Escaping Home: A Feminist Study of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House
Throughout the centuries, literature has been the catalyst of social, ideological, and moral changes as words have shaken societies to their core. Thus, pieces of writing, whether it be novels, articles, or plays, have altered the course of history, affecting people’s minds, beliefs, and lifestyles. Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, written in 1879, was arguably one of the most controversial plays of the 19th century, and consequently resulted in ongoing debates and discussions, which mainly revolve around gender roles, social norms, and sexism. At the beginning of the play, the protagonist, Nora, seems to be an obedient and submissive housewife. However, she ends up rebelling against the social rules of that period and slamming the door whose buzzing still reverberates nowadays.
The play opens with the act I and the audience can recognize the familiar setting of a decently furnished living room. Although numerous locations are mentioned throughout the play, the entirety of the actions takes place within that one space. At first glance, the Helmers appear to be a happy couple, a normal family living in a traditional household. However, secrets are quickly revealed that move the plot forward and elevate the suspense. Carbone (2020) argues that:
“The set-up of A Doll’s House is in line with Ibsen’s use of the 'retrospective technique', according to which the past events leading to the climax are progressively unveiled through the words and acts of the characters in the course of the play” (p. 106).
The audience soon discovers that Nora forged her father’s signature to get a loan from Krogstad to treat her ill husband. A woman taking out a loan might not seem like a significant event for the modern-day reader, but for the 19th-century audience, there is a remarkable problem. At the time, women were not allowed to take out loans as the economic world was strictly a male-dominated field. Thus, Krogstad tries to blackmail Nora into getting him his job back at the bank, where her husband Torvald is in charge. At first, Nora worries about her husband’s reaction but eventually ends up leaving him and her three children behind.
Nora undergoes an obvious transformation between the first and last act, as she goes from an innocent wife, scared of her husband’s temper, to a powerful and independent woman who prioritizes herself. Nora’s character development has confused many critics, and some even