Theme Of Moral Dilemmas In To Kill A Mockingbird And A Doll's House

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Both characters in To Kill a Mockingbird and A Doll's House are challenged with dilemmas that they eventually learn a valuable life lesson from. In Lee's novel moral lessons are presented in a ‘seemingly effortless style’ with the character Atticus Finch ,a highly praised lawyer, showing both social and personal morality such as in the way he raises his children and how to tackle racial inequality in Maycomb. On the contrary, in a doll's house a ‘self made’ morality play consists of the individual and society. Society's morals are questioned by Ibsen when Nora forges her father's signature and the reasoning behind the crime committed by a woman to save her husband becomes morally wrong for the individual too. The idea of individual morality is further exemplified in wrong doings with characters such as Krogstad in blackmailing Nora as well as Torvald being morally stunt with the patriarchal society.

Similarly personal morality in both texts stems from the idea of the individual making their own rational judgements and actions - which differs from what’s good and bad from arising circumstances. Lee presents personal morality through Atticus Finch believing to raise intuitive kids (Scout and Jem) who must form their own decisions. At the beginning of the novel, Scout’s teacher is very specific on education and it arises concerns for Scout as she has learnt a lot from home and there is a clear conflict between institutionalised education and education in the homes. This leads her to talk to his father Atticus who remarks “If you concede the necessity of going to school , we’ll go on reading every night”. Compromises are made by atticus as he understands the fault of the education system yet education is a must to pass through society in Maycomb. Therefore “necessity” emphasises education as being a privilege especially compared to the lower classes lacking education and not educating themselves in simple morals. As the novel goes on Scout herself comes into realisation that the outside world has a more valuable lesson to offer her than inside the classroom as her teacher explains oppression of a particular group of people could never happen in America and scout is “astonished” as later miss gates, outside the court ,at Tommy Robinson’s case exclaims “time somebody taught them a lesson , they thought they were getting way above themselves , next thing they think they can do is marry us”- the repetition of ‘they’ emphasizes on the poor treatment of people of colour and the use of prejudice language noticed by Scout further exemplifies Lee’s notion that lessons are learnt through experiences and sympathy yet the lack of it from Miss gates raises the fact she is in fact the danger in society and not those who are secluded from society. Similarly, in a doll's house torvald helmers personal views mirror Miss Gates on discriminating against a certain group in society. Torvald lectures his wife on morality which is firmly gendered as he believes the wife is the most important figure in the family to generationally transmit morals. Helmer uses the metaphor of corrupt behaviour as “moral sickness” to explain that “everyone who has gone to the bad early in life, has had a deceitful mother”. Here torvald wrecks the character of Krogstad but this is ironic as nora has also been “deceitful”.For torvald it is important to maintain a good reputation in society surpassing the idea if its good or bad morals.

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On the other hand, at the end of A Doll's House Nora makes an epiphany realising the way she acts coincides from her husband Torvald Helmers commandments from forbidding her to eating macaroons as Ibsen uses the stage directions to show her “putting her hands over her mouth” which conveys her being submissive and reckless however later in the play the stage directions change to”coldly and quietly” which reveals Nora's real nature. Torvald belittes her as if she were a child and gives her pet names such as “skylark” and “squirrel”. The animalistic and child-like imagery conveys the superiority Torvald has over Nora and she remains naive and oblivious .Nora finally realises her self worth by remarking to Torvald ‘I must stand on my own two feet , if im to get to know myself and the world outside , I can't stay with you any longer’. She finally puts her individual self over her family with the repetition of “i” which is unprecedented in the nuclear family in the 19th century.Ibsen allows Nora to repeatedly mention this “miraculous” thing will occur and its her that is the miracle for society to change. Contrasting Nora from the beginning of the play to the end portrays two different people due to ibsens idea of modernism as Nora slowly emerges away from the traditional ‘ideal’ family values that is holding her back and becomes self reliant. She has always enjoyed making ‘money like a man’ with years of her secret doing labour to pay off debts. This simile portrays ideal gender divisions in the patriarchal society and her fierce determination as a strong woman to do well in life. From a social systems theory perspective morality of a patriarchal society can not survive under conditions of functional differentiation and that is why nora can not be controlled by torvald any more. The sense of realisation by coming to your own rational judgments have been displayed through the kids in To Kill a Mockingbird especially through the character of Scout who understands the innocence and good intentions of people such as Boo Radley at the end of the novel. Despite having an angry nature at the start of the novel Scout develops through her father's values as well as forming her own.

