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Henrik Ibsen – A Doll’s House

I so thoroughly enjoyed our play reading meeting this month that I went home and read it again, keeping in mind that Nora’s words are a man’s words spoken through a female character. I am so moved that this was written by a man. What love and trust and reverence for the feminine!

So when Nora blames the father and husband, saying „It is your fault that I have made nothing of my life, “ which is true and not true, it’s Ibsen saying this. That’s wonderful! This play seems to me to be an example of fiction holding – elegantly, kindly – the paradoxical nature of life, of relationship. Nora‘s self-deception and her deception of others… are part of the web of deception, of illusion, that we all weave and that we are all caught in. Nora is forced into a situation in which she cannot go on with business as usual, which is the business of maintaining appearances (for the sake of relationship, of safety, comfort, status, control).

She accepts the challenge that life presents – in an act of remarkable decisiveness, she makes a courageous and radical choice for truth. She takes the „red pill“, making the choice to take the initiative, a leap into the unknown. This is initiation, a crossing of a threshold, never to return! And a tremendous shock for Torvald, whose illusion of Nora (helpless, fragile, child-like, malleable and charming) has to break down too. How will Torvald respond to the shock?

Torvald berates Nora

Nora has accessed the „masculine“ in herself. In her project of secretly saving her husband, she has tasted the pleasure of making her own money, saying “Many a time I was desperately tired; but all the same it was a tremendous pleasure to sit there working and earning money. It was like being a man.”

Her friend, Kristine Linde, has also experienced the pleasure of earning her living, and it is she who doesn’t cooperate with Nora’s deception, telling her that “This unhappy secret must be disclosed; they must have a complete understanding between them, which is impossible with all this concealment and falsehood going on.” Nora is “disillusioned” and this is a good thing. The spell must be broken.

Torvald also acknowledges this when Nora tells him that they have only been playing. He responds, “There is some truth in what you say – exaggerated and strained as your view of it is.” He proposes to resolve this situation by taking charge in a new way: “Playtime is over, and lesson time shall begin“, but this is rejected by Nora who recognizes that Torvald is “… not the man to educate me into being a proper wife”.

I see, reading this play, that, at that time in Norway of the late 18th century, a woman could leave her husband, even if it was difficult. If she had a place to go, she could survive and she could work. Torvald does not seem likely to pursue killing her, regardless of the high importance he places on honor. Killing, at the time and place of the play, must have lost its favor as a viable option for restoring honor among the middle class. And still, honor is the highest value, even above love – “No man would sacrifice his honor for the one he loves”, says Torvald. Yet the other male characters (Krogstad and Dr. Rank) seem prepared to do exactly that.

Nora responds that sacrificing honor is “a thing hundreds of thousands of women have done“… as the feminine, traditionally, puts love over honor… So, in this play, we see Krogstad and Dr. Rank accessing the „feminine“ in themselves, while Nora and Christina access the inner „masculine.“ Isn’t this the process of Individuation?

Nora discovers that “I have other duties just as sacred (as to my husband and children)”. She doesn’t yet know what exactly these are, but she senses it. “I believe that before all else I am a reasonable human being, just as you are – or, at all events, that I must try and become one.“

She no longer knows „what religion is“… so, in a sense, she’s lost… the moment of clarity, of breakthrough, is also a moment of liminal space – she has experienced a break in the web of illusion – but having been in the illusion for a long time, this new stage in life will be one of (re)discovery of what is true and what is real, of discovery of the real and true Nora.

Torvald‘s illusion is also shattering. After the initial attempt to take charge of Nora, he finds himself in a „weak“ position, pleading “But can’t we live like brother and sister?… But some day, Nora, some day?… Let me help you if you are in want… Can I be anything more than a stranger to you?”

But Nora has let go of the illusion… “Both you and I would have to be so changed that – Oh, Torvald, I don’t believe any longer in wonderful things happening.” And then, the HAPPY END when he says, “But I will believe in it. Tell me! So changed that…?” And she says, “That our life together would be a real wedlock. Goodbye.”

The story has potential! Nora and Torvald‘s fairy tale has closed, and a new story can now open, a real tale of real wedlock. Nora and Torvald for real in Love’s House.

3 thoughts on “Henrik Ibsen – A Doll’s House”

  1. Thank you so much for your contribution, Raquel. You have raised so many important ideas that are well worth exploring further.

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