Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell

Henrik Ibsen, A Doll’s House (1897)

The Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House (1879) can be appreciated as an early example of a play espousing feminist values, promoting female emancipation as a form of human emancipation.  In particular, the play focuses on the limitations placed on women by marriage in a patriarchal society and the need for women to break free.

The principal character, Nora, seems to have it all, a well-off middle-class life of comfort and affluence.  He husband, Torvald, is a lawyer who has become a banker and who seems to adore her.  She also has three happy, healthy young children.  However, her husband’s treatment of her infantilises her.  In a sense, this patriarchal society has passed the responsibility for the daughter from the father to the husband through marriage.  This means that the daughter is still looked after by a male authority figure. She is never free. 

Social mores and the legal system add to this denial of freedom to women.  Women, at that time in Norway, could not sign contracts.  They only entrred the workforce out of necesseity if they were unmarried.  Married women were trapped by finincial dependence on their husband.  The only power left to them in this unequal relationship was the withdrawal of affection and/or sex. 

Nora seemed happy, but she wasn’t.  Eventually, when her husband’s underlying disrespect for her is revealed by his severely judgemental attitude towards her after the revelation that she had made a legal indiscretion, this forces her to make a decision.  What had made his behaviour worse was that she had acted selflessly, and the legal indiscretion had resulted from her loving efforts to organise a stay of convalescence for Torvald in a warm country to save his health.  The play concludes with Nora choosing the uncertainty and discomfort of leaving her husband and family over the predictable routines of her subordinated existence in her marriage. 

Student resources by Dr Mark Lopez

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The purpose of the concise notes of Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell is to provide much needed help to students seeking to unlock the meaning of the texts with which they have to deal.  (More elaborate notes are provided in lessons as part of my private tutoring business.) 

Subject: A Doll’s House meaning, A Doll’s House themes, A Doll’s House analysis, A Doll’s House notes