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A Doll House, NORA comparison

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It is fascinating how a writer’s personal beliefs, upbringing, and era can dramatically change a characters persona. One such character is Nora Helmer from a play called “A Doll’s House”. “A Doll’s house” was originally written in 1879 by Henrik Ibsen. Henrik Ibsen was born in 1828 in Skien, Norway. Ibsen portrays Nora as a person with very low self esteem, untrustworthy, and self absorbed. During Ibsen’s era women where subservient and listen to what they are told by the dominant man in their life. Ibsen’s own views about women come through in this character. Even though Ibsen attempts to address women’s rights, he fails women by portraying Nora as a selfish woman who ran out on her family to fulfill her own needs.

The play “A Doll’s House” was written ahead of its time, addressing issue related to women’s rights. Although Ibsen does attempt to tackle women’s rights as a matter of importance, he fails to do so. By portraying Nora as an unintelligent, selfish person, Ibsen directly contradicts his own belief that women have rights. Throughout the 1800 and early 1900 hundreds women rights where completely ignored. “A Doll’s House” was written during the movement of Naturalism, which commonly reflected society. Ibsen acknowledges the fact that in the 19th century the role of a woman was to stay at home, raise the children and attend to her husband, again showing his own ideals and nature. Nora Helmer in “A Doll House” is portrayed as a victim, instead of a strong independent woman. Nora is oppressed by a variety of totalitarian social conventions. Ibsen depicts the role of women as subordinate in order to emphasize their role in society for that era. Nora is oppressed by the manipulation from Torvald, and Krogstad.

Nora and Torvald’s relationship on the outside does appear to be a happy one, but Nora is treated like a child in this relationship without her realizing it. As the play progresses she begins to realize and see how phony her marriage really is. Torvald sees Nora’s only role as being the subservient in the relationship. Taking care of the children and being a loving wife. He refers to Nora as “my little squirrel”, “my little lark”, or “spendthrift”. To him, she is only a possession, a show piece. Torvald refers to Nora by pet-names and speaks down to her as if she was a child. He thinks she is not intelligent, and can not think on her own. Whenever she begins to voice an opinion Torvald quickly drops the pet-names and insults her intelligence as a women through comments like; “worries that you couldn’t possibly help me with,” and “Nora, Nora, just like a woman”. Torvald is a typical husband in his era and social class. He denied Nora the right to think and act the way she wished. He required her to act like an imbecile and insisted upon the rightness of his views in all matters. At no time did Nora make an attempt to correct Torvald behavior and thinking, instead choosing to run away and obey.

Nora is a self serving character in this play. Not only does Nora not stand up for her beliefs, but lies to cover up her misdeeds. Nora afraid of losing her financial security, her guardian, and family lies to save her husbands life in order to benefit herself. When she realizes that the marriage is not for her, she again selfishly packs her things and leaves. She goes through many changes and develops more than any other character. Nora, at the beginning and throughout most of the play is an “inauthentic character.” An inauthentic identity is when a person believes their personality is identical to their behavior. However subconsciously they know it is not true. Nora was inauthentic because her situation was all she was ever exposed to. She is a grown woman that was pampered all her life by men.

Nora was spoon-fed all of her life by her father and then past off to her husband. She acted as a servant and believed she was a servant and gradually realizing her behavior was not who she was. She believes in Torvald unquestionably, and has always believed that he was her god or idol. Nora allowed Torvald to make all decisions on house matters. She acts like the perfect doll wife who revels in the luxuries that she can afford, because she is married to a wealthy husband. Nora was also very flirtatious, and constantly engaged in childlike acts of disobedience; Such as little lies about things she bought. Nora goes through life with the illusion that everything is perfect, never standing up for her self. When a woman of that time loves as Nora believes she does, nothing else matters. She will sacrifice herself for the family.

