Writing has … been to me like a bath from which I have risen feeling cleaner, healthier, and freer – Henrik Johan Ibsen, Speeches and New Letters
A Doll’s House has been among my favourite plays since I read it for the first time a few years ago. Nora’s awakening from her doll-life into a state of awareness of her self as an individual is such a powerful scene at so many levels. It has been often said that the slamming sound of Nora closing the door of her husband’s home behind her heralded the beginning of the women’s movement. Beyond this obvious symbolism, the idea that comes through the text is the voice of an enlightened individual who finally realises her ability to observe life and think, rather than go with the flow. Indeed Ibsen himself mentioned while addressing the Norwegian Women’s Rights League that, “I am not even quite sure as to just what this women’s rights movement really is. To me it has seemed a problem of humanity in general.”
The concept of what makes a happy family is questioned and the cold, practical reasons that hold a man and woman together in marriage behind the facade of a blissful couple are revealed. Torvald’s self-assumed role of lord and master and Nora’s deferral to the patriarchal expectation of being the sovereign authority are actions conditioned by their social background. In the end, Torvald too comes across as a conditioned doll who thinks, speaks and acts like any other average man of his period.
“I believe that before anything else I’m a human being — just as much as you are… or at any rate I shall try to become one. I know quite well that most people would agree with you, Torvald, and that you have warrant for it in books; but I can’t be satisfied any longer with what most people say, and with what’s in books. I must think things out for myself and try to understand them.”
Henrik Johan Ibsen, A Doll’s House
I had the pleasure of enacting a short excerpt from A Doll’s House during the past Michaelmas term at college. I played Torvald to a classmate’s Nora in the climax scene of the play. Our tutor suggested a technique of mixing song and rhythm into the scene, and by making us sit on two chairs that were placed back to back on the stage, and having Nora gradually rise and stand on the chair stamping her foot in rhythm while Torvald sunk to the ground, in a synchronous rhythm of frustration beating his hands upon the floor. I was both charmed and overwhelmed by the energy that came through that five minute performance.
I know that I will return to Ibsen’s plays, to re-read and reflect. The power of Ibsen’s drama lies in making the reader think along with the characters, and question the meaning of morality, faith, ideals, society, truth and meaning among other things, besides providing glimpses into the psychological complexities of the human mind and emotions. Ibsen is yet another Victorian author whose voice remains contemporary to the present day.
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