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English: Analysis of Drama



IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER:

AN ANALYSIS OF NORA, THE MEN IN HER LIFE,

AND HER NAVIGATATION TO INDEPENDENCE

 

The play, A Doll House, written by Henrik Ibsen in 1879, is considered a 

landmark in drama for its portrayal of realistic people, places, and situations. Ibsen 

confines his story to the middle class. He writes of a society that is limited not only by its means of livelihood but also its outlook. Ibsen portrays his characters  

as preoccupied with work and money, showing a reduction of values in and that lack of quality persons with morals. Ibsen takes this realistic story and invests it with 

universal significance. Wrapped up in the technique of this well constructed  play, Ibsen is masterful in his presentation of not only realism, but he holds a mirror up 

to the society of his day by using the male figures as catalysts for Nora's ultimate 

knowledge of self-actualization. He accomplishes this with such precision

that the audience might not be aware all the subtleties that are creating their

theatrical experience.  

In A Doll House, Nora forges the name of her father and risks damaging her 

husband's good name.  Henrik Ibsen offers remarkable insight into the nineteenth 

century preoccupation with the family and the role of the father, and what role is projected upon those who are subjugated to him. This play takes up the subject of 

strong women and weak men within the plot. A prominent theme within this drama 

is the deterioration of the male, who is aware of his role as a "father figure". This decomposition is observed by the female protagonist (Nora). It is this descent that the role of the father figure is shaped, while creating the catalyst for the catharsis

or change in Nora.   When the female protagonist challenges patriarchal authority, she does so 

by undermining in one form or another both the dominant male and his family name. The following analysis focuses on Nora's ultimate realization that she must be an 

emancipated person to be her true self. Her navigation through the elements of 

crises are focused through the father-figures in her life. The journey towards her 

self-actualization and rising freedom can be found within her relationships with 

the men in her life. This ultimately identifies the relevant thematic elements 

that are pivotal for Nora"s character development from a vapid child posing as what ever will get her through the day into a inquisitive woman. Nora develops her potential as a true mature person with the experience and knowledge that she has a longer journey ahead of her.

A Doll House makes extensive use of the father's name, and the 

father figure. Ibsen subtly unravels the family as a male dominated society almost 

fatally preoccupied with its own masculine image while trapping those who would believe in the myth. A Doll House utilizes the father as a complex metaphor 

for a larger social problem which constrains both men and women. Nora's persona 

and her developing maturity are completely controlled and motivated by, 

her father"s name, Torvald, and Dr. Rank: the father-figures in her life. 

   The opening scenes of A Doll House focus on Torvald and Nora Helmer 

preparing for Christmas with the children. The family's economic problems establish

Nora"s pending conflict, along with Torvald's position of authority. This comes 

both from his economic dominance and from his (and Nora's) belief in his 

superiority. He rules Nora and his children like a parody of a God. He creates and

subjugates through the animal names, "lark," and "squirrel," when he addresses Nora. For example:

Is that my little lark twittering out there? / Is that my squirrel rummaging around? / ...the little lark"s wings mustn't droop.

(I.154-55)

By addressing Nora in such a derogatory manner Torvald is lessening her humanity. Nora, in turn, as part of her daily persona mirrors his impression of her by self fulfilling prophecy. She acts like the animal he has assigned her. She speaks quickly and perky like a lark or is running around hiding things like a squirrel preparing for winter.

Through the visit of friend Mrs. Linde, we discover that Nora had to save a 

very sick Torvald by borrowing money and by working two exclusively masculine 

activities usually forbidden to women. Assumption of these tasks automatically 

undermine Torvald's authority. The plot unfolds into two parallel stories, 

both of them hinging on strong or "masculine" women and weak, "feminine," 



men. (Paradoxically, the only potentially strong male is Dr. Rank, family friend 

and secret admirer of Nora, who is dying.)

  The flaw within this patriarchal framework becomes apparent when Nora 

discovers that she has no legitimate name of her own. She can use neither 

her married name nor her maiden name to borrow money. She finds that she cannot appropriate her father's name. In other words, as a married woman she 

has neither authority nor identity. While Torvald's authority rests on his assumption 

of his natural and presumably divinely bestowed superiority. Once Nora realizes the shallowness of Torvald's position, she rejects him as patriarch and herself as the narrowly defined wife. 

