A Doll House


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