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A Doll’s House


35 A Doll s House Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906) Ibsen continued He once commented, Never have I seen my homeland so fully, so clearly, and at such close range, as ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: A Doll’s House

A Dolls House
  • Henrik Ibsen
  • (1828-1906)

  • A Dolls House premiered on December 21, 1879 in
    Copenhagen, Denmark.
  • Two weeks before the production, A Dolls House
    was printed in book form and sold 8,000 copies
    within two weeks.
  • A Dolls House was a hit in Scandinavian
    countries, but it would not be produced in other
    parts of Europe until two years after its
  • A Dolls House opened in London in 1889 after a
    ban against its production had been lifted. It
    opened in New York in 1894.
  • The play was adapted for film several times. The
    two most famous were both released in 1972. One
    directed by Joseph Losey, starring Jane Fonda,
    David Warner, and Trevor Howard, and the other
    directed by Patrick Garland, starring Claire
    Bloom, Anthony Hopkins, and Ralph Richardson.

  • When it was first staged, A Dolls House was
    controversial, even scandalous, as it questioned
    the conventional roles of the husband and wife in
    the sacred institution of marriage, arguing, it
    seemed, for the liberation of women.
  • Many saw Noras act of leaving her family as a
    selfish abandonment of her duties as wife and
  • Others argued that her embarkation on a journey
    of self-discovery would not only make her a more
    independent and stronger individual but also a
    better mother.
  • Ibsen said that he was arguing not for womens
    rights but for justice for all humanity.
  • For the plays German debut, Ibsen was forced to
    write an alternative ending, one in which Nora
    looks at her children before she is about to
    leave, collapses to the floor, and decides to
    remain. Ibsen later called the ending a
    barbaric outrage.

The Author Henrik Ibsen
  • Henrik Ibsen was born in Skien, Norway,
  • a small town, in 1828.
  • His childhood was not easy. The family became
  • impoverished when he was six and the family
  • failed. His father became depressed and
  • Eventually, his mother left his father.
  • As a teenager, he worked as an apprentice to an
    apothecary and considered studying medicine.
    Instead, he decided to devote himself to writing
    and working in the theater.
  • By his early twenties, Ibsen earned a living by
    writing and directing plays in various Norwegian
    cities. He became the director of the Norwegian
    Theatre in Bergen, Norways second largest city.

Ibsen continued
  • In 1858, he became the creative director at the
    National Theater in Christiania (later, renamed
    Oslo). He married a year later.
  • He once told a friend that to understand him one
    needed to understand the severe northern
    Norwegian landscape, in which the winters left
    people isolated and inclined to introspection and
    perhaps brooding. Many thought Ibsen cold and

Henrik Ibsens home in Norway
  • In 1864, Ibsen left Norway for virtually a
    twenty-seven year exile. However, all his plays
    would be set in Norway.

Ibsen continued
  • He once commented, Never have I seen my homeland
    so fully, so clearly, and at such close range, as
    I did in my absence when I was far away from it.
  • Ibsen returned permanently to Norway 1891, where
    he was celebrated as a national treasure,
    honored by theater-goers, scholars, and royalty.
    He had been the first Norwegian author to gain
    widespread acclaim outside his native country.
  • Ibsens health deteriorated after a series of
    strokes in 1900. He died in 1906, leaving a
    profound mark on the world theater.

After Shakespeare, without hesitation, I put
Ibsen first. ? Luigi Pirandello
(1867-1936), Italian dramatist and
novelist and the winner of the Nobel
Prize in Literature in 1934.
Ibsens as Dramatist
  • While his reputation might have waned over the
    years, Ibsens achievement is still widely
    acclaimed. His plays continue to be performed,
    read, celebrated, and discussed.
  • Ibsen was a prolific playwright who wrote
    histories (Emperor and Galilean, 1873, e.g.),
    verse dramas (Peer Gynt, 1867), experimental
    dramas (The Master Builder, 1892), philosophical
    dramas (When We Dead Awaken, 1899), and more.
  • However, he is best known for his plays of social
    commentary and psychological realism, like A
    Dolls House, Ghosts (1881), An Enemy of the
    People (1882), The Wild Duck (1894), and Hedda
    Gabler (1890), among others.
  • Through these and other plays, his influence on
    the development of the modern theater cannot be
    underestimated. He has been referred to as the
    Father of Modern Drama.

