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Text Analysis of a Play by Henrik Ibsen

The play explores a young mother’s realization that her life has been spent in a paternalistic environment, passed on to her like a doll from her father’s house to her husband’s.

The play explores a young mother’s realization that her life has been spent in a paternalistic environment, passed on to her like a doll from her father’s house to her husband’s. That is, being encouraged to be helpless rather than to think for herself.

Her overriding responsibility now is to educate herself and understand the world she inhabits before she is fit to bring up her children.

The original play was performed in 1889 and was censored because of its ending scene whereby Nora, a female character in the play, closed the door with a bang at the face of her husband.

Chauvinistic attitudes were very common at the time, as the Daily Telegraph quoted a comment on the play: “We do not honestly believe that these ideas as expressed in the play would find favour with the great body of English play goers. Ho could Torvald Helmer at any possibility have treated his restless, illogical, fractious, and babyish little wife otherwise than he did?” But it should also be noted that Torvald was only a victim of the 19th century conditioning which made domestic autocrats of husbands.

Philosophy in the Play

Philosophy refers to a set of beliefs or a certain attitude to life, acquired from knowledge and understanding of the nature and meaning of the universe and of human nature. It is also the guiding principle to behavior. The playwright has employed certain types of philosophies in his play like:

The Dominant Philosophy

It states that a person cannot be happy when falling into the mold of someone else. To be happy, one must be oneself and know oneself. For all of Nora’s life, she followed right behind her father and her husband. She did not know herself and had to leave and learn.

This is evident in the play when Nora confesses to her husband Torvald that she has not been happy in her marriage. She also adds that all her life she had lived like a doll-child to her father who never cared about her opinions and a doll-wife to her husband.

The overriding necessity of education for women is perhaps what emerges strongly from this philosophy. Nora’s leaving home is intended to be a positive step, but the glaring question is “what opportunities were open to an untrained woman, especially one bearing the social stigma of having left her husband?”

Nevertheless, when the play was edited by paper proofreader and re-introduced ten years later, the playwright gave Nora the revolution of the heart. This is where she is determined to go and learn despite all the factors that stood on her way.

Feminist Philosophy

This refers to philosophy approached from a feminist perspective. It involves both attempts to use the methods of philosophy to further the cause of the feminist movements, and attempts to re-evaluate the ideas of the traditional philosophy from within a feminist framework.

However, the playwright has based his arguments in three major sub-movements of the feminist philosophy. Namely:

  1. Liberal feminism.
  2. Radical feminism.
  3. Postcolonial feminism and third-world feminism.

Liberal Feminism

It asserts the equality of men and women through political and regal reforms. It is an individualistic form of feminism, which focuses mainly on women’s ability to show and maintain their equality through their own actions and choices. Liberal feminism uses the personal interactions between men and women as the place from which to transform the society.

Ibsen in his portrayal of this philosophy implies that true marriage is a partnership and comradeship and neither a doll wife nor a doll husband is desirable. For instance, he uses the character Kristine, who is Nora’s childhood friend, to bring out the argument. Kristine, a widow, is a victim of unhappy marriage as we get to learn through their conversation with Nora. Kristine does not withdraw the letter Krogstad writes to Helmer informing him about the loan. Kristine wants Nora to disclose the secret to her husband. She feels that Nora has a right to defend her cause. She represents Ibsen’s idea of women emancipating themselves rather than being domestic slaves.

Nora, the main female character in this play, chooses to leave her husband after she realizes how her marriage has been an unhappy one. This can be affirmed by the advocacy of Ibsen for individuals’ right to assert their own human dignity and integrity as persons irrespective of their sexes.

Radical Feminism

It considers capitalist hierarchy, which it describes as sexist, as the defining feature of women’s oppression. Radical feminists believe that women can free themselves only when they have done away with what they consider an inherently oppressive and dominating system(s).

They feel that there is a male-based authority and power structure and that it is responsible for oppression and inequality, and that as long as the system and its values are still in place, society will not be able to be reformed in any significant way. Ibsen is aware of these forces like the law, symbolised by Krogstad and Torvald, and patriarchal order in the society at large. He advocates for the individuals’ right to assert their own human dignity and integrity as people, irrespective of their sex and regardless of what societal forces expects them to hold their lives to the established patterns of morality.

Nevertheless, Ibsen’s arguments rely heavily on a sub-type of radical philosophy referred to as cultural feminism. It is an ideology of a “female nature” or “female essence” that attempts to revalidate what they consider undervalued female attributes.

It emphasizes on the difference between men and women but considers the difference to be psychological and culturally constructed rather than biologically innate. And that is why when his play was revised or edited, he gave Nora the attributes that pointed to the revolution of the heart. Nora disagrees with her husband amidst conviction pleas and legally justified arguments by her husband; she decides to abandon him and the children as a way of emancipating herself.

Postcolonial Feminism and Third-World Feminism

These movements of feminist philosophers have formulated a statement of philosophy that is based on this play. It states that: Doll's House believes that every young girl, despite the multiplicity of her problems, has the potential to be the best she can be when placed in a safe, caring, nurturing, and supportive environment. We are committed to fulfilling our mission by providing female-centered services and family support, regardless of race, colour, creed or even national origin. As we seek to fulfill our mission, Doll's House believes in “dignity”… Every female is unique and has worth and value.

About Author

I am a graduate of university in Linguistics and Foreign languages. I am a good narrator and experienced writer. I currently write with an online company, the I have with me finished poems and short stories.

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Text Analysis of a Play by Henrik Ibsen
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