Moreover, Lee advocates social morality through each characters purpose , decisions and actions contributing to the society ,the way society is organised also how society is gradually changing and how each character adapts to the changes. Law and justice plays a vital part in this novel; Lee in terms of structure purposefully has the trial taking place in the middle of the novel to signify how important the trial is for the fact “you’ll never really understand someone until you consider things from their point of view” remarked from Atticus to the younger characters. Atticus Finch teaches basic moral skills in and out of court , being a defence lawyer to the case of Tom Robinson he has faced many challenges. At the trial the all white jury puts their own prejudice over law. Tom Robinson’s guilty verdict enacts the flawed legal system and makes the reader question the idea of the “fair” in a “fair trial”. This in fact was inspired by the real life case of Scottsboro Boys where nine African males in Alabama were found guilty of raping two white women. As well as the Great Depression shadowing the life of people in the 1930’s, it sparked a mistreatment of African Americans who were considered as second class citizens. Ibsens well made play takes the audience on a journey with only knowing the secret of Nora’s forgery at first then unraveling further secrets. Through the introduction of characters and secrecy of letters (for example the use of flashbacks from Mrs Linde gives us an insight of the characters past and Nora taking the loan from Krogstad) leads to an increase in intense actions and suspense. The climax develops further tension through Krogstad and Nora delaying the opening of the letter. It is followed by a longer denouement which is not typically a feature of a well made play but it was shocking for ibsens audience that Nora had left her marriage. It is argued that the ending of the novel becomes a new beginning for Nora.

Furthermore social morality is portrayed through Scout where in the beginning she was unconcerned with law and let’s her father do his “lawyering”, whilst still getting discriminated in school with kids saying “my folks said your daddy was a disgrace” - Lee uses colloquialism of “folks” in the way the children talk , presenting the small rural knit community Maycomb is thus they all share similar morals. Through atticus’s teaching he explains “shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a Mockingbird” - at the end of the novel is when Scout becomes aware that Boo radley’s action against Bob Ewell would be like killing a mockingbird. Lee uses the metaphor of a mockingbird to indicate innocence and to kill one is a senseless act. Boo radley’s kind act of saving the children against Bob Ewell ,by killing him , shows him as selfless in the society of everyone caring for themselves and their own “folks” also Tom Robinson’s represents a mockingbird as he was innocently killed. The end of the novel is critiqued by Sam Jordison who explained that “Morality should be enshrined in the law and applied impartially to all through public mechanisms such as trials, not privately or subject to the whims of individuals”. This proves everyone has different biases and everyone’s idea of personal morality is different. We could questions Lee’s idea of why Boo Radley got away with murder as some believe an “eye for an eye” however Boo Radley’s character taught that you can’t make assumptions of others before you get to know them.

Moreover, in a doll's house nora questions her social morality when she commits the criminal offence of forging her father's signature yet to the reader we understand that “Nora puts love before legality” as said by critic Sophie Duncan thus putting others before herself and going against the law by saving her husband's life, this really emphasizes female power but a somewhat stereotype of a nurturing mother figure. Ibsen focuses on the central idea of nora's crime as similarly ibsen's father went into debt and the story on Laura Kieler was a huge influence of the characters of Nora and Torvald as issues about money and protecting your loved ones resulted in someone losing their stability. An important symbol throughout the play is the christmas tree as it becomes symbolic of nora's journey. The festive object sits in the house and pleases people just like nora does but the tree later is stripped down and the stage directions show it should look ‘bedraggled” leading to the mental break down of nora's character Krogstad who is described as a “crippled and morally twisted” being encourages Nora to tell Torvald about her actions by black mailing her and insisting he “shall take” her with him if he gets thrown in the “gutter”. The lexical choice of damaged is used by Ibsen to describe Krogstad as an individual who has ruined his reputation as society has ridiculed him with the stigma of a criminal when revealing he has committed an “indiscretion”. It could be implied the absence of Christine Linde has made him go into the world of crime and the further misjudgement and close-minded of the community had left him no option but to further be involved in blackmailing. Krogstad asserts dominance due to society’s moral of being a male and through his villainous exterior but there is good in him as he repels Nora away from a bad reputation as he explains “there is no bigger nor worse crime than the one I once committed that ruined my whole social position” the superlatives used show how much u can be ridiculed by society and that your whole life can be ruined. He cares a lot about the idea reputation and warns Nora about her own reputation which becomes the push for Nora becoming selfish in a good way towards the end of the play. Taboo topics are perceived through letters such as Krogstad revealing the facts of Nora's loan , they are a symbol of secrecy to hide the truths of criminal activities. Atticus Finch demonstrates an ability and openness to cut through social and cultural prejudices, unlike Nora and helmer who coincide with the rest of the world, and to judge solely on the individual from his own experiences, He most importantly teaches his kids about how there is prejudice all around in Alabama and how it should be tackled atticus remarks “most people are nice , scout, when you finally see them” the remark of “finally” portrays that it takes a while to know someone’s intentions this can contrast to the upbringing of Nora as she realises life with her father is the same as with torvald; her dad would force beliefs onto her and nora would abide by it.

