The concept of male dominance and female subordination has pervaded literary works for a long time. The authors of literary works of different genres incessantly depicted these gender roles. In several literary works, women have been depicted as inferior to men in their thinking and acting. Male characters have taken up the major roles, while female characters have mainly taken a supporting role. Indeed, feminism has suffused literary works, and the drama “Doll’s House” by Henrick Ibsen could illustrate this no better.
The characters in Henrick Ibsen’s work, “Doll’s House”, have aligned themselves to take up the gender roles traditionally associated with men and women respectively. They have proven the existing notions about male dominance and female subordination in literary works. Indeed, much like in Ibsen’s other writings, the concept of feminism comes out patently in “Doll’s House”. The female characters have been portrayed to take up traditionally feminine roles while the male characters have assumed their traditional dominating characters. Moreover, the female characters portray a distinctive feminine mode of subjective thinking, perceiving, and valuing. Indeed, the supporting characters in this play have been tasked with revealing the social institutions and norms that restrict the main characters. Indeed, even though some characters, such as Mrs. Linde, have come out in defiance of the traditional roles assigned to their gender, they still reflect vastly stereotyped views of women.
The opening scene tells much about the gender roles that have been assigned to each gender in this play. Nora and Torvald explicitly depict the traditional gender roles. Nora has just come from a Christmas shopping spree, while her husband, Torvald, is in his study. This simple fact depicts the age-old notion that women should be assigned such duties as house-keeping, while men should commit themselves to “higher” duties such as gaining knowledge to enable the world move forward. Right from the outset, Ibsen delivers to the reader the concept of feminism in a distinctive fashion.
The conversation that ensues in the opening scene also tells the reader much about the roles that men and women play by virtue of their genders. While Torvald speaks in an authoritative and commanding manner, the views of Nora are not taken with the seriousness they deserve. Nora seems to play the listening role more than the commanding role. This is manifested in the way Nora makes suggestions that Torvald accepts or dismisses at will. Even when the issue concerns Nora’s own health, it seems that Torvald has a greater say than Nora herself. The fact that Nora has to wipe her mouth hastily and hid the macaroons in her pocket before she goes to meet her husband is a testimony to this. Moreover, the fact that Torvald calls the act of going to buy confectionaries “breaking rules” clearly depicts the respective roles that Torvald and Nora play in their marriage. Torvald obviously plays the “chaperoning” role in the relationship, while Nora is a bystander, expected to bow to each and every whim of her husband. She is clearly not an equal in the relationship.
Another hint in the opening conversation that convinces the reader that the society in the Ibsen’s play is highly patriarchal is the fact that Torvald associates certain characteristics with women. When Nora suggests that they should borrow some money from their friends to spend it on the months after Christmas, Torvald expressly exclaims, “That is like a woman!” This statement has a heavy bearing on the feminism within the play. Torvald’s response to Nora’s suggestion shows that Torvald holds the view that women are poor decision makers and that their suggestions are, more often than not, totally misplaced.
Other aspects of the story that show the gender roles that Nora has taken are the mollycoddling names that her husband keeps calling her. Torvald calls her such names as “little squirrel”, “little featherhead”, and “little skylark”. These names are suggestive of a pampering attitude that parents often treat their children with. In essence, this suggests that Torvald treats Nora as a little child, or more appropriately, as a “doll”. Further, Torvald’s refusal to give Nora money instead of a Christmas gift suggests that he does not trust Nora to spend money wisely. All these are manifestations of a furiously paternal society that Ibsen portrays in his drama, “Doll’s House”.
In a production of the play posted on “youtube”, Ibsen acts out his part by giving his wife a stern look and speaking to her with a strict tone. From their discourse, it comes out clearly that Torvald imposes his views upon his wife, lending credence to the assertion that the society in question is distinctively paternal (Ørjasæter).
The supporting characters have also played an important role in asserting the gender roles that the main characters play. Krogstad, for instance, requests Nora to use her influence to prevent Torvald’s firing from work. This request puts the reader in a better position to understand the relationship between Torvald and Nora. When Nora pleads with Torvald so that he may not fire Krogstad from work, Torvald pays no attention to Nora’s pleas. This, in fact, shows that Torvald holds his wife in very low regard. By trivializing his wife’s request, he demonstrates his low regard for his wife. Moreover, even though Nora persistently pleads with him to consider retaining Krogstad, he does not budge. This proves that he does not consider the views of his wife to be any more important than those of a child. This is reinforced by the words that he tells Nora after receiving Krogstad’s letter cancelling the contract. He says, “I should not be a man if this womanly helplessness did not just give you a double attractiveness in my eyes” (Ibsen). This statement is the most apparent evidence of paternalism in this drama.
