Essay Example - Feminism in Henrik Ibsen's "A Doll's House"

Published: 2023-09-20
Essay Example - Feminism in Henrik Ibsen's "A Doll's House"
Essay type:  Book review
Categories:  Feminism Character analysis Social issue Books
Pages: 7
Wordcount: 1727 words
15 min read

Feminism as a movement has been depicted by numerous authors, with the majority of them being female. The movement advocates for equality for men and women in terms of socioeconomic and political spectra. Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House” is one of the many reputable works of this author known majorly for his realist dramas and the humanist perception of societal issues in most of his literary works. Considered as the father of modern drama, the Norwegian playwright’ literary were establishments to reckon to make him a national hero not only celebrated in Norway but also globally by literary academicians. Ibsen’s works showcase undertones of feminist tendencies in ways indicative of personal intentions against the societal expectations of the female gender, and the roles that women play in society (Kaur 1). Because of Ibsen’s feminist tendencies, not every section of the society was pleased with what he was advocating for, especially the conservative bourgeois wing that had deep roots and beliefs in patriarchal homogeny. These beliefs and the societal roles already created for each gender dictated what a woman had to do, the manner in which she was carried to herself, and how she had to behave in front of men. In essence, Ibsen portrays a society in which women do not have a say in what they have to do other than the kitchen, motherhood, and taking care of the home (Kaur 2). I critical look at Ibsen’s play indicates that he gives his female characters a strong voice and an opportunity to learn about themselves and strongly pursue who they think they were meant to become. To critically understand Ibsen’s intentions, this paper presents Ibsen’s role in advocating for feminism as a movement in “a Doll’s House” through the use of Nora Helmer as a character.

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Nora's role in the play is well-orchestrated and aided by her depiction by her husband Torvald, who perceived her as a helpless and belittled creature. In this great play, Torvald is representative of a highly patriarchal society in which men view women as helpless objects who need the hand of a man for guidance. Ibsen’s careful diction manifest through Torvald’s pet names that he uses to call Nora, who is presented as a bird living in a cage in the name of marriage, a matrimonial union in which her husband controls everything she eats, wears and everywhere she should go (Kaur 6). The male-dominated society in which the play is set normalizes the use of sexist language as well as particular metaphors that indicate oppression to women and diminish their humanity. Torvald uses names like “Skylark,” “squirrel,” “songbird,” and “pet” to call Nora (Ibsen 110-111). He also treats her as a child who does not have a right to eat anything she feels like and forbids her from eating macaroons. Ibsen’s notion of Nora’s control by Torvald, seemingly, is depictive of the limited or zero freedom that the chauvinistic society of the play accords women. Nora plays well into Torvald’s hands and appears to fulfill her husband’s perception of stereotypical weakness and helplessness, and this is how she appears to maintain his ideology of a strict gender binary. On the other hand, Ibsen allows Nora to get involved in matters known for the masculine gender such as business and fiancé, which not only upsets but also challenges the binary patriarchal societal structure in which the play is set. Through such involvements and the defiance of her husband against eating macaroons, Nora seems to realize that the restrictive role given to her by the society is not appropriate for her at all.

Ibsen gives her characters a chance for self-realization, discovery, and a voice to air their concerns in a manner that appeals to humanity. The setting of Nora’s situation, including being seen as a young, helpless woman, naïve woman with predetermined gender roles, prepares her for her transformation ahead of her development into someone new (Saari 49). According to particular scholarly arguments, Nora undergoes a metaphorical transformation from a woman into a human. The underlying reasoning behind this perspective is that everything that Ibsen has Nora fight for is related to humanity and not just being a woman. Other scholarly thoughts indicate that Nora transforms from a feminine woman to a masculine one or even a man. At the conclusion of the play, Nora’s declaration of her humanness can be considered as a feminist achievement. She eventually learns her surroundings and assesses her situation in a manner that makes her realize that whatever she was fighting to achieve, and the same traits considered masculine by the society, are actually basic human rights (Hossain 3). This recognition allows Nora to eventually assert her worth not only as a woman but also as a human who deserves personal freedom, thus projecting Ibsen’s intention.