To Kill a Mockingbird took place in the 1930’s where people were not open minded of others amongst the society which resulted in corruption and inequality. Atticus finch breaks these boundaries by allowing Calpurnia to live in his house as “coloured help”. Calpurnia is a significant character that portrays the minority of black characters living a double life. Lee exemplifies the balance of calpurnia keeping professional when working with the Finch family and a member of Maycomb's African American minority by Calpurnia preaches her struggle to the kids “suppose you and scout talked coloured-folks talk at home, it'd be out of place”. The use of euphemism in “coloured folks” advocates how calpurnia has to adapt to talk in a white community to make the children understand and demonstrate her following the norm. Calpurnia ultimately serves the purpose of teaching what it means to be respectful and gives insight on the hardships Calpurnia faces such as standing up to people who believe she has shifted from the black community. Through the younger character’s curiosity about the injustice in society, Lee is allowed to critique the underlying injust of minorities. Similarly, in a doll's house the maid has also made sacrifices like leaving her daughter to work with Nora. The maid is an example of a woman in late 18th century who is willing to make sacrifices in order to make a living. It can be argued that leaving your family behind and starting a new life can be argued if it is morally right or wrong. Nora believes “the children have always been [my] dolls” implying the relationship between them have been nothing but “fun and games”; nora's character hasn’t been able to experience raising her children. She is further not “fit to educate” them as before she is a mother she must educate herself first being a mother and her children have a better life. Here some people may criticise Nora for being a bad mother and leaving her kids but the critic Farell argues that the women did more than take care just take care of the house; women functioned as moral and religious guides for their husbands. Therefore I believe that Nora leaving her whole life behind to start a new one is good so people like Nora in modern society especially can develop their own morals which aren't constrained upon by their partner or even family.

Scout and Jem further see prejudice and judgmentalness through their Aunt Alexandra especially with Scout, alexandra thinks it is morally right for women to be more involved in “girly” activities and scout should “be a ray of sunshine” to Atticus. This cliche reflects ‘the patriarchal expectation of women always being happy and brighten up the lives of their husbands and fathers” however scout stands up to Alexandra as she believes Calpurnia should be dismissed as she is “unsuitable” and the children should be taught the importance of class structure. Lee through the younger characters informs what goes against class prejudice to be not only noticed but voice the wrongs of it. I believe that it was crucial for Lee to narrate through adult scout as it signifies what moral awakenings have been experienced as well as how it has been tackled with the society around her and personal viewpoints on situations.On the other hand Ibsen revolves his play around the constriction of men and women's roles in a patriarchal and capitalist society. In my opinion ibsen effortlessly demonstrates the facade all the characters put on to get through society by morally stunting themselves. By Nora being a traditional “doll-wife” and in the beginning being playful and naive she is still unhappy also Torvald (who may be viewed as the villain of the play) is also morally stunned by being fixating on his reputation and status.

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Theme Of Moral Dilemmas In To Kill A Mockingbird And A Doll’s House. (2022, February 18). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 17, 2024, from
“Theme Of Moral Dilemmas In To Kill A Mockingbird And A Doll’s House.” Edubirdie, 18 Feb. 2022,
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