Many of our choices and the things one does in a lifetime can be directly based on what society perceives to be proper. The choices one makes based on society?s views, may sometimes have no logic to support them. These choices are sometimes chosen because society would look down upon the person making the ?wrong? decision. The values and morals upheld by a society may directly affect how one acts. This is held true for the character Nora in Henrik Ibsen?s play ?A Doll House?. Nora is the 19th century middle class wife of Torvald Helmer. She is a woman who is devoted to her husband and family. Nora minds her husband Torvald as a child would a father, and Torvald in return treats her as a child, or as his ?doll?. At the end of the play, Nora makes an epiphany realizing the way she acts and how Torvald really feels towards her. The causes for Nora?s behavior can be attributed to her upbringing, society?s views on what a woman?s role should be, and also Torvald, who also helps Nora in her epiphany.
The primary cause that affected Nora?s behavior as an adult, was Nora?s upbringing. Nora?s father treated her as his ?doll-child? (1186, ?A Doll House?; all page references refer to the class text The Compact Bedford Introduction to Literature 5th ed.) Her father told Nora all of his opinions, and in time these opinions became Nora?s opinions (1186). Torvald explains to Nora ?Exactly the way your father was? (1144). Nora has in essence become her father by not having a mind of her own. If her opinions differed, Nora would hide them because her father would not have cared for them (1186). Nora was sheltered from the world. Her father shaped Nora?s ideas and gave her his knowledge of how the world works
The treatment of Nora?s father may have been a result from how society viewed women in the 19th century, which is the second cause for Nora?s behavior. Women were viewed as property of their husbands or fathers. This is a reason why the treatment of Nora as a ?doll? by her father was not an issue. Nora was property of her father, and expected to mind him, as a proper young lady should. Women didn?t have any rights that were equal to a man?s. According to Ibsen, ??in practical life the woman is judged by man?s law, as though she were not a woman but a man? (1191, ?Notes for A Doll House?). Men thought that since a woman does not think or act like a man, then they are a lower being. Ibsen states, ?A woman cannot be herself in the society of the present day, which is an exclusively masculine society, with laws framed by men and with a judicial system that judges feminine conduct from a masculine point of view? (1191, ?Notes for A Doll House?). A man did not treat women?s views as being of any worth. A woman in the 19th century is ?obligated to her husband-to follow my (a man?s) wishes in everything and to strictly obey my orders? (1194, ?A Nineteenth-Century Husband?s Letter to His Wife?). Also as a woman, one was subservient to men for financial reasons. A woman making her way on her on was a hard road to take. There were very few jobs and society viewed these women as delinquent and crazy.
With this background of the gender roles in the 19th century, one can use it to understand Nora and why she acts the way she does in Ibsen?s ?A Doll House?. It was unheard of for a woman not to mind her husband or father. Nora is loyal to her husband and family the way any 19th century wife would be.
Nora?s husband Torvald is another cause for Nora?s behavior. Nora has been dependent on men most of her life. The dependency was taken from her father and put upon her husband Torvald once the two were married. Nora?s relationship with Torvald can be characterized as a form of ?enslavement (or) master-slave, male-female, (and) sexual objectification??? (1196, ?A Marxist Approach to A Doll House?). Nora gets into a relationship where she is treated the same
way her father treated her, as a ?doll?. She takes on the standard role of a 19th century woman. Nora doesn?t think for herself. She minds Torvald as if he was her father. Torvald doesn?t want her to eat any sweets, like macaroons. He expresses this when he says to Nora, ?Surely my sweet tooth hasn?t been running a riot in town today, has she?? (1145, ?A Doll House?). Nora tells him, ?No Torvald, I assure your, really-? (1145, ?A Doll House?). Nora tells her husband that she hasn?t been eating macaroons when she really has. She tries to hide things from Torvald, just as she did from her father when their opinions conflicted. This shows that Torvald has the strict upper hand. Nora doesn?t tell Torvald about the macaroons because she believes Torvald may know what is best for her. Nora also keeps her thoughts to herself because she was never taught to have her own opinions and she believes in the society?s view that a woman should mind her husband.
Another example that causes Nora to obey her husband is in the way he talks down to her. The talking down is expressed by the names in which Torvald refers to Nora. These names consist of his ?squirrel?, ?lark?, and ?spendthrift? (1143-44). The names Torvald calls Nora are meant to be loving, but actually emphasize Nora?s role as a woman in the 19th century. Torvald also keeps Nora out of his money matters and business. This causes Nora to be dependent on Torvald economically. The treatment of Nora by Torvald causes her to mind Torvald, the way she always has.
Torvald is the man to accredit Nora?s epiphany to. The epiphany is caused by the uproar he has towards the end of the play. Nora realizes what her life is about. Torvald finds out that Nora had forged her father?s signature and the results from it. He yells at Nora saying, ?Now you?ve wrecked all my happiness ? ruined my whole future? I?ll be swept down miserably into the depths on account of a featherbrained woman? (1184). Torvald puts Nora down by calling her, ?a hypocrite, a liar ? worse, worse ? a criminal!? (1184). Torvald goes on to criticize Nora by exclaiming, ?How infinitely disgusting it all is! The shame?I should have known. All of
your father?s flimsy values have come out in you. No religion, no morals, no sense of duty- Oh, how I?m punished for letting him off! I did it for your sake, and you repay me like this? (1184). After the letter arrives from Krogstad reporting that everything was going to be fine, Torvald calms down. Torvald tells Nora, ?I?m saved. Nora I?m saved? (1184). Nora asks what about her. Torvald replies, ?We?re both saved?, then goes on to tell Nora that he has forgiven her. Nora realizes and tells Torvald ?You never loved me. You?ve only though it was fun to be in love with? (1186). She realizes that she is Torvald?s ?play doll? just as she was towards her father. Nora says to Torvald ?You arranged everything to your own taste, and so I got the same taste as you ? or pretended to?Now when I look back, it seems as if I?d lived here like a beggar? I?ve lived by doing tricks for you. But that?s the way you wanted it. It?s a great sin what you and Papa did to me. You?re to blame that nothing?s become of me? (1186).
Nora realizes she has no opinions of her own. She has just taken on the ones of the male figure in her life. Her epiphany causes her to leave her husband and their children. Nora decides she needs to finally ?educate herself? (1187). She cannot take on the duties of a wife and mother until she finds out who she is and what she really wants. ?I have to stand completely alone, if I?m ever going to discover myself and the world out there? (1187). ?I have to think over these things myself and try to understand them? (1187). Nora has finally made a decision for herself. This is the beginning or the coming out party for Nora. She is now free of Torvald?s continuous ?doll-like? treatment, and also she is free of her own dependency on a male.
Each of the events in Nora?s life were direct causes to her behavior, and finally to her epiphany. One thing led to another. First her father treated her as a ?doll?, then Torvald treated her this way. Society?s view of a woman?s role in the 19th century caused this treatment by Nora?s father and Torvald. Nora?s minding of Torvald and her father is caused by her treatment. This epiphany Nora has is the best thing that could have happened to her. Everything that happened in her life was a stepping stone or a direct cause to her epiphany. She may have not
have realized how she really behaved if Torvald never got upset with her. In a way he did her a favor by treating her the way he did. Now Nora can live her life and find out who she really is.