The utilization of animal imagery in the play by Torvald to refer to Nora shows how Ibsen uses the trope of naturalism, particularly what is referred to as the “naturalistic notion of hereditary degeneration” (Rossi 147) to indicate the transference of traits. The animalistic metaphors that the author incorporates into the story indicate the dynamics of their relationship. Even though Torvald frames the names to suit endearment, the underlying reasons depict wastefulness, carelessness, and dependency of the females to independent males. When Torvald calls Nora a “squirrel,” “spending-bird,” “little songbird,” or “song lark” (Ibsen 110-111), he presents himself as an authoritarian husband who belittles and dismisses Nora’s capabilities rendering her the acquiescent and submissive wife. It is humorous to realize that Ibsen presents Nora as an intelligent character who develops gradually by learning. She plays along as her husband calls her these animal pet names associated with wastage. Small animals like squirrels are associated with squandering and wastage and are used by Torvald to depict female financial and economic incompetence and their dependence on men for financial independence. In some instances, Nora accepts her pet names and uses them to describe personal actions such as “your squirrel” would “run around” or “your skylark would chirrup” (Ibsen 147). Similarly, Torvald holds the belief that Nora is a spendthrift and suggests that she inherited such traits from her father. In that aspect, Ibsen utilizes a theory of naturalism known as the deterministic and pessimistic philosophy to explain Nora’s financial incompetency as seen by her husband. This point of view refers to a male reference to hereditary flaws to explain women’s sources of incompetence in matters of finance and economic freedom. The acceptance of these traits by Nora and how she playfully uses them shows how she embraces her personal identity before she defies her husband to learn about finances and economic freedom. These are Ibsen’s tricks of implying that such issues are of universal importance, and everyone should know about them(Saari 44).

Ibsen wanted to support women as humans. Ibsen’s involvement in gender affairs can be said to be because he wanted to support women without explicitly admitting he was an advocate of feminist literary theory. The support for women in this play comes through how he treats them, especially Nora. A critical view of the 19th century should reveal the impact of women's rights and movements that swept across the Scandinavian countries (Hossain 10). During this period in Norway, Ibsen’s works contained many women’s questions and naturalistic issues. It was a period in which women pursued legal equality, economic solvency, financial independence, and suffrage. In this play, Ibsen treats women as intelligent humans with independent minds capable of making personal choices that fit the versions of individuals they wanted to become. On the surface, Nora appeared naïve and a conformist to the restrictions and authority of her husband. However, in a real sense, she knew she was being submitted to something oppressive and had to play along while waiting for an opportunity to make her own choices and defy what the society had laid down for the female gender (Saari 55). The big decision that caused ripples across the rigid and conservative Norwegian society came when Nora decided to walk out on her husband and leave her marriage behind to pursue her own path in life. Norwegian nationalism was associated with a symbolic representation of gender that denied women the equality that they were championing for using the emerging women's rights movements. The epitome of this treatment and its positive result comes at the final scene where Ibsen presents Nora as a free woman unfettered by any societal bond, divine or human. Nora appears as a free bird that has been let out of her cage and one that has no commitment or obligation whatsoever to the man she married and the children they both sired into this world. The new woman in the final scene is a modern woman who knows her rights and can never be entangled or caged again by backward and rigid societal gender rules that limit the full potential of what women can achieve.

In conclusion, Ibsen’s representation of women in “A Doll’s House” goes beyond the surface understanding of what the women characters do in the play and their interactions with the male characters. Ibsen seems to be advocating for feminism through his characters, which he uses to fight inequality on various aspects in early 19th-century Norway. Men are presented in the play as authoritarian, chauvinistic, and conservative, while women are presented as weak, helpless, and incompetent in many aspects of life. The female character, Nora, is given an opportunity to learn about herself and society in order to make choices that add value to self. Through many aspects of the play, Ibsen fights for a new Norway in which all people can be equal irrespective of gender.

Works Cited

Hossain, Amir. “Re-Interpreting A Doll’s House through Post-Modernist Feminist Projections.” The Indian Review of World Literature in English, vol. 11, no. 1, 2016, pp. 1–14.

Ibsen, Henrik. A Doll’s House and Other Plays. Translated by Deborah Dawkin and Erik Skuggevik, Penguin Books, 2016.

Kaur, Rajpal. “Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House as a Feminist Play.” International Journal for Research In Educational Studies (ISSN: 2208-2115), vol. 2, no. 4, Apr. 2016, pp. 01–07.

Rossi, Riikka. “Against Naturalism: Nora’s Transgression in Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House.” Excavatio, vol. 23, no. 1–2, 2008, pp. 138–52.

Saari, Sandra. “Female Become Human: Nora Transformed.” Contemporary Approaches to Ibsen, edited by Bjorn Hemmer and Vigdis Ystad, vol. 6, 1988, pp. 41–55.

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Essay Example - Feminism in Henrik Ibsen's "A Doll's House". (2023, Sep 20). Retrieved from

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