Infantilization in Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House - Essay Example

Summary
A Doll's House is often considered to be the first feminist play. Written in 1879 by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, it features a woman who risks her reputation and her family for the sake of her husband, and closes with her reaction to the discovery that her husband would not do the same for her…
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Infantilization in Henrik Ibsens A Dolls House
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Download file to see previous pages A Doll's House is often considered to be the first feminist play. Written in 1879 by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, it features a woman who risks her reputation and her family for the sake of her husband, and closes with her reaction to the discovery that her husband would not do the same for her. The play ends with the female protagonist, Nora, walking out of her husband's life, slamming the door behind her in an echo which reverberated throughout modern literature (Cunningham and Reich, 492). To its contemporary audience, A Doll's House promoted divorce and was therefore scandalous – and so much so that in Germany, Ibsen eventually bowed to pressure to rewrite his ending, although he much regretted it later. The conventions of nineteenth-century marriage are examined and eventually overturned, through exaggerated use of pet-names, infantilizing dialogue, and many more displays of masculine superiority over women. This essay will look at Nora's interactions with other characters in the play, both male and female, to analyse the validity of Ibsen's representation of women as human beings worthy of roles beyond those of wife and mother.Nora's relationship with her husband Torvald is seen in the first few moments of the play, in an interaction which surely inspired very different emotions in its contemporary and twenty-first century audiences. Torvald's references to her as “my little lark”, “my little squirrel” and “my little spendthrift” infantilize the grown woman in a way which was probably common (although hopefully exaggerated by Ibsen) in the nineteenth century, but which rankles with a spectator now as patronizing and unnecessary. The conflict is given object in Nora's consumption of macaroons. In the first moments of the play, she eats a macaroon and then “wipes her mouth” (I, stage direction) before speaking to her husband; shortly thereafter, he teasingly asks her if she has “even taken a bite at a macaroon or two”, to which Nora lies in response: “No, Torvald, I assure you really” (I). The macaroons are a motif which highlights Torvald's inexplicable control over Nora, and foreshadows her eventual refusal to submit to his norms. The spectre of debt also looms over this first conversation between Nora and Torvald, as it does the entire play, with Nora bringing up the possibility of borrowing money in order to finance a more lavish Christmas: “this year we can really let ourselves go a little” (I). Torvald strikes down this idea, much as he will strike down Nora herself in the final act as a “Miserable creature” (III), showing that her opinion and desires are worth nothing compared to his. The relentless barrage of Torvald's references to Nora as lesser, juxtaposed against and around the major issue of the play, come together to reinforce Torvald's worldview, forcing the audience to think critically about the very role of literature. If we relax and enjoy the play, we silently side with Torvald; if we engage with it, we must not entirely enjoy it. These two parts of Torvald's and Nora's conversation come together in the following excerpt: Torvald: What are little people called that are always wasting money? Nora: Spendthrifts – I know. (I) Nora's response sounds coached, echoing Torvald's own criticisms of herself in a manner which is both worrying and simply spooky. At this early stage of the play, Nora's dialogue shows that she accepts her inferiority to her husband, probably because a nineteenth-century woman in her situation would not have considered that there was another option. However, she is not only secondary to her husband but also to her father: one of Torvald's first thoughts when he discovers his wife's deception is that “all [her] father's want of principle has come out in [her]” (III). He cannot see her supposed 'evil' as purposeful, but done through her ignorance combined with her father's unprincipled genetics. Even when Torvald is angry with Nora, he ...Download file to see next pagesRead more
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