Title page in the manuscript of When We Dead
Title page in the manuscript of Ghosts
Title page in the manuscript of Hedda Gabler
Title page in the manuscript of The Master
Realism in the Theater
  • The movement toward Realism in the theater began
    in Europe in the second half of the nineteenth
    century through playwrights like Ibsen, August
    Strindberg, and George Bernard Shaw. A Dolls
    House played a significant role in the movement.
    Realism reached America later, finding its
    fullest expression in Eugene ONeill.
  • Realism began as a reaction to the excessively
    contrived, sentimental, and didactic melodramas
    that dominated drama in nineteenth-century Europe
    and America.
  • Realists take a mimetic approach to theater,
    striving to create the illusion of everyday life
    on stage, with the audiences eavesdropping on a
    slice of life.
  • Realists tend to depict the middle, lower, and
    lower-middle classes their work, family life,
    language, dress, and problems.

Realism in the Theater continued
  • Realists prefer contemporary settings.
  • In a direct response to melodrama, realists
    strive to create complex characters, to make
    internal conflict as dramatic as external
  • They prefer the open ending, which does not
    resolve all the plays questions and sometimes
    leaves in doubt the future of the protagonist.
    The resolution or denouement is generally short
    in realistic dramas and virtually non-existent
    sometimes. Do we know, for instance, what
    happens to Nora once she leaves her home?

Well-Made Play
  • While Ibsens use of realist techniques and his
    frank discussion of social issues were
    innovative, he drew his form for A Dolls House
    and other plays from the nineteenth-century
    well-made play.
  • The well-made play is a carefully crafted work,
    neat in structure and obviously contrived in its
    numerous plot twists and turns.
  • The emphasis is on plot not character
    development. The first act of a well-made play
    introduces the problem the second act
    complicates it, and the third resolves it.

Well-Made Play continued
  • The characters tend to be types, the overly
    concerned parent, the straying child, the corrupt
    businessman. Characters are uncomplicated and
    easily identified as hero and villain, good guy
    and bad guy.
  • The well-made play relies on standard devices
    exposition conveyed through gossipy servants,
    plot complications from lost or forged documents,
    and resolutions from the entrance of an absent
    family member or the recovery of letters and
  • The most famous author of well-made plays was
    Eugène Scribe (1791-1861) who wrote hundreds of
    plays, several of which Ibsen directed.

Ibsen as Individualist
  • While his politics and radicalism were
    indefinite, Ibsen was a staunch advocate for
    individual freedoms and rights. I think that
    all of us have nothing other or better to do than
    in spirit and sincerity to realize ourselves.
    That, to my mind, is the real liberalism.
  • He once said that the state is the curse of the

Ibsen and Writing Plays
  • Always I proceed from the individual the
    stage-setting, the dramatic ensemble, all that
    comes naturally and causes me no worry, once I
    feel sure of the individual in every aspect of
    his humanity. I must penetrate to the last
    wrinkle of his soul.
  • Ibsen made at least three major drafts of his
    plays. In the first, he said that he knew the
    characters like people on a railway journey in
    the second, he knew them as one knows someone
    after four weeks at the same spa, and in the
    third, as intimate friends.

Henrik Ibsen paa Verdens-Theatret 1898
Caricature by Alfred Schmidt in Hver 8. Dag.
Marriage in A Dolls House
  • A Dolls House raises many questions about the
    institution of marriage, questions which many
    nineteenth-century audiences found disturbing.
  • In the opening scene, Torvald treats his wife as
    a child, addressing her with nauseating pet
    names, forbidding her sweets, and educating her,
    so he thinks, with moralistic platitudes No
    debt, no borrowing. There can be no freedom or
    beauty about a home life that depends on
    borrowing and debt.
  • Soon afterwards, we see that Nora is not as
    submissive as Helmer thinks or as we first
    thought She lies to him about eating candy and
    she keeps secrets. What does this suggest about
  • What is your impression of the Helmer marriage
    after Act One?
  • Does your impression change as the play proceeds?
    Why or why not?
  • The play suggests that marriage should be
    conceived as a partnership of equals.

