora as dependent, innocent and child-like, portraying the image of the ideal housewife at the time. Nora enjoys attention from her husband and his patronizing treatment. Their constant playful bantering shows his superiority and his paternalism. Numerous times she is referred to by Torvald as a “skylark”, “squirrel” or “songbird” all of which are fragile animals that struggle to survive in the outside world. This tells us more about his typical opinion of Nora as fragile and hopeless without him. At times he adds the adjectives “sweet” and “little” to emphasize Nora’s delicacy and the word “my” which shows the possessive nature that was common at the time since society considered women as the property of their husbands. Nora not only accepts these patronizing nicknames but also goes along with them. This shows us that although she might have the power to manipulate Torvald she decides to subject herself to his authority as that is what women were expected to do by society.

Additionally, Nora is portrayed as being irresponsible, especially with her money. An example of this can be seen at the very beginning of the play when she is paying the porter. Although he is only asking fifty öre for his service, she gives him a crown. The additional fifty öre is not a large amount of money; however, the casual way in which she gives it to him shows her financial irresponsibility. Since Nora had a tendency to spend all the money Torvald gave her right away, he doesn’t trust her with any money anymore. At the time men were always in charge of the family’s financials and anything to do with money, therefore the majority of women, like Nora, didn’t understand its worth. They hadn’t earned it themselves, nor do they appreciate how concepts such as savings and loans worked.

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In the third act of the play, Nora shifts from a fragile and immature mother and wife to an independent and courageous woman who challenges society’s gender roles in the 19th century and redefines womanhood as individualistic. As Torvald becomes aware of Nora’s forgery, she becomes more aware of her feelings. When she changes out of her Tarantella dress and says “Yes, Torvald, I’ve changed”, she has also metaphorically changed in terms of her beliefs and attitude towards her situation and her husband. As Nora announces her change and reemerges from her bedroom ready to leave, she begins to develop an awareness of herself as an individual. Now, the importance of her life is that she needs to become a fully developed human being on her own as she no longer believes in the putting duties of being a wife and mother first.

Nora acknowledges that both her father and her husband have mistreated her by not considering her as an individual with her own thoughts and feelings and treating her like a possession for their own amusement, just like a doll. Nora needs a chance to learn more about herself and life outside the doll’s house since she felt that their “house was never anything other than a play-room”. She has spent her whole life in a “dream world” where everything has always been taken care of for her and she has not had to suffer the consequences of her actions, becoming like an object. This is all until she makes the big mistake of forging her father’s signature and is left trying to fix the consequences on her own, rather than Torvald doing it for her. Nora believes that Torvald would sacrifice his own reputation for her, but it turns out he would not make that sacrifice, completely shattering her dream world and putting an end to her doll-like behavior. She is then forced to see what life is really like outside the doll’s house and how much she still has to learn. This can be seen when Nora says: 'Play-time is over; now comes time for lessons” . When she mentions “play-time” she refers to the control the men in her life have over her as the doll, and how this is over as she has now taken control over her life and can make decisions on her own. It is time for her to learn life lessons independently and make something of her life rather than constantly following the likes and beliefs of her father and husband. Nora’s revelation leads her to question the accepted social truths and think for herself about her situation. She bitterly attacks her father and Torvald for treating her like a toy, but through them, she criticizes society for keeping women in a state of immaturity.

Using the characters of Nora and Torvald Helmer, Henrik Ibsen criticizes the gender power dynamics imposed by society at the time. During the third act of the play, it becomes clear the married couple’s love for each other isn’t for the right reasons. Torvald is so fond of Nora and attracted by her as she relieved his insecurities, influenced by society’s obsession with the way they are perceived, of being the dominant man of the house that everyone obeys. An example of this can be seen during act three when Torvald says: “Can’t I look at my most treasured possession? At all this loveliness that’s mine and mine alone, completely and utterly mine”. He keeps repeating the words “my” and “mine” which demonstrates a masculine sense of possessiveness which he continuously has to prove and mention to reassure himself that that is the case. Nora has always been obedient to and dependent on him, which made him feel in charge as the man of the house. As soon as Nora realizes that their love isn’t genuine, she suddenly has the courage to be in charge of herself, shattering the gender power dynamic them, making him feel threatened and worried about how society will perceive him. Ibsen continues to criticize 19th-century gender roles as Helmer says: “But nobody sacrifices his honor for one he loves.” and Nora responds with: “Hundreds and thousands of women have”. This shows Nora finally having the strength to stand up to her husband and let him know how unfair gender dynamics were at the time. This concept was very controversial for the 19th-century audience and unspoken until Ibsen decided to finally discuss it, appealing to women who felt the same way and making men feel uncomfortable.

Until Nora’s awakening, she is constrained by the 19th-century cultural norms and attitude towards women, which diminish her significance and worth, making her childlike and dependent. Her realization can be interpreted as a feminist awakening as she breaks free from the constraints placed upon her by society in the 19th century and the men in her life, and becomes her own person for the first time in charge of herself. However, her epiphany is not only relatable to the women in the audience who have suffered in the same way, but also to all the other people who aren’t living the life they want to live due to constraints or have had a single moment make them realize something that then changed the course of their entire life path. Nora’s character development was an important element of “A Doll’s House” in order to get across Ibsen’s controversial criticism of 19th-century gender roles in a world dominated by men.

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