The presentation of the departure of women from their households in A Doll(TM)s House and Like Water for Chocolate
Name: Sanay Shah
Candidate Number: csy131
British School of Brussels
World Literature Essay Standard Level (English A1)
The presentation of the departure of women from their households in A Doll’s House and Like Water for Chocolate
In both texts, A Doll’s House and Like Water for Chocolate, the authors present women’s departure from their family and community. Both Ibsen and Esquivel use women leaving the households to develop the characters of Nora and Gertrudis. The authors use various techniques and styles in order to present and question the effects of the departure on both characters and the narrative as a whole. Although in today’s society such an action may be more common, during the time of these texts, such an act would be considered abnormal and atrocious. It is important to understand why each character left, how they leave and the consequences of the departure on society and other characters.
Each character departs in a different manner which affects the development of the characters and the plot of the novel. In Like Water for Chocolate we come across Gertrudis who leaves in a mysterious way, and does not discuss the situation with anyone. Gertrudis wants to leave her domestic realms in order to become a soldier and take over the role of a man in Mexican society. During the leaving scene of Gertrudis, the readers realise that ‘she ran out of the little enclosure just as she was, completely naked.’ Esquivel uses a comma to create a dramatic pause, after which she reveals that Gertrudis was ‘completely naked.’ The way in which Gertrudis is affected by the food prepared by Tita and how she is carried away on a galloping horse is like a fantasy and the vivid imagery of pink sweat and powerful aroma further conveys the magic realism within the novel. The fact that Gertrudis talks to no-one about her departure is opposing the way in which Nora leaves the household in A Doll’s House.
Nora expresses her desire to leave the household differently; by talking to Torvald. Nora primarily expresses her feelings to Torvald by telling him the truth, moreover expressing the idea of their marriage being a failure. Nora attempts to get to terms with Torvald and does so by the use of rhetorical questions: ‘how could you ever teach me to be a proper wife? Your wife?’ Nora uses rhetorical questions in order to emphasise that the marriage was a failure and that the only way she can experience life is by leaving. The audience may further understand the extent to which it is definite and imperative for Nora to leave the household by the symbolism used by Ibsen. Nora is ‘Changing’ and says, ‘No more fancy dress.’ The use of symbolism by Ibsen, gives the audience a clearer image of the fact that Nora is definitely changing roles and attitude, thus leaving the household.
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Both authors, Esquivel and Ibsen, describe each character at the point of leaving through different techniques and in different manners. Esquivel uses very sexual and grotesque images at the departure of Gertrudis from the house. The disappearance of Gertrudis reveals much about her female sexuality, where she exceeds the boundaries of gender roles and family obligations without second thought, ‘He (Pedro) couldn’t get the image of Gertrudis out of his mind.’ This suggests the way in which Gertrudis left the household was unimaginable and opposing the Mexican culture. On the contrary her departure is also sort of expulsion as the free expression of desire by women had no place in Mexican society.
However in A Doll’s House the mood is extremely emotional at the moment of departure in comparison to the excitement and shock witnessed in Like Water for Chocolate. Ibsen uses realistic drama in order to create an environment of tension and anxiety. Due to the “passion and love” Torvald has for Nora, we see a sense of anxiety which is portrayed through the lexis and grammar. We firstly gain the impression that Torvald is worried, due to the repetition of ‘never’ and ellipses, ‘The children…never again.’ Ibsen uses repetition in order to explain the shock and discomfort Torvald is in since he does not want Nora to leave him. The use of ellipses and disjointed sentences by Ibsen implies how hesitant Torvald is of letting Nora go. Furthermore, the long fluent monologues of Nora suggest that she is dominant within the relationship and will not listen to everything Torvald has to say to her.
Due to the characters leaving in each text, other characters within the story are affected. The departure of Gertrudis from the household impacts characters in contrasting ways. Primarily, we observe that Mama Elena ‘burned Gertrudis’ birth certificate’ and ‘didn’t want to hear her name mentioned ever again.’ Mama Elena exemplifies the extent to which she does not want to have anything to do with Gertrudis, through the use of the word ‘ever.’ The lexical choice made by the author suggests that Mama Elena is disappointed in the actions carried out by Gertrudis and further conveys the shock that Mama Elena has received. However, we observe that Tita is upset by the departure of Gertrudis. Esquivel uses long sentences to convey that Gertrudis was still in Tita’s mind.
On the contrary, in A Doll’s House the effects on Torvald can be observed in three stages which convey the transitional feelings that he experiences. Initially, Torvald is presented as being angry through the use short sentences:
You’ve killed my happiness. You’ve destroyed my world. I’m trapped, in his claws. No mercy.
