Henrik Ibsen’s portrayal of a changing society through the characters of his play,
A Doll’s House
Gender inequality, patriarchy, and the subordination of women were part of regular society during the Victorian Era. Society operated according to a set standard of morality, and the status of an individual in such society was dependent on his/her adherence to this set standard. In 1879, Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen published his controversial work, A Doll’s House. The events and characters of this play defied the accepted standards of morality and the roles of men and women, and were used by Ibsen as a representation of the changing society in order to reveal his disapproval of the rules that discouraged individuality and self-expression. Ibsen consistently challenged the ideals of Victorian society by juxtaposing the stereotypical 19th century character against the character of the changing individual. Ibsen’s characters Nora and Torvald Helmer, along with the character of Mrs. Christine Linde, portray the transformation awaiting Victorian society and its current shortcomings.
Ibsen’s main, and most controversial, character in the play is the protagonist, Nora Helmer. Nora is first shown as a frivolous young wife, who is completely dependent on her husband Torvald. She is in most ways, a typical woman of the time, uneducated and under the control of a male figure, whether it is her deceased father or her husband. Once however the truth is told about her debt, and her forgery, she immediately becomes atypical. Her final action of leaving Torvald of her own free will, and for the reason of self-discovery, makes her the antithesis of a typical woman of the time. Nora’s goes against the expectations forced upon her when she makes the decision to leave Torvald, saying “In any case, I am setting you free. You’re not to feel like a prisoner in any way. I will not feel that way at all” (Ibsen 118). This highlights that the ending of the marriage is the wife’s decision, and that she is leaving her husband even though he does not wish to do so, which was a shocking idea in Victorian times. The way in which Nora contradicts the assumed role of societal woman at the time supports Ibsen’s position against the suppression of women and their subordinate roles.