A woman becomes empowered

A Doll's House - Henrik Ibsen

I had given this play a fairly ordinary review when I first commented on it, simply because when I studied it at high school I was put off by the fact that Nora simply up and left, and in a way it felt like she had undergone an inexplicable and sudden change. However, after reading [book:Peer Gynt] I decided that I should give A Doll's House another try. So, when I visited the bookstalls at Federation Square I kept an eye out for a collection of plays containing this particular one – obviously since I am now writing a second review on this play indicates that I was successful in my quest.

The one thing that I paid particular attention to as I read this play was the events leading up to Nora's decision to leave Tolmer and in a way it sort of starts to make sense. Okay, I am still not convinced that Nora made the right decision, however I can appreciate a little more of what Ibsen was getting at when he wrote this play, and we also must remember that the play was somewhat controversial at the time, namely because women simply did not up and leave their husbands for any reason. In a way, what the play is doing is showing how Nora, by leaving her husband, has become empowered because by doing so she says to Tolmer that she is capable of making her own decisions, living her own life, and making her own mistakes – she does not need Tolmer to make those decisions for her.

This, I believe, is the key to the play because back then it was believed that women were not able to make their own decisions. Women would grow up under the guardianship of their fathers until such a time as they married at which point the guardianship would pass over to the husband. Tolmer clearly believes that this is the case, especially in the way that he speaks to Nora and treats her as if she were a child that is in need of protection. He holds all of the money and makes all of the decisions – Nora is simply expected to follow along and not to ask any questions. The catch is that there was a point in their marriage when Tolmer developed a serious illness and the doctors had said that if he did not leave Norway for a time then he would likely die (it sounds as if it may have been pneumonia). However, they did not have any money. While Tolmer is a barrister he was very particular about the cases he would accept (though barristers, at least in the common law jurisdictions, aren't allowed to turn down cases due to 'moral scruples'). Obviously, having such principles meant that he wasn't any good at being a barrister, which meant that they did not have all that much money. So, to solve that problem, Nora borrows some money, forges her father's signature, and then tells Tolmer that it was a gift from her father.

During the play all of this comes to a head because the person, Krogstad, who leant the money to Nora is also an employee at a bank of which Tolmer becomes the manager. Now, Krogstad doesn't have a very good reputation (and with a name like Krogstad, I am not surprised – sorry to any Krogstad's that may be reading this) so Tolmer sacks him. Krogstad, to whom Nora is indebted, then approaches Nora and blackmails her by telling her that unless Tolmer reinstates her then he will spill the beans about the loan, and the forged signature – of which he knew about all along. So, things come to a head, Tolmer discovers the truth, flies off the handle, and basically disowns Nora, though does not go as far as kicking her out of the house because that would make a bad situation much worse. However, Krogstad repents of his actions and destroys the letter, but the damage has already been done.

It is not Tolmer that is left with a bitter taste in his mouth – he is glad that Krogstad has let it go because all that he was worried about was his reputation. No, in fact it is Nora who is left really, really upset because this little episode has shown her the type of character Tolmer really is, and she comes to the conclusion that she really wants nothing to do with him anymore, which is why she leaves. In a way it is a complete rebuke against Tolmer because it is clear that Tolmer did not care that Nora saved his life, nor did he care that Nora could go to gaol – all he cared about was his reputation and that through Nora's actions his reputation was going to be ruined.

In a way, what is happening is that Nora is not being treated as a human, but rather as a child – this is what she resents, and this is why she walks out. She wants a real marriage where she is an equal, an adult, and a human, not some child that needs to be cared for and looked after by a responsible male. In fact, Tolmer's actions when he learns about the debt clearly demonstrates how he really cares very little about Nora. While I still do not approve of Nora walking out on Tolmer, I have a much better understanding of why she did, and how Ibsen is using this play as a rebuke against the chauvinistic attitudes of his conservative society.

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/437879001