Torvald uses both short sentences and repetition in order to express his anger towards Nora’s decisions. The repetition of ‘you’ve’ emphasizes the fact that Torvald is furious at Nora’s actions. In spite of being angry, Torvald quickly become calmer about the situation and tells her to ‘forget it’ to ensure that he does not let Nora go. This thus gives the readers the impression that he is protective, and does not want to lose Nora. Eventually, Torvald is then presented as a worried and anxious character which is suggested through the use of serious dialogue exchanged between Torvald and Nora:
Nora: …husband and wife, to talk seriously.
The repetition of ‘seriously’ by both speakers suggests the importance of the conversation and the extent to which Torvald is worried. The use of short responses conveys that Torvald is unsure and confused about how to deal with the persistent problem presented by Nora.
The consequence of each woman’s departure is different. The two protagonists within the text depart from the household at different times within the plot. In Like Water for Chocolate, after Gertrudis leaves in a peculiar manner, we see an even stranger return of the character. The author uses the departure in order to create character revelation and a transformation of the Gertrudis’ role is observed; ‘She was a general in the revolutionary army.’ The role accepted by Gertrudis was shocking for the general public, since due to the Mexican Civil code of 1884 women had many restrictions and were observed to be the weaker sex due to the responsibilities they were assigned. Gertrudis and Mama Elena both challenge the roles that they are given by society and bend the rules very quickly, another form of magic realism portrayed by Esquivel.
Although during the time of the war, women soldiers (soldaderas) did come into existence it was highly unlikely that a woman would be able to gain such extreme power in the army. Furthermore, Esquivel conveys the change is character by the discussion of roles associated more commonly with men; she was ‘smoking a cigarette.’ The use of symbolism to convey a change in character, also used by Ibsen, allows the readers to better understand the situation Gertrudis is in.
In order for the readers to better understand the plot, the atmosphere within the all-female De La Garza family portrayed by Esquivel is the same as the revolution within the whole society. The rebellion within society is the same as the revolution within the household, suggesting that the De La Garza family reflected on society’s actions.
Despite, the departure of Gertrudis being controversial we are unsure of what impact on the plot was due to the departure of Nora. At the end of the play, Nora leaves in a dominant fashion, which would be uncommon in Scandinavian 1877. Due to this Ibsen was forced to write a new ending since the audience at the time found the ending very controversial. During this time in Scandinavia, the women were obliged to stay at home and were responsible for their husband, children and the house, however Nora thought differently:
Helmer: Of course you haven’t. What obligations?
Nora: To myself.
After expressing her views and breaking the gender boundaries the readers can perceive that Nora is definite about her departure and by her lexical choice, it would be implied that she has no intention of returning and is reinforced through the stringent conversation at the end of the play:
Helmer: If you needed help –
Nora: I’ll take nothing from a stranger.
Nora expresses her opinion by interrupting Torvald which further exemplifies her decision to leave will not change. The use of the word, ‘nothing’ signifies the extent to which she feels it is imperative to be away from Torvald and by calling him a ‘stranger’ which suggests that Nora would like to begin believing that she does not know Torvald.
The departure of women seems to have a large impact on both texts. Although during most of the texts the effect of the women’s departures and the way in which they are described are different, Ibsen and Esquivel both similarly use symbolism to convey a change of roles for each character within the stories. Ibsen and Esquivel have differing opinions on the impact of the departure on characters and the stories themselves. This can be justified because of time and location when each plot was written. Such a distinct detail, of women’s departure proves to be of extreme importance in the stories and the development of characters.
A Doll’s House, Henrik Ibsen – Cambridge University Press, First published: 1995, 13th printing: 2007. Translated by Kenneth McLeish
Like Water for Chocolate, Laura Esquivel – Black Swan, Published by Doubleday, Black Swan edition published 1993. Translated by Carol Christensen and Thomas Christensen
Mexican Revolution - , last accessed 22/05/08
Scandinavian reaction to A Doll’s House - , last accessed 28/05/08
Word Count –1645 words
Like Water for Chocolate, Laura Esquivel – Black Swan, Published by Doubleday, Black Swan edition published 1993. Translated by Carol Christensen and Thomas Christensen, p.51
A Doll’s House, Henrik Ibsen – Cambridge University Press, First published: 1995, 13th printing: 2007. Translated by Kenneth McLeish, p.82, lines 532-33
A Doll’s House, p.79, line 449
Like Water for Chocolate, p.53
A Doll’s House, p.76, line 351
A Doll’s House, p.76, line 352
Like Water for Chocolate, p.55
Like Water for Chocolate, p.55
A Doll’s House, p.77, lines 382-83
A Doll’s House, p.78, line 424
A Doll’s House, p.81, lines 485-87
Like Water for Chocolate, p.163
Like Water for Chocolate, p.163
A Doll’s House, p.83, lines 566-67
A Doll’s House, p.87, lines 692-93