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Love as a Theme in "a Doll’s House"

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Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House was certainly not the average play of its day. In fact, its publication induced outrage in many people. But what was it that made this play so controversial? Ibsen dared to openly question the values of the rigid Victorian way of life that dominated Western Europe at the time. In his day, the roles and social functions of individuals were assigned to them. The rules had carefully outlined all the subtleties of how one should act and feel in polite society. The definitions of not only marriage but also love itself were virtually laws. A woman was always subservient to men in every way, and she had a duty to her husband that was higher than the duty to herself. By writing this play about a woman who eventually leaves everything she knows behind her in order to make her own way in the world, he single-handedly undermined the social norms of the period (Madore).

Through the course of A Doll’s House, Nora learns that she must educate herself in the ways of the world around her. After being the “doll child” of her father and passed to her husband, she ultimately finds the need to break free of those bonds and be independent. The main theme of the play is the miseducation and subjugation of European middle-class women. However, also present is a prevailing theme of something quite universal that is no less controversial than women’s rights in Victorian days: love.

The ideal form of love for Ibsen’s contemporaries is relatively simple. A man is to love his wife, and his wife is to love her husband. It is total and unconditional, and it includes only those two people. It lasts for life. The society accepts nothing less than this ideal in its entertainment. Anything contrary to it is against what the majority believes to be the way things should be. But Ibsen’s play portrays different situations of love; he does not confine love to existence between man and wife. In this way, Ibsen displays a realistic picture of love--and the absence of love--that exists regardless of whether or not society wants to acknowledge it. Each character seems to have a different idea of what love is and how high on his or her personal list of values it places. What the characters do for the ones they love and what they never do depends on each one’s idea of love. A Doll’s House outlines three different relationships: Torvald with Nora, Krogstad with Christine, and Dr. Rank with Nora.

It is quite obvious throughout the story that Torvald claims to be madly in love with his wife, Nora. He likes having Nora around and enjoys her company. However, he treats her basically like she is his pet. She is his doll child passed from her father’s hands into his, and for this reason Nora eventually leaves him. Torvald seems to love Nora in the only way he knows how, but still it proves not to be sufficient. That insufficiency is why Nora says that he is not the one to educate her about being a good wife; he does not quite know what it is to be a good husband. In Act III, Torvald’s love for Nora is put to the ultimate test. He confides to Nora that he wishes that some danger would come on her so that he would risk everything to save her. Unfortunately, this statement proves to be ironic. Nora does experience danger when Torvald reads the letter, but he is unable to risk everything for her. He says that no man can be expected to lay down his honor for the sake of the one he loves. Nora returns, in perhaps one of the most powerful lines of the play, that many women have done the same. This moment is when it becomes crystal clear that Torvald does not really understand what love is in its truest form. However, no one can doubt his love for Nora when he is left alone in his sorrow and bewilderment as Nora finally leaves for good (Rainwater).

Although love is indeed powerful, it is not as powerful for some as it is for others. People place love on a hierarchy compared to all other values, and the rank it holds varies from person to person. The relationship of Krogstad and Christine is an example of how love is prioritized on a list of duties. Years before the action of the play takes place, they are very much in love with each other. Their personal situations intervene, though. Krogstad is not making much money at all, and Christine is put into a position where she has to care for her entire family. Christine eventually leaves Krogstad, but not because she does not love him anymore. Krogstad does have the promise of a more lucrative career, but it is only in the future. Christine needs

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