Feminism and the Roles of Women: A Comparative View


1959 Live Telecast
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Female Characters:
Nora Helmer- mother, housewife, protagonist
Anne Marie- Nora's childhood nurse, now the Helmer children's nurse
Mrs. Christine Linde- Nora's old friend
Emmy Helmer- Nora's daughter
Helen- Helmer housemaid

Nora Helmer, our main character, strives to achieve the perfect ideal that is set before her by the contexts of her society and her husband, Torvald. She is a direct contrast with the other female characters presented in Ibsen's "A Dollhouse". Nora herself is trapped within the "dollhouse" that is her physical home. Torvald, her husband, has built a wonderful little life for his wonderful doll wife, and their wonderful dolly children. Nora's eventual transformation comes later as she discovers her role in the dollhouse society forced upon her and the desperate need to get out, at any cost.

Nora vs. Anne Marie

While Nora is the main character and our protagonist, there are other female characters in the play (listed above). Anne Marie, the Helmers' nurse, embodies everything that Nora is not. She is a direct contrast to Nora Helmer. Anne Marie was Nora's childhood nurse and eventually became her Emmy, Ivar, and Bob's nurse later in Nora's life. In order to survive in the society in which she lives, Anne Marie very willingly gives up her only daughter for adoption simply saying, "I was obliged to, if I wanted to be little Nora's nurse" (Roberts 1209). Anne Marie's "tragedy" as Nora calls it, is simply life as usual to the old nurse. She accepts the role society has placed upon her within contest and is content with two letters from her daughter in her lifetime.

This event is where one might say that Nora and Anne Marie are similar, as well as contrasting. While Anne Marie accepts her position, so does Nora to an extent. When Torvald explains to dear Nora that having a deceitful mother poisons the children, she accepts this as truth, eventually deciding to leave her precious dollies. Just as Anne Marie complacently accepts her position in society, Nora allows Torvald to unknowingly choose her place in life, thus showing a side of Nora that the reader may not have gotten earlier. However, Nora's decision to leave Torvald and the the children is not a blind acceptance of what society attempts to force upon her. Nora Helmer makes a real transformation as will be discussed later in this section.

Nora vs. Mrs. Christine Linde

Mrs. Linde enters the plot very early. She is essentially an old childhood friend of Nora's who has come into town to look for work. Mrs. Linde's husband passed away leaving her a widow and eventually she is jobless. Mrs. Linde become somewhat of a "female helpmate" since she eventually helps Nora cover the secret money she owes Krogstad. In the early conversations between Mrs. Linde and Nora, Mrs. Linde alludes to the dollhouse theme by demeaning Nora's simple way of life. Mrs. Linde explains, "How kind you are Nora...for you know so little of the burdens and troubles of life...My dear! Small household cares and that sort of thing!--You are a child, Nora" (Roberts 1197). When Nora hears this she is no less than outraged. She cannot believe that her deal old friend, Christine, is just like everyone else; no one takes Nora seriously, and no one sees her as the individual she claims to be.

Despite this upset, Mrs. Linde still helps Nora in numerous ways. Nora confides in her about the secret loan from Krogstad and later about his plans to ruin her life by exposing her lies to Torvald. Eventually, Mrs. Linde tells Krogstad to let things be and let Nora and Torvald settle things on their own thus removing her title of "helpmate". It can be argued though that this decision by Mrs. Linde is indeed helping Nora most of all, because it is after this that Nora comes to the realization that she lives in a dollhouse created by Torvald, and Papa in the past. She has been supressed and simple her entire life and has allowed every man to define who she is. This realization and desire to leave the situation is what makes this a feminist play. Ibsen, knowingly or unknowingly, gave women, fictional and true, a voice.

But how will little Emmy grow up without a mother?

Emmy is the only daughter of Nora and Torvald Helmer. While she, and the other children, are not prominent characters in the play itself, they are seen as symbols of what Nora's life is and what she is defined by. In the beginning, she plays with the children, buys them gifts and showers them with affection, thus symbolizing that in this stage of Nora's life, she is defined by her children. Nora, as well as the majority of the women in her time period, were who their family was. Their lives were defined by the home they kept (which was actually most often kept up by housemaids and servants, anyway), the children they bore and raised (which were 85% raised by nursemaids), and the husbands they had managed to catch.

At the beginning of Act Two when Anne Marie is talking about leaving her daughter, Nora cannot understand how a mother could do such a thing. Anne Marie then says one line that resignates throughout the entire play and becomes a montra for Nora later when she is deciding to leave the children. This sentence helps justify Nora's departure.

Nora: Do they ask much for me?
Anne: You see, they are so accustomed to have their mamma with them.
Nora: Yes, but, nurse, I shall not be able to be so much with them now as I was before.
Anne: Oh well, young children easily get accustomed to anything.
Nora: Do you think so? Do you think they would forget their mother if she went away altogether?


It is that last line of Anne Marie's that really hits home with Nora later in the play. It does appear so, however, that Nora begins contemplating the concept in her last line.


Nora v. Torvald Helmer

Nora's unique relationship with her husband appears at first to quite a loving one. Indeed she loves Torvald, but it is really only because that's what she's supposed to do. Women are to love their husbands. Period. Torvald does not allow Nora to prosper as her own self, as was the custom of the times.

Torvald's use of what resembles baby talk when talking to his wife suppresses Nora's intense intellectual desire; she is smothered under Torvald's defiance of respect. Torvald says in the very first scene, "Is that my little lark twittering out there?". This phrase sets up the character and his relationship with his wife. While some suggest it is the structure of the home itself that plays into the doll house effect, most critics will argue that Torvald's demeaning nature taken with Nora is the reason she leaves.

Nora's Final Escape: Self Accountability or Serious Selfishness

A long chain of events sets off the resistance shown by Nora. Once she begins thinking she can escape to a create a better life for herself, there is no changing her mind. In the last few scenes, the reader/audience should have noticed an intense transformation occurring in Nora. She no longer identifies herself as Torvald's little lark, or his baby squirrel.

Nora feels she can better herself and leaving her husband and children are the only way to do it. She has been freed through self actualization, and escaping the dollhouse becomes her greatest triumph. I

n this sense, Nora is indeed the epitome of the modern woman. In creating Nora's role (or as the quote on the homepage suggests, creating her being and destiny) Ibsen was way ahead of the times. This play gave women a voice, a chance to stand up for themselves no matter the cost and most modern women would agree. While it is a common concept for today's women and girls to have the same opportunities, it was not at all present in Ibsen's culture. This is why Nora is the mother of the modern world.