Nora Helmer
  • At first, Nora appears to be a conventional,
    nineteenth-century middle-class housewife. She
    cares for her children and buys them gender
    conventional Christmas presents, supervises the
    running of the home, and accepts her husbands
    authority. Willingly subservient to her husband,
    she accepts his seemingly demeaning pet names for
  • Soon, however, we realize that Nora holds
    secrets, that she lies to her husband, and that
    she is capable of manipulating him. Nora commits
    minor acts of subversion that foreshadow her much
    larger rebellion at the end of the play.
  • In Act One, we discover that Nora is capable of
    great courage, sacrifice, responsibility, and
    decisiveness. She saved her husbands life
    through forgery, using the money for a necessary
    trip to the warmer climates of Italy. She has
    worked diligently to repay the loan.
  • Through the forgery, Ibsen raises a question with
    social implication Why couldnt Nora or a woman
    in her position secure a legal loan?
  • Similarly, why does Nora not have a key to the
    familys mailbox?

Nora continued
  • After Torvalds response to her forgery, Nora
    transforms. No longer a flighty, submissive
    housewife or a panicky suicidal criminal, she
    becomes coldly rational, perceptive, defiant,
    and, perhaps most importantly, autonomous.
  • Shaped by first her father and then her husband,
    Nora has developed according to their image and
    precepts, which follow social convention. Nora
    has been more of a doll or a puppet than an
  • Nora realizes that she must venture on a journey
    of self-discovery. To be a good mother, she must
    first establish her own identity and
  • Noras decision to leave represents a triumph of
    the individual over social convention and a
    personal past.
  • Do you consider Noras action at the end to be
    brave? Necessary? Selfish? Cruel?

Does Nora return to her family?
  • Ibsen was asked several times. Once, he said,
    Certainly, she does.
  • But, on another occasion, he responded, How do I
    know? It is possible that she returns to her
    husband and children, but also possible that she
    becomes an artiste in a traveling circus.
  • The play, of course, keeps the ending open. We
    cannot say with any certainty what the future
    holds for Nora or her family.

Torvald Helmer
  • Torvald is not an attractive character. He is
    domineering, egocentric, condescending, arrogant,
    and thrifty. He may be successful at work, but
    he is also moralistic, explosive, and
  • Torvald does not change by the end of the play,
    but he does seem capable of changing in the near
    future. He understands that Nora has just left
    him, a possibility he could not have imagined
    until it occurred.
  • Noras leaving has jolted Torvald and could lead
    to his transformation. Significantly, he repeats
    her phrase (the most wonderful thing of all)
    for his closing words, suggesting that he has not
    ignored what she has said and that he will
    consider her words seriously. This holds out the
    possibility of change.

Secondary Characters
  • Most of the secondary characters are functional.
    Krogstad, for instance, is the agent of the
    necessary conflict between Nora and Torvald. He
    has committed the same crime as Nora and has
    lived the kind of humiliation exposure will bring
    her. He becomes transformed by love, perhaps
    suggesting a possibility for Torvalds and Noras
    transformations if their love for one another is
  • Mrs. Lindes functions are also clear
  • - She brings out exposition concerning Noras
    efforts to save her husbands life.
  • - As an independent woman who has struggled to
    survive, she serves as a foil and model for Nora.
  • - She is responsible for the climax of the play
    and the surfacing of the truth as she stops
    Krogstad from retrieving his letter.
  • - She points out the theme concerning the need
    for honesty and openness in marriage they
    must have a complete understanding between them,
    which is impossible with all this concealment and
    falsehood going on.

  • The two major themes of A Dolls House might be
    stated as,
  • 1. The restraints imposed on individual
    development and self-fulfillment by societys
  • 2. The effects on individual development of our
    pasts (including the influence of parents,
    upbringing, and genetic inheritance).

