A Doll’s House
When A Doll’s House, Henrik Ibsen’s most successful play, was first performed in 1879 it was so shocking that it was banned in Britain until a new ending was written. It is set over Christmastime in Norway, in a single room of a home belonging to an ordinary family. A couple, Nora and Torvald, live there with their children. On the surface, everything is perfect. But Nora has been secretly working to pay off a loan that she took out to save Torvald’s life. She is blackmailed by Krogstad, the man she owes money to, and the lies unravel until she decides to leave her husband and children for good. Although Ibsen thought of himself as a “humanist”, it is often considered the first feminist play.
“Hundreds of thousands of women” have sacrificed their honour for a person they love, Nora tells Torvald, when he insists that no man can do the same. Indeed, the women of the play have all sacrificed something, whether it is their true love, children, or integrity. Nora is treated like a silly child, a doll that Torvald owns rather than a wife and an equal. How have women’s lives changed since?
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In the beginning, the marriage between Nora and Torvald appears happy and idealistic. They each embody the traditional roles laid out for them: Torvald, a successful breadwinner. Nora, a beautiful mother and housekeeper. However, Nora begins to realise that their marriage is deeply unequal. Her only choice is to leave in order to find herself — a choice which scandalised Victorian audiences.
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There is much talk of money throughout the play — Torvald is about to be promoted, which should help he and Nora live more freely. He gives her an allowance to run the house and chastises her for spending too much. Meanwhile, Nora’s secret loan sparks the chain of events which eventually dissolves their marriage. How important is money and materialism in today’s society?
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Nora has been lying to Torvald for years about a loan she took out to save his life. When her deceit is exposed, Torvald is furious — but he tries to take his insults back when he realises it will not be made public. Nora sees that her life, and their marriage, is the real lie. It is this, not Krogstad’s blackmail, which tears them apart. In the age of fake news, how important is the truth today?
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All of the action takes place in a single room at the heart of Nora and Torvald’s house. Nora rarely leaves this room. At first it is a place of comfort and happiness. But soon she, like so many other Victorian women of her time, becomes trapped by domesticity. It is not a home, but a doll’s house. It is only by leaving that she can be herself. Is the home still an important part of our lives?
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