Gender Role Issues in Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll House”, Research Paper Example


            The recognition of the real value of women has not been the same throughout the years of human history. It could be understood that somehow, there were years in the past when women were considered nothing better than men and are thus treated according to such status in the society. The desires and concerns of women are given lesser attention to as they are noted as nothing but a supporting factor to the success of every man.  In the story of Henrik Ibsen on A Doll’s House, he uses a metaphorical approach in defining how women in the 60s towards the 80s are relatively understood by the society. The stereotype that they receive from the surrounding society is shown in the story as a form of discrimination that women strongly wanted to live off from. In the discussion that follows, a focus on how Nora was treated by her husband Torvald and how it mirrored the condition of the society then shall be given particular attention to.

Representing Womanhood in his Time

            The definition of womanhood during the time when Henrik Ibsen first penned the story of A Doll’s House was rather dependent on the idea of women being of a lower identity compared to men especially depending on what they are expected to do in relation to the manner by which they are recognized by the society. It could be understood that somehow, Ibsen pointed out through this narrative that women become stereotyped even by their husbands and other individuals who are supposedly close to them and have the actual capacity of knowing them better as individuals.

Considerably, Nora Helmer is presented as a woman who is devoted to her family. Likely, her desire to please her husband and her children has been shown immediately through the first act. Nevertheless, it was also in this  particular act that the presentation of Nora as a ‘doll’ for her husband. Considering that the setting is noted to be during Christmas, Nora is noted to have a concentration on what to buy for her husband and her children. Wanting the best for them, she did not care about how much she was already spending, something that Torvald, her husband repeatedly notices during the first act. To note this fact, Torvald calls her as ‘his’ little spendrift.  He also often notes her being careless about the finances especially in relation to the desire to beautify the house. Relatively, Torvald always keeps an eye on how his wife intends to spend money and yet he enjoys having her contend with mixed emotions when he checks on how she spends the money he earns.

A part of the reactive condition that is represented in relation to how Torvald treats her when it comes to identifying her attitude in spending is the way he toys with her emotions. It could be seen how Torvald tries to tell her how much she spends and how much she does not care about the money that he earns. This makes the emotional display of Nora to be rather negative. Then later on, Torvald offers her a small amount of money for her to spend on something which Nora responds to in glee and full acceptance as if forgetting how he mocked her supposed uncontrollable spending. At this point, it could be realized that Nora’s emotions are being toyed by Torvald and he does enjoy seeing his wife change from being sad towards being happy just through the use of his money [which specifically symbolizes the power he has over his wife].

Woman as a form of Possession

Regarding the constant address that Torvald uses to call his wife Nora as ‘his’, indicates his consideration over the woman as his own personal property. The desire to deal with his wife as somewhat ‘his own’ was a common notion among husbands during the time. Between the years 1960 towards 1980s, women were treated differently than men. This is especially true when it comes to establishing families. While women are given the role to establish a family through caring for the children and other needs of the family apart from finances, they are still considered fully dependent to their husbands. This makes them considerably ‘owned’ by their husbands as if imposing that they cannot do anything nor can they accomplish anything without the support of their husbands.

Along with the point of addressing him as ‘his’, he also calls her using animal names such as squirrel along with the term ‘little’. These terms specifically impose how much he sees regarding the real value of the being of his wife. Nora to him, although she was a woman, is only a person who is relatively very dependent on his own capacities. He recognizes strongly that without him, she is nothing. To this, she seemingly subjects herself to. There are several points in the story when Nora responses accordingly in agreement to her husband’s condition of speech throughout the narrative. Regarding this condition, Nora explains in one of their conversations:

“It’s true Torvald. When I lived at home with Papa, he used to tell me his opinion about everything, and so I had the same opinion. If I thought differently, I had to hide it from him, or he wouldn’t have liked it. He called me his little doll, and he used to play with me just as I played with my dolls. Then I came to live in your house”.

            At this point it could be understood how much Nora sees her position as a doll and possession of her husband the same way her father reacted upon her when she was still a child. This is further proven during the Christmas occasion. During the Christmas celebration in their house, Nora was represented to have dressed herself up for the occasion. Somehow, this indicates that even she herself has realized the real role that she is taking in their home. The way she dressed herself up for the dance indicates how she accepts the fact that her husband holds her and presents her as his personal trophy. It did not matter what she could do as a person but how she could represent her husband to his colleagues and their family members. It was very important that she perfect the dance as it would denote how much she values what her husband gives her as a form of sustenance.

The Desire to Gain Personal Value

One remarkable line from Nora was “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.” This line provides an understanding about the real emotions that Nora has towards her husband and the way he treats her, apart from what she really wants to become. Her desires as a woman of having the chance to control something or at least manage matters that are specifically important to her have been deemed irrelevant to the manner by which her husband sees her as a person. Torvald, even though he did have a promise of promotion from the bank, Nora tries to ensure its being given to him through secret meetings. She knew that she is note believed by her husband, however, with the actions she portrayed regarding the desire to help in assuring his promotion, it shows how much she wants to get involved and how she believes she could do something about the situation. Her desire to assure the health of her husband amidst all the different occurrences in his life shows her determination to be something, even behind the knowing of her husband. She recognizes that her husband would not approve of such move, but she knows she needs to do something about it. She need not be recognized accordingly although she knows she deserves better understanding and valuing from her husband. Her desire to do the right thing comes first before the desire to be known accordingly. The willingness to do everything in secret specifically made it possible for her to at least gain self-confidence allowing her to value herself according to what she knows she can do.


            Realizing self-worth is a specific element of personal satisfaction. It could be realized that somehow, the capacity of a person to understand his or her place in the house or in any unit of organization he or she is enjoined in allows one to see the importance the he plays in the world. In the case of Nora, she while she secretly desired to realize her self worth, it was evident enough how her husband nullifies such desire. Nevertheless, the consideration she develops over the desire to gain personal worth moved her to do something more than just accept what or how her husband primarily treats her as a person. Likely, this desire makes it easier for her to make a distinct decision on finally finding a name for her own in the end of the story and to stop being a doll managed and manipulated by her husband for the rest of her life.

Works Cited:

Brockett, Oscar G. and Franklin J. Hildy. 2003. History of the Theatre. Ninth edition, International edition. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Dukore, Bernard F., ed. 1974. Dramatic Theory and Criticism: Greeks to Grotowski. Florence, KY: Heinle & Heinle.

Innes, Christopher, ed. 2000. A Sourcebook on Naturalist Theatre. London and New York: Routledge.

Meyer, Michael. 1967. Ibsen. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974.

Moi, Toril. 2006. Henrik Ibsen and the Birth of Modernism: Art, Theater, Philosophy. Oxford and New York: Oxford UP.