When she leaves, Nora understands that she has lived her life as only an

unquestioning follower, or as a doll in a doll house. Never being able to choose or express a hope, desire, thought, or wishes, without consideration of the dominant authority in her life. That authority is, first, the father who has literally 

died, and, second, the husband who has proved to be so weak that he has died 

for her as an authority figure. Nora, in other words, finds herself embodying a

 series of dead or weak men. When she closes the door behind her, she leaves a house filled with dying or dead patriarchal figures. A house in which the "father" as 

an image of strength and of salvation has already died. But it is only through

the experiences with these men that Nora"s comes to question her life.

 Within Nora's interactions with the men in her life, the signature of dead 

father comes at the beginning of the play. In this sense, Ibsen"s writing becomes 

even more impressive as Nora's actions bring forth the hidden powers 

of fathers and their names. Nora realizes that the name of her father may be all that 

remains of him. She also arrives at a basic realization about the Law. An institution which she turns to for salvation. Her father"s name represents something 

from which she always has been and always will be separated. It is through

Torvald and Krogstad (the man she takes the loan from) that Nora realizes the nature of her relationship with her father and what kind of man he was. By forging her father's name, Nora tried to appropriate the name of 

the father. But as a married woman she cannot legally assume her father's name, 

Since a woman changes her name when she marries. Ironically, her father's name has little real or symbolic authority. According to Torvald, Nora's father 

lacked those paternal qualities of uprightness, morality, and strength that 





characterize a father as God. As shown when Torvald says to Nora:

All your father's flimsy values have come out in you. No religion, no morals, no sense of duty.....(III.205)

 In other words, the name Nora wrote signified little or nothing more than itself. 

Even in her father"s name and its near meaninglessness,  and with her taking it in vain, she begins the events that threaten her family with ruin. Nora"s subjective view of the circumstances force her to use the name of her father to sign 

a loan to save her sick husband her forgery lacks validity. She cannot 

invoke the symbolic law/father. Nora attempts to connect the father's 

name with signature. Had she truly gotten her father's signature, the document 

would have been legal, because the father's name serves as guarantor. But since the signature is false, and it is written by a woman, it signifies nothing but the 

absence of the father. By using her father"s name  to sign a legal document (a violation of the fifth commandment), Nora has committed a kind of sacrilege. Her 

subterfuge makes her guilty of having challenged the father. And in that act she has questioned the law, her husband, and her position within her family and society as a whole. This leads to her catharsis by forcing her to look at herself in a manner that she had never planned or envisioned.

Ibsen sustains the image of Nora's exclusion from the weakening patriarchy 

Throughout the play and a series of letters and cards reinforces the real and symbolic deaths of the father-figure. Nora's forged signature does in fact allow 

her to borrow money and save her sick husband. Although she publicly tries to build up Torvald's image as a banker, a husband, and a man, she comes to a point where she cannot can not reinstate in him the mythological authority that he has always lacked and she (at one time) never questioned. 

The Name-of-the-Father is all there is.  Dr. Rank, a family friend, the only 

man with any strength of character has a fatal illness  and announces his withdrawal from life by leaving a card marked with an X. This note symbolizing Rank's Good -bye has no meaning, but to Nora and to Rank it means death. In contrast to Torvald, the Doctor rejects the trappings of authority, and he becomes Nora's best friend. Yet by expressing his love for her, he is making a claim on her. And in this action he prevents Nora from asking for his help. As the only father figure in the play that is 

not a father, Rank simply shrinks when it comes to the possibility of becoming savior to Nora.  As doctor he committed himself to life, xing out, his own name,

he accepts his death. This gesture is symbolic to the audience as well as Nora"s character. By eliminating his signature, he is sealing the fate of Nora and insuring that she becomes her own salvation. When observing Torvald"s reaction to the note Nora questions (possibly for the first time) Torvald"s reaction as inappropriate. 

