A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen

A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen
Published by Dover

This short (88 pages) play tells the story of married couple Nora and Torvald, who have a traditional marriage in that Torvald is a bank manager, responsible for the finances of the home and with that, all decisions except those Nora is allowed to make about herself, the home or the children. When Torvald requires a treatment for an illness they cannot afford, Nora acquires the money and tells him it’s a gift from her father, but really it’s an illegal loan she’s acquired from the bank by forging her father’s signature. While Nora knows she shouldn’t have done something illegal, she also feels that she was doing something to protect and help her family, and that makes her proud. The end of the play is a confrontation between the two of them as Nora realizes she has the ability to be an intelligent, independent woman and Torvald can only laugh at this possibility.

I don’t normally read plays, so I have to admit that I went into reading A Doll’s House with a fair bit of trepidation. I needn’t have worried, though, because I zipped through the book in one sitting and it provided me with much food for thought.

What surprised me about A Doll’s House was just how current the message is, especially since it was written in 1878. For the first fifty pages or so, the message is definitely dated, as women now have autonomy over financial decisions and most women have held a job at some point in their lives. I also think most marriages are pretty equal in terms of who gets to decide what happens with the family finances (at least, most marriages that I know of). But it’s the end of the book that really gets to the heart of the matter, and that’s where I think the play really shines and holds significance for women of today’s world.

While I don’t want to give anything important away, the end of the book is basically a stand-off between Nora and Torvald. Nora is asserting the fact that she is a person, independent from her duties as wife and mother, and she should be treated as such. She makes the case that just because she is a wife and mother, her own humanness shouldn’t be sacrificed for the sake of her husband and children, and that she should have the right to think for herself and make decisions according to what is best for her individually. I think that many mothers struggle with this even today – the question of being an independent person apart from one’s husband and children is something that I see all the time. Women ask themselves, do I make a decision based on what’s best for me, best for my husband, best for my children, or do I try to make a compromise for all of us? While A Doll’s House was about more than just that question, that was the point Nora got to by the end of the play and I do feel that was, in the end, the biggest message here. Women do compromise their needs and desires and put the other members of their family first – and by the end of the play, Nora wasn’t interested in doing that anymore.

Anyways, I really appreciated A Doll’s House for its central message and was surprised to find how current that message still is. For anyone interested in reading classic feminist literature, this book is an important work to pick up.

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15 thoughts on “A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen

  1. I’ve never heard of this play before, so thanks for spotlighting it. I haven’t read a play since college, but this one sounds like a good one to pick up. The timelessness of some of the themes explored make it all the more interesting.

    1. It’s such a quick read, that I would absolutely recommend it. The combination of it being easy to read and very important make it a winner for sure.

  2. I have been reading a fair amount about this play, and think that it sounds like an excellent examination of some of the issues that women face, both in the past and in the present. I would love to read this one and see what I make of it. It sounds excellent. Thanks for the outstanding review!

    1. Thank you, Heather! I read it for the Year of Feminist Classics project which is probably why you’ve been seeing it around a lot lately. I’m glad I read it and am happy to recommend it. 🙂

  3. I’ve just been doing quite a bit of editing for my son’s friend and he’s had several papers related to this play. I’ve never read it but I really feel like I know it now! It reminds me a lot of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening.

      1. i like A doll’s house. .during reading i realy enjoy the reality based which makes it more atractive. .and i also feel that its the reality of women’s in pakistan. .majority of women have no right even 4 a single thing. .men’s treated her just like a robort. .

  4. I read your post and shared it with my wife and some friends who are active readers in an informal book club. Definitely of interest to them and a very nice recommendation. You are right, sometimes plays are not at the top of the list but it’s wonderful when one play such as “A Doll’s House” really grabs your interest, is timely and well written. Thank you for sharing your insights.

  5. It always amazes me how current some messages from such old books can be. I wonder if the authors who wrote the books ever imagined that people over 100 years later would be able to read their books and still completely relate.

    1. I wonder that, too! It also makes me sad that although I feel we’ve come so far in this stuff, reading these books makes me feel that maybe we aren’t doing as good as I’d like to think.

  6. The message is a little dated now, but I remember being surprised at how modern this play felt for its time. I should reread it — it’s been years.

  7. i like to read A doll’s house. .and during reading i feel that its just realty of majority of women’s lives in pakistan. .in our pakistan majority of women’s have no right for even a single decision for their their childern and for herself. .men’s treated her just like a robort. .

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