The Influence of the Past on the Present
  • Ibsen works out different facets of this theme
    through his characters. Dr. Rank, for instance,
    has his life cut short as he pays for the sins of
    his father. Rank inherited venereal disease from
    his father yes, an impossibility, but in
    Ibsens time many thought the disease could be
  • Noras father encouraged her to remain a little
    person, passing her from his home to her
    husbands. More importantly perhaps, she has
    inherited her fathers want of principle, as
    Torvald calls it No religion, no morality, no
    sense of duty. Of course, her and her fathers
    want of principle might not be so corrupt. We
    do not know her fathers motivation, but Noras
    forgery saved Torvalds life.
  • The poor health of Mrs. Lindes mother forced the
    daughter into an undesirable marriage that
    redirected her life. In addition, because of
    years spent caring for her mother, Mrs. Linde has
    developed a desperate need to be needed, a need
    to take care of others.

The Past continued
  • Krogstad is aware of how his reputation affects
    his children My sons are growing up for their
    sake I must try and win back as much respect as I
    can in this town. Torvald takes an extreme view
    of Krogstads effect on his children, believing
    his moral breakdown is infectious Each breath
    the children take in such a house is full of
    germs of evil.
  • While we do not hear about his parents or his
    upbringing, Torvald makes some strong statements
    about the moral influence of parents on children
    Almost everyone who has gone to the bad early
    in life has had a deceitful mother. When he
    learns of Noras forgery, Torvald works out a
    plan for his wife to live in the house, but she
    must not see the children I dare not trust them
    to you.
  • Since Torvald is hardly an admirable character,
    how should we interpret his comments? Do you
    think Ibsen intends for us to consider them as

  • Ibsen uses several symbols in A Dolls House to
    reveal character, to foreshadow events, and to
    create drama and suspense
  • Christmas tree the tree sets the time of year, a
    time of happiness and birth, a birth of a new
    Nora occurs at the end of the play. Like the
    tree, Nora is little more than a decoration in
    her own home.
  • Macaroons signifies a small rebellion that
    foreshadows Noras larger rebellion at plays
    end. Eating the macaroons and lying about them
    give Nora a sense of power over Torvald the
    macaroons are a small representation of her
    larger secret. Note the following lines from
    Nora Its perfectly glorious to think that we
    have that Torvald has so much power over so
    many people. Dr. Rank, what do you say to a
  • Mending/knitting Mrs. Linde does the mending of
    Noras costume, but more significantly she mends
    Noras life by allowing the truth about the loan
    to surface. She also mends Krogstads life when
    she declares her love for him.

Symbols continued
  • Black Crosses Rank uses two crosses to announce
    his death. One, however, symbolizes the death of
    an old Nora. The cross might also tie in with
    the theme of human liberation, as individuals all
    bear cultural, societal, and parental influences
    or crosses that sometimes need to be lifted
    before liberation into individuality.
  • Tarantella a frantic dance, which Nora dances
    as if her life depended on it. It is a
    parting gift for her husband, for whom she plans
    on committing suicide, rather than let him assume
    the blame for her criminal act. With its
    ferocious energy, Noras tarantella reflects her
    agitated state of mind.
  • Title The title suggests that all the
    characters are puppets playing conventional roles
    with little free will. They are more like dolls
    or puppets than individuals.

For Further Consideration
  • Who is the villain in the play? (Torvald is too
    simple a response.) Explain.
  • Does Nora make the right decision to leave her
    family? Why or why not?
  • Discuss the significance of the title. How would
    you, as a scenic designer, stage the play to take
    maximum advantage of the symbolism implied by the
  • Some critics have contended that the play is
    outdated. That the womens liberation movement
    of the twentieth century has provided more
    options for women. Do you agree that the play is
    outdated? Why or why not?
  • Interpret the events in the play from the point
    of view of one of the Helmer children who is now
    an adult looking back at this significant time in
    his/her childhood.
  • Write a review of one of the film adaptations of
    A Doll House. Consider the actress playing Nora.
    Did she present a different Nora than you
    expected? Consider other character portrayals
    and issues. For instance, how effective were the
    liberties that the film takes with Ibsens text?
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