At the climax of the play Torvald tries to rekindle Nora's slave spirit in an effort to validate him and to reestablish his dominance over his environment. Helmer pleads with Nora:

You loved me the way a wife ought to love her husband. 

It's simply the means that you couldn't judge. But you think 

I love you any the less for not knowing how to handle

  your affairs? No, no just lean on me; I'll guide you and teach you. 

I wouldn't be a man if this feminine helplessness didn't 

make you twice as attractive to me. (III.207)

Unconsciously, Torvald admits in the last line that he would not be a man if 

he could not believe in feminine helplessness. Aroused by his vision of Nora's weak 

femininity, he again invokes his male strength and authority by returning to his

 masculine vocabulary. He longs for Nora to become the "songbird" beneath his wide 

wings and a "hunted dove"that he has rescued that he has referred to in the past. 

 Torvald's speech assumes a godlike role by claiming both motherhood 

and fatherhood. But the play itself has now undermined Torvald's masculine powers. 

He is impotent as a god and dead as a male authority figure, and the audience and

Nora realizes it (only Torvald does not.)

In this final dialogue Nora is changed. Torvald does nothing with his insistence but force Nora to truly see the quality of her life marriage and Torvald"s character. And she makes it clear that she does not blame only Torvald, but to 

the entire patriarchal system that passed her like a child from her father's

house to Torvald's. 

Nora has already tried to assert her own identity and authority to Krogstad.

When she denied or challenged the significance of the name of the father

she was refusing to become what has always be forced onto her. In one sense, at

the play's end Nora refuses to succumb to the masculine identity and insists 

on her own ability. She declares her aspiration to become a person who names







her signature indicates. In her closing lines Nora declares:

I"m a human being no lees than you - or anyway I ought to become

one. .....I can"t go on believing what the majority says, or what"s written in books. I have to think over these things myself and try to understand them. (III.209)

Nora rejects the patriarchal family structure that denies her an independent 

identity. She demands a transformation, an evolution of relationships based on education and equality.  By rejecting Torvald, and by denying the absent and 

dead father whose  name she invoked with the forged signature, Nora has traveled the distance. She has fostered the ability in herself to question the bogus conventions that have held her in subjugation. 

 By giving Nora the right to walk toward her own identity, Ibsen has given her the right to find her own language, to sign her own name. Nora's final gesture 

declares her separation from the fixed role of a wife. Nora seems to stand as dominant example of emancipation. Nora insists on pulling herself away 

from Torvald's view of her as a stereotypical wife. She chooses instead to see 

herself as someone in process, in a state of becoming, rather than of having defined 

being. Nora discovers that because her own signature had no value, she had to take 

the name of the dead/absent father. Eventually realizing that she cannot escape the 

ghost or the name of the absent husband/father.  

Thus, through Nora"s association and interaction with her father figures she, in a broader sense, hints at the possibility of a new dynamic for the family

and society as a whole. A time in which the person, no matter the gender, is allowed to sign for him or herself rather, than use the name of an father. In A Doll House Nora discovers herself disenfranchised and disembodied by her 

father's/husband's name. This only occurs by virtue of her inner resolve and the

inherit flaws Ibsen has given to the male characters of the play. She finally rejects  both her father and husband and affirms her ambition to write her own destiny.



















Works Cited



Ibsen, Henrik. A Doll House . Drama: A HarperCollins Pocket Anthology. ed. R. S. Gwynn. New York: HarperCollins. 1993. 153-212.



 

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  • 1

    The play is usually considered one of Ibsen's “realist” plays. Consider how far the play might be anti-realist or symbolic.

    Answer: Consider the symbols, metaphors, and imagery of the play, and weigh their importance against the elements that seem realistic. It also should be very helpful to define “realism” over against the uses of symbols and elements that are absurd, grotesque, or fantastic. Note that “realism” and “symbolism” have gained specific connotations within Ibsen criticism.

  • 2

    When Nora says in Act One, “I can't think of anything to wear. It all seems so stupid and meaningless,” Ibsen illustrates the symbolism of clothing in the play. Describe how Ibsen’s use of clothing works in the play.

