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Confinement and self-liberation in 'A Doll's House'

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Introduction

Setting is used as an immediate representation of the social conventions imposed on the central female characters. In A Doll's House, Ibsen presents the appearance of cosy bourgeois family life through the 'comfortably and tastefully, but not expensively furnished' setting. This is further exemplified through the Christmas tree; a festive season and the synonymous family security and happiness is indicated in order to establish a cosy, middle-class home conforming to religious and social expectations. Nora is seen at times during the course of the play concentrating on its decoration, conveying her involvement in ensuring her family's well-being and in turn, emphasising the strict gender role in which she is restricted to. Despite this, the audience cannot help but feel the setting has been created to suit Torvald's tastes, thus depicting Nora's confinement within her home. For example, Nora rings the bell of the house before her initial entrance, suggesting that she does not possess her own key. This is further emphasised when she 'listens at her husbands door', implying that she does not have full access to the house. Ibsen immediately establishes a typical bourgeois home and the conventions of a patriarchal society through a blend of naturalism and realism to depict the suppression of the central female character and also to create a world instantly identifiable to his middle-class audience in order for them to relate to Nora's situation. ...read more.

Middle

I can't believe that.' This conflict between the individual and society eventually results in her disillusionment with marriage as an institution and society's conventions, forcing her further into despair and confinement within herself. This is illustrated particularly effectively through her melodramatic posturing and fragmented monologues which surface as the play progresses: 'Corrupt my little children - ! Poison my home! (Short pause. She throws back her head.) It isn't true! It couldn't be true!' The disjointed rhythm of this monologue conveys her inner turmoil, relating to the conflict between her ideals and society's. Her increasing despair is emphasised through her increasing restlessness; she paces the floor impatiently, often gravitating to the stove which provides the warmth and security she so urgently craves. During the course of the play, she is forced to confront the reality of her situation through character mirrors and foils; Nora views Mrs Linde's situation as desirable independence, one of which she will venture out into at the end of the play, and Krogstad as a 'moral cripple' who represents the life as a social pariah that she could lead. Through these mirrors, Nora is gradually forced to confront the reality of her confinement and to gain a life of independence that she so desperately craves in the final Act. Nora's confinement is further conveyed through her dialogue with Dr Rank in Act two. ...read more.

Conclusion

It appears that Ibsen is suggesting that, in a patriarchal society, 'femininity' involves playing a series of roles that require the disguising of the 'self'. The powerful denouement of A Doll's House provides the platform for Nora's self-liberation. Nora's eventual realisation of her 'doll' role could be termed as an anagnorisis, or a moment of illumination. This is illustrated particularly well when Nora '[takes] off [her] fancy dress', a metaphor for abandoning the disguise of her true identity, and declares her transformation: 'Yes, Torvald. I've changed.' In doing so, Nora neglects her 'most sacred duties...towards [her] husband and [her] children' to concentrate on herself: 'I believe that I am first and foremost a human being.' In rejecting her 'doll' role, she is perfectly aware that she will become a social outcast but has concluded that she needs to 'educate' herself to who she really is and adopt her own opinions: 'I must try to satisfy myself which is right, society or I'. Upon slamming the door, Nora rejects the constraints society has imposed on her in order to realise her full potential as an individual in the outside world, therefore claiming her humanity. Her refusal to mould into the self-sacrificial role of wife and mother equates to a rejection of Hegel's theory of women's role in the family and society. Her quest for self-realisation is emblematic of women's struggle for social and political rights, and Ibsen implies that the conventions of society would have to change in order for women to prosper in modern society; the 'miracle'. ...read more.

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