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Interactive Curriculum Resource: HomeThemesAuthorsTexts • Sample Series

A Doll's House - Ibsen

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Themes:  Dignity, Honesty, Independence, Marriage, Sacrifice

 

Ibsen’s A Doll’s House might be more difficult for young readers. The story line is easy enough: the reader discovers a controlling husband who underestimates his wife, a wife who plays the role of a frivolous young lady, and a discovery that tests their marriage. Yet Nora is not so simplistic as she first appears. She manages to borrow money to help her sickly husband, and she manages the household so that she can pay back that loan without her husband finding out what she has done. She also procured the loan by forging her father’s name. Her interaction with Dr. Rank, the elderly and dying friend of the family, is at times manipulative. She appears to try to seduce him, perhaps so that he might put her in his will before he dies. During the play she is reunited with an old friend, the recently widowed Mrs. Linde, and Mrs. Linde seems to be concerned about the way Nora treats Dr. Rank. The play invites the reader to compare Nora and Mrs. Linde. What motivates these women? Is one to be admired more than the other?

 

Nora’s husband, Torvald, is a character that is either despised or pitied. It is clear that he treats his wife as a child. Yet it might not be so obvious whether he does so because he lovingly dotes on her, or that he fails to respect her. When it becomes clear that Nora’s forgery could land Torvald in trouble, his initial reaction is disturbing. Is this the sign of a bad character, or is it a hasty response that might soften in a little while? However, one judges that issue, his treatment of Nora towards the end of the play is the final straw for Nora. She leaves her husband and her children because “I must stand quite alone if I am to understand myself and everything about me.” Torvald asserts that “Before all else you are a wife and a mother.” To which Nora responds that “…before all else I am a reasonable human being just as you are…” Now there might be a false dichotomy here, but this exchange invites us to discuss the relationship between the individual and the family. When one becomes part of any community, is it necessary to contain the desire for independence?

 

Opening questions:

 

Why does Nora walk out of her marriage?

 

Does Torvald deserve what he gets at the end of the play?

 

What kind of person(s) is Nora and/or Torvald portrayed to be in this play?

[Note: It is important to ask the question in this way. We should be interested at first about the portrayal by Ibsen before we engage in a more objective discussion of their characters.]

Suggested Pairing:

 

Femininity and Independence - A Doll's House, Ibsen; Introduction and Conclusion from The Second Sex, de Beauvoir; The Franklin's Tale, Chaucer; Gunnar's Daughter, Undset, 

Feedback:

 

We welcome your comments. How did your seminar go? What can we add or modify to the resource to be more helpful to you?