    Answer: Consider, especially, Nora's tarantella costume and fancy-dress box, as well as her black dress when taking the clothing is a symbol. Explore the metaphor of clothing as something which covers up, something which disguises, or as something which confers identity. Ibsen also uses clothing to make points about agency and gender. Consider who dresses whom and who wears certain clothes for the sake of personal expression or in order to please someone else.

  • 3

    Why is freedom important in the play?

    Answer: Nora sees herself as not free when she is confined in the domestic life of her husband’s home. The direction of the play is to perceive Nora’s awakening as someone who deserves freedom. Consider, too, that Torvald becomes free of his marriage obligations, which also have been oppressive of his own liberties. Finally, consider the ambiguous nature of the freedom Nora wins. She is going from a fairly predictable life into something unknown. Remember that Mrs. Linde would rather be tied to a family rather than alone and on her own. Is that because of human nature or because of her individual choice?

  • 4

    Is Torvald Helmer a deeply abhorrent character?

    Answer: To answer this question, perform a detailed character study of Torvald Helmer. Do not jump to a conclusion based on your initial feelings about his words and actions in the play. Weigh both sides of the argument—what specifically is the problem in the marriage and in his choices? If you decide to abhor the character, how bad is he? Consider the ways in which he genuinely loves his wife, earns money for the household, and pays attention to her against his selfishness, oppression of his wife, and ability to handle stress.

  • 5

    How does the play illustrate inheritance, the passing along of traits from parent to child?

    Answer: Consider Dr. Rank's illness as attributed to his father’s indiscretions. Krogstad's shame for his own alleged errors is inherited by his children by way of reputation. Consider, most of all, Nora's relationships with her father and her nurse as influences on how she treats her own children.

  • 6

    What is the importance of the title of the play?

    Answer: This is a reasonably straightforward question that could be taken in a number of directions. How far is Nora a doll, an object or toy for others? How does her home represent a doll’s house, from which the doll cannot escape on her own? When Nora leaves the house, she is breaking free of the metaphor, though it is unclear what will happen if she is going to return to her earlier family home, where she was something of a doll to her father.

  • 7

    Ibsen once described Mrs Alving in his play Ghosts as a version of Nora in later life. Imagine what Nora’s earlier life might have been like, based on her characterization in the play.

    Answer: If up till the last day, Nora has been living in a fantasy world, she must have been even less self-aware or independent when she was younger. She probably married by being enthralled by her society’s ideas of love and marriage. Under her father and nurse, she seems to have had few opportunities to get anything like a liberal education; instead, she seems to have learned only how to be a traditional girl and a traditional woman.

  • 8

    To what extent is the play a comedy?

    Answer: As well as considering smaller touches, such as individual lines, or jokes that might be funny or comedic, it is worth learning about the theatrical definitions of comedy and tragedy to consider how the structure of the play and the main plot elements might count as part of the tradition of comedy. Consider the roles of marriage, death, friendship, self-awareness, irony, family, holidays and parties, and the various themes of the play in this context.

  • 9

    Is A Doll's House a feminist play?

    Answer: Ibsen claimed that his play was about liberation in a more general, human sense, rather than specifically about female liberation. If feminism focuses on both men and women, it is reasonable to see the mutual liberation of Torvald and Nora as a feminist goal, liberating people of both sexes from social and cultural limitations based on gender. Consider the various women in the play as well. How are we to know whether Ibsen wants us to approve or disapprove of their various choices in relation to men and to their own goals? How do the characters themselves exhibit any goals or points that could be described as feminist?

  • 10

    How does Ibsen provide suspense in the play?

    Answer: The audience wonders when Torvald will read the letter and what will happen when he does. We also do not know if Nora is going to decide to kill herself, leave, or stay home, but we do know that the pressure on her is building and that something in her is going to burst. Foreshadowing contributes to these issues, such as when Nora tells Mrs. Linde that she has plans Mrs. Linde cannot understand.

  • 11

    Compare the relationship between Mrs. Linde and Krogstad with that of Nora and Torvald.

    Answer: Nora and Torvald have lived in something of a fantasy marriage for years, and finally they are separating. Meanwhile, Mrs. Linde and Krogstad have been apart, thinking about one another, and finally they are getting together with a larger degree of self-understanding and maturity.

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