Nora believes her purpose in life is to be happy for her husband and the children. Nora did believe that she loved Torvald and was happy. She had a passionate and devoted heart that was willing to do almost anything for her husband. At first she did not understand that these feelings were not reciprocated. Torvald does not want a wife who will challenge him with her own thoughts and actions. She finally realizes her feelings where untrue. The final confrontation between the couple involves more oppression by Torvald calling her a “featherbrained woman” and “blind, incompetent child”, but by this time Nora has realized the situation he wishes to maintain, and is convinced her own happiness is more important. The fury Nora saw in Torvald after opening the letter that exposed her lie showed Nora a strange man. Someone she had not been wife to, someone she did not love. Their marriage is fake and mutually beneficial because of their social class. She realizes they are not really in love. Nora states, “Yes. I am beginning to understand everything now.” It is now that she can begin to comprehend her forgery was wrong, not because it was illegal, but because it was for an unworthy cause.

This is when the readers see Nora embark into her transformation to her authentic character. Nora decides the only way to fix the situation is to leave Torvald and her children and find her self. Slowly, Nora’s character is forced to discontinue her inauthentic role of a doll wife and seek out her individuality, her new authentic identity. She comes to realize her whole life has been a lie and chooses to run away like a coward. The illusion of the old Nora continues well after she becomes a new person. She realizes that responsibilities to her self are more important. Nora not only slams the door on Torvald, but on her children as well. Nora did not think of how the children would feel, she did not think of them at all, instead choosing to sneak away like a thief.

Nora Helmer is a character struggling to discover her authentic identity, instead of her inauthentic identity influenced by the men in her life. Throughout the play Torvald was condescending towards Nora and forced her to act and look in a way that pleased him. Nora allowed Torvald to play dress up with her and no matter what the situation had to constantly remain Torvald’s quiet, happy, little doll. Nora ends her doll life by leaving her doll house to learn and explore on her own.

In 1970 Clare Boothe Luce retitled the play “A Doll’s House” and named it “Slam the Door Softly”. Clare Boothe Luce was born almost a century later in 1903. She was a successful magazine editor and worked in politics for two years as a congresswoman. She then rewrote the play to her own thinking as a feminist crusader. The theme and plot remained the same, but the characters had a completely different persona. Mrs. Luce being an active crusader for the feminist cause, her beliefs, and upbringing gave the character Nora an authentic identity from the start.

In ‘Slam the door softly” Nora was not a timid, sly character with low self esteem, but a strong decisive woman. Nora had already made the decision to leave Thaw; there was no need to push her. No intimidation could sway her decision and she had strong answers for every question raised by Thaw. Nora went as far as coming up with a bill for all the chores done around the home, and presented the final amount to Thaw. Nora tried to resolve the differences with Thaw on many occasions, but all her attempts fell on deaf ears. Nora Continuously attempted to find her own self worth by learning, attempting to work, etc, only to be dismissed by Thaw. Only when she could no longer make Thaw understand she made the decision to leave. Nora also planned and thought about the well being of her children. She did not just run away and leave her husband with the kids, but made preparations to have Thaw’s mother come down and stay with him.

Nora would have taken the children with her, but did not want to disturb their school and friends. Nora also was intelligent enough to recognize if she did remain, her husband would lose respect for her. She uses Thaw’s father as an example, stating “You will become like your father the typical hen packed husband. Thinking of his wife as the ball and chain, and taken on a mistress”. She recognizes being the submissive wife would ruin their relationship in the long run. Nora truly believes that in order to save their marriage, if it can be saved, she needs to find her self, have self confidence, and be able to mentally stimulate each other. In the last sentence Nora states “I do love you. And I also need a man. So I’m not slamming the door. I’m closing it very softly”.

This shows Nora’s soft side as well, showing she is not a right wing feminist, but a person with needs. She leaves hope for them. Making Thaw understand she needs to be a person, she needs to have respect for her self, and only then she could share herself with him.

Being a woman and growing up in a different era enabled Mrs. Luce to give Nora a lot more power and strength. When “Slam the door softly” was rewritten, our society was going through a large feminist movement. Women in the 1970’s where more liberated, they had jobs, they where exploring their sexual freedoms, and had a take charge attitude. Although Ibsen attempts are the start of a movement, not till Mrs. Luce do we see true women’s liberation. I believe Mrs. Luce’s Nora gave women a true role model and inspiration.

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