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Nora as a Doll

Critically examines the character of Nora in A Doll's House, arguing she is more sinned against than sinning.

Nora as a doll in Henrik Ibsen's play "A Doll's House"

"You never loved me. You've thought it fun to be in love with me..." proclaimed Nora, the protagonist of "A Doll's House" as she confesses she has been "toyed" with as a doll because of a far worse sin than her own: the prejudiced superiority roles valued by society . The protagonist was initially portrayed as the weaker female who sins as a worldly wife who likes to spend money to escape financial concern. However, the cause of her sinful behavior, the "playful" treatment from her father and husband, justify her as a character who is more sinned against than sinning. When this occurs, a character who is cast as evil, weak or negative in the plot of a work is actually more sinned against and the victim of one or more characters' actions. This paradox in a work takes place when the truly sinful characters impose their power and superiority over another, in this case being the protagonist, to reassure their image as the "expected" one from society that usually beholds traditional male/female or strong/weak roles. In Henrik Ibsen's "A Doll's House," Nora is a victim who is more sinned against than sinning because her father and Torvald, her husband, follow an instinct to host a "perfect" image of man's will and superiority, reflecting the values expected in that society.
Torvald's actions to impose power over his wife Nora are exposed even from the first discussion presented in the novel. In Act I, Torvald deliberately comments to Nora after she arrives at her home: "Has the little spendthrift been out throwing money around again?...Nora, Nora, how like a woman." (Ibsen 44) With these comments Torvald is not only claiming Nora's expected submissiveness with diminutive nicknames but also relating them to the actions of a seemingly incompetent female, what was expected from the woman. Torvald's nicknames influence her weakness for they are always referring to smaller, weaker animals and specially birds that can be easily caged and commanded: "...my squirrel...my little songbird must never do that again. A songbird needs a clean beak to warble with. That's the way it should be... Yes, I'm sure of it..." (Ibsen 68) Another example of Torvald's controlling character is his scolding Nora for secretly eating macaroons, an action that is strongly forbidden by him. Ironically, Torvald gives Nora more money after scolding her and is amused by his manipulation of her emotions, dehumanizing Nora's character to that of a doll or a child who can be played with. Torvald further enforces his control by relentlessly expecting her to depend on him, glorifying himself to make himself more powerful but trying to justify it by appearing to always be there for his wife Nora: "Ah is my stubborn little creature calling for a lifeguard?" to which Nora certainly replies, "Yes, Torvald, I can't get anywhere without your help." (Ibsen 69) Thus, Nora is blindly influenced by her husbands manipulation until the end of the play.
Nora not only addresses that she has become the person she is, easily manipulated by her father and Torvald but even refers to their influence as a greater sin than her own. In her final dispute with Torvald, Nora has experienced her awakening and is ready to part from the "doll house" but she makes sure that Torvald recognizes his and her father's faults by explaining, "Yes, it's true now, Torvald. When I lived at home with Papa, he told me all his opinions, so I had the same ones too; or if they were different I hid them , since he wouldn't have cared for that. He used to call me his doll-child, and he played with me the way I played with my dolls. Then I came into your house." (Ibsen 109) The same original treatment she received as a "doll-child" was the one reflected in her marriage as she always given in to her father's and her husband's ideas and opinions, because it was expected from a female, despite any honest difference in opinion. Nora emphasizes how she became what she was because she was manipulated by her father and him: "...I've lived by doing tricks for you, Torvald. But that's the way you wanted it. It's a great sin what you and Papa did to me. You're to blame that nothing's become of me." (Ibsen 109) It is evident that the influence Nora's father had on her was impacting because of his imposing male authority over a naive female whom he "toys" with as a doll that developed into the image that her father expected of her following societies prejudiced values. Furthermore, it is interesting how a character who is not even directly present during the play can be so strongly envisioned by these few addresses referring to him.
Ibsen's technique in revealing Nora's character as more sinned against than sinning is impacting because he first presents her as the manipulated doll who actually appears to have a happy marriage but this false illusion is shattered by her recognition that what appears to be truly blissful can be the most false situation of all. The fact that this can be achieved by even using a character that is never present, such as Nora's father, is impressive and Ibsen accomplished this by enforcing the character's impact on Nora. This impact from Nora's father and Nora's husband are, thus, the ones responsible for maintaining Nora as a doll, a deeper allegory to those women who must awaken to their true beings and not follow the structure or behavior of Nora as a doll in Henrik Ibsen's play, "A Doll's House."

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