The reader can also notice heavy feminism in the way Krogstad treats Nora. Krogstad fails to address his complaints directly to Torvald. Instead, he uses Nora as a proxy through which he can air his grievances to Torvald. Granted, there is a debt that binds Nora to Krogstad. However, the reader nevertheless expects Krogstad to face Trovald if he feels there is a need to do so. The fact that Krogstad chooses to blackmail Nora in order to press his case demonstrates the fact that he sees a weakness in Nora that he does not see in Trovald. Krogstad decides to exploit this weakness for his own gain.
Nora gives a telling revelation to Mrs. Linde. She reveals that she had borrowed some money against her husband’s wish in order to take him to Italy so that he may recover from the serious illness that he was suffering from. The reader gets some insight into the decision-making skills of Nora. In fact, the reader judges Nora favorably when he learns that she took it upon herself to borrow money and work to pay it for the sake of her husband. Ibsen’s intention is probably to portray the fact that despite the weakness that has inherently been depicted in women, they can make thoughtful decisions.
In the third act of the play, it is clear that Torvald’s disregard for his wife’s opinions is so deep-seated that it cannot be changed easily. When he finds out that Nora had borrowed the money for their trip to Italy, he is outraged. He does not care that Nora had borrowed the money for his own good. He chastises Nora and calls her demeaning names such as ‘hypocrite’ and ‘criminal’. Further, he laments that he cannot imagine the life that he will have to go through because of the debt in which Nora has placed him. The most telling statement that Torvald says is calling Nora a “thoughtless woman”. This conversation brings to the light the gist of the feminist theme that is such a prominent part of this story.
Torvald goes ahead to say that what he hates most about the entire scheme is that people will most likely think that he is the one behind the scheme. This statement means that the society in which Torvald and Nora live expects the man to initiate all serious contracts while the women sit back and watch. Moreover, Torvald still offers to let Nora stay in his house without giving her the ‘privilege’ of raising their children. He says that appearances must be preserved. He implies that women serve only as “trophies” that should be displayed to the outside world. He treats Nora as a symbol of his status rather than as a human being and, more importantly, as an equal partner in their marriage.
Mrs. Linde is somewhat a departure from the general norm. She rebels against the notion that a married woman should live as a doll. Indeed, a modern society cannot allow a woman to live in the image of a doll (Markussen 126). She strikes the reader as an independent, capable woman. Not only does she perform heavy duties such as taking care of her sick mother, but she also caters for her two younger brothers. She is the ultimate symbol of feminine independence. The fact that she has a lot of independence is an indication that some women in the society are becoming emancipated and they are beginning to take up roles that have traditionally been considered male roles.
In addition to catering for her sick mother and her brothers, Mrs. Linde asserts that she needs to remain occupied. This is completely out of sync with the societal expectations of her time. While the society expects women to be passive onlookers in the happenings of their society, Mrs. Linde is a proactive participant in the goings-on of her society. This is exemplified by the way she takes a deliberate step to seek employment. Despite her prominent participation in societal issues that affect her, Mrs. Linde’s character still represents some stereotyped views of women in her society. First of all, the reader learns that she only takes a proactive role in matters after the death of her husband. This implies that before then, she had also taken a back seat, like all other women in her society of the time. The death of her husband seems to have jolted her to activity more than the other women in her society. Secondly, her conversation with Krogstad reveals that she left Krogstad to get married to a wealthier man who could cater for her family’s needs. This is the epitome feminism in Ibsen’s play. It shows that Mrs. Linde believes that she cannot cater for her family from her own sources and effort.
Indeed, Henrick Ibsen’s drama “Doll’s House” is a perfect representation of a patriarchal society. The female characters live up to their roles of subordination. The men, on the other hand, are excessively dominant in their talks and actions. The supporting characters of this drama enable the reader to better understand the gender roles that the main characters play. Indeed, the character traits of each of the characters enable the reader of Ibsen’s “Doll’s House” to better understand the feminist theory.