Role of women in a man’s world as portrayed in Ibsen’s ‘A Doll’s House’ - Daily Nation

Role of women in a man’s world as portrayed in Ibsen’s ‘A Doll’s House’

Friday May 4 2018

Henrik Ibsen was born on March 20, 1828 in Skien, Norway. PHOTO| FILE| NATION MEDIA GROUP

Henrik Ibsen was born on March 20, 1828 in Skien, Norway. PHOTO| FILE| NATION MEDIA GROUP 


Henrik Ibsen was born on March 20, 1828 in Skien, Norway. He grew up in the small Norwegian coastal town of Skein as the eldest of five children of Knud and Marichen Ibsen.

His father was a successful merchant and his mother painted, played the piano and loved going to the theatre. Ibsen expressed an interest in becoming an artist as well.

At 15, he dropped out of school and went to work. He used his limited free time to write poems and paint. In 1849, he wrote his first play, Catilina. He also wrote Ghosts (1881), An Enemy of the People (1881) and HeddaGabler (1890) among others. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1902 and 1904. He died on  May 23, 1906 at his home, Kristiania.

His play, A Doll’s House, written in 1879, is a story about gender roles in a patriarchal society where women are not allowed to perform certain roles and the sacrifices they make for their families.

The play also addresses issues of corruption, hypocrisy, deceit and betrayal, among other themes. The themes are brought out through the use of dramatic irony, suspense and foreshadow, among other styles.


It is set in Germany and is divided into three acts with Nora, the protagonist, struggling with the traditional roles of wife and mother and her own need for self-exploration.

Through the characters of Nora, Linde and Hellene, Ibsen questions the accepted social practices of the time by promoting women emancipation.

Act one is set on the Christmas eve. Nora enters with packages and a Christmas tree and pays the messenger more than she owes him. She calls Torvald, who is working in his study, to come and see what she has brought.

He calls her by pet names and jokingly calls her a spendthrift, cautioning her on spending money recklessly.

Nora points out they can be a little bit reckless because Torvald has been appointed bank manager and they are expecting a large salary come the New Year. Torvald reminds her the salary will come later in the year, but Nora says they can borrow in the meantime.

Torvald tells her she is foolish in matters of money and her argument is typical of a woman. He also reminds her there can be no freedom or beauty about a home life that depends on debts.

These statements show Torvald’s biased point of view on gender roles. He believes Nora’s role is to make the home beautiful and she is incapable of making sound financial decisions.

Nora is disappointed by his comments, though he tries to cheer her up by affectionately calling her pet names and offers her money to spend on Christmas day.

She is happy again and she thanks him profusely for the money and asks for more when asked what she would like for herself.

Torvald teases and plays with Nora like a child, showing the place of women in society in which they are treated like dolls or play things that are meant to amuse men and beautify the home.

Mrs Linde, Nora’s former schoolmate and Dr Rank, a family friend, arrive at the same time. Nora informs Linde she read about her husband’s death a few years earlier and Linde tells her when her husband died he left her with no money and no children.

Nora starts telling her about her marriage and how they didn’t have enough money in their first years of marriage and that Torvald had to take extra jobs and she had to work also.


She also tells her the husband got sick and she had to borrow money for their trip to Italy for his treatment; she says she got the money from her father.

Ever since, she has been working and saving secretly to repay the money. She then apologises for babbling on about her life and family and not listening to Linde’s story.

Linde explains how she had to marry a man she did not love but had money so that she could take care of her two brothers and her bed-ridden mother.

When her husband died, his business collapsed and she was left with nothing. She had to do odd jobs to continue taking care of her family, but her mother died three year after and her brothers were then old enough to take care of themselves.

This made her feel sad and lonely and she had to travel to town to look for a job. This conversation between Linde and Nora brings out the sacrifices women make for their families.

Krogstad, a low level employee, arrives and gets into Torvald’s study where they have a conversation and Dr Ranks comments that he (Krogstad) is “morally sick”.

After a short time, Krogstad leaves and Torvald joins his wife and the other visitors in the living room, where he is introduced to Linde by Nora, who also tells him that she has come to town to look for a job and Torvald must find something for her.

Soon after, the three leave together as Nora starts playing with the children but after a short while Krogstad returns and blackmails Nora into ensuring he is not laid off by Torvald or else he tells her husband the truth about where she got the money for their trip and the forgery she committed.

When Torvald comes back, Nora is unable to convince him and he says that Krogstad is immoral and he feels physically sick in the presence of such people.  

Act two is set on Christmas day and Nora is anxious and nervous about the impending revelation of her secret.

The idea of leaving her children shows that she, like the rest of society, believes a mother plays an important role and can influence the children negatively if they are morally corrupt.

Torvald enters and Nora once again tries to convince him not to fire Krogstad, arguing his reasons for firing him are petty.

This upsets Torvald and he immediately sends off a letter dismissing him. He forgives her and starts calling her by the pet names. Dr Ranks enters and Nora tries to flirts with him with the hope of persuading him to talk to Torvald about Krogstad’s job, but when Dr Ranks confesses his love she changes her mind and refuses to ask for  the favour.

Dr Ranks says that he has to suffer because of his father’s youth amusement explaining the reason why Nora refuses to interact with her children to avoid infecting them with corruption.


Krogstad enters and  blackmails Nora again by telling her the problem can be solved if Torvald promotes him to a higher position in the bank, which Nora objects prompting Krogstad to drop a letter telling Torvald everything.

Linde comes back and Nora makes her promise to say she (Nora) was the only one responsible for the forgery and Torvald should not be held responsible if she (Nora) disappears.

Act three begins with Linde and Krogstad in Torvald’s home and Linde tells Krogstad she is willing to get back with him and take care of him and the children. She also explains that she got married to Mr Linde so that she could take care of her sick mother and two brothers.

Then Torvald comes from upstairs and Nora speaks with Linde, who insists that she should tell Torvald the truth.

Nora rejects Torvald’s sexual advances and insists he reads the letters, which he does and discovers the truth and scolds her, addressing her by her name for the first time.

The maid then brings a letter from Krogstad asking for forgiveness saying he has had a happy change in his life.

He then resumes calling her by the pet names and tells her he understands that she did it for love. Nora cannot  hear any of that and she says she has to leave to go and find out who is right between her and the world.

Torvald reminds her of her duty as a wife and mother, but she tells him that she does not love him any more. Torvald  tells her that he is willing to work night and day for her but no man can sacrifice his honour  for others. Nora leaves.       


The writer is a teacher at Alliance Girls High School. [email protected]