Nora Helmer: Transformation from a Doll into an Adult
In 1862, Henrik Ibsen left for the docks in Christiania. The young man considered himself a complete failure; none of his plays were successful. Disappointed by this, Ibsen, with his family, boarded a ship and left Norway, metaphorically slamming the door behind him. Fifteen years later a similarly disappointed Nora Helmer would slam the door on stage at the end of A Doll's House. Humans learn from their experiences and observations of everyday life; it makes them mature and become more self-aware about the nature of their lives; this is called self-discovery. This idea is presented in the play, A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen, through several characters, but this idea is most evident in the character development of the protagonist Nora Helmer. In this play, the character of Nora Helmer is consistently developed by her actions and speech, as her character undergoes the transition from a “doll” to an adult.
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At the beginning of the play, Nora is presented as an ideal housewife who is very carefree. She has no identity, she simply follows the role that the society has taught her to play. Nora is also shown to partake in childlike acts such as lying to her husband about the macaroons. Additionally, Nora does not mind her husband calling her nicknames such as “little squirrel” or “little lark” because she accepts acting out in the way society expects her to. Nora’s role as an ideal housewife is further emphasized when she plays with her children, acting out like a devoted mother. Nora acts like a typical housewife due to her upbringing; she is a play-doll that has been molded first by her father and now her husband – both men. It was mainly Nora’s father that influenced her: “When I lived with papa, he used to tell me what he thought about everything, so that I never had any opinions but his.” (Ibsen, ?). This is why Nora fills the role of a typical housewife because that’s all she knows how to do.
Despite this, Nora struggles with the ideals of her society; she cannot understand why she would be prosecuted for forging her father’s signature for love: “Has a woman really not the right to spare her dying father pain, or save her husband's life? I can't believe that.” (Ibsen, ?). This struggle between Nora and society eventually results in her disappointed with her marriage and society’s conventions, forcing her into despair. Her increasing despair is emphasized through her increasing restlessness; she often paces the floor impatiently. During the course of the play, Nora is forced to confront the reality of her situation through other characters. 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 outsider that she could lead. Through these characters, Nora is gradually forced to confront the reality of her life and to gain a life of independence that she so desperately craves in the final Act.
The powerful denouement of A Doll's House provides the platform for Nora's self-discovery. Nora's eventual realization of her “doll” role can be termed as an anagnorisis. 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.” (Ibsen, 1). 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.” (Ibsen, 2). In rejecting her 'doll' role, she is perfectly aware that she will become a social outcast, but has decided 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.” (Ibsen, 1). Upon slamming the door, Nora rejects the restrictions society has imposed on her in order to realize her full potential as an individual in the outside world, away from her imprisonment in the dollhouse.
Throughout Nora’s life, she is forced to face many hardships, these hardships have matured Nora and allowed her to finally find an identity; she has now transformed into an independent adult, she is no longer someone’s play-doll. Nora’s refusal to mould into the typical housewife equates to a rejection of the beliefs about women's role in the family and society during the Victorian era. Nora chooses her identity over a life of luxury and comfort. Her quest for self-discovery is emblematic of women's struggle for political and social rights, and in the play, A Doll’s House, Ibsen implies that the status quo would have to change in order for women to prosper in modern society; the “miracle” Nora speaks of.