The Presence of Deceit and InequalityIn a Patriarchal Society in Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll HouseIntroduction Marriage is a consummation of two people who recognize the value of the other person both as a human being and as the person who they actually married. It is a socially recognized and approved union between two individuals who should expect a secure and lasting personal relationship with the other person. Building a happy marriage is the result of a conscious effort on both parts of the husband and the wife. However, when the other party refuses to look at the other person with respect, love, and value, it would naturally break down and disintegrate. In Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, Torvald and Nora find themselves in a marriage that takes a turn for the worse.
Both personalities seem to be a good example of the perfect partner for life—Nora makes great sacrifices to save her husband’s life while working hard to pay back a secret loan, and Torvald appears to be a loving, devoted, and generous husband who works hard to sustain their family. Unfortunately, the Helmers’ marriage finally ends. Nora soon finds out that Torvald never loved her while Torvald has been deceived the whole time.
Their marriage ended because it is based on deceit. More than that however, is the fact that there is a presence of inequality in the relationship of the husband and the wife. This inequality eventually destroys their relationship as Torvald yields his power and authority as the male figure while Nora decides that she does not want a husband who has never actually loved her.The Deceit of Both Parties Right from the start of the play, Nora has been deceiving her husband. The eating of the macaroons may be a simple sign of disobedience, but it may have symbolic implications in a sense that it is a form of rebellion considering that her Torvald clearly disapproves of the eating of the sweets. Later on, it would be revealed that Nora has further and deeper forms of deceit. This would be her illegal conduct of signing the papers and forging the signature of her father with the justification that she was merely saving Torvald and will be using the money to pay for his health. The end does not justify the means and this forgery and crime is not exactly the catalyst of Torvald’s anger.
What makes him angry is the fact that his reputation will be tainted by what Nora has done considering that she did it to save his life. This situation then makes Torvald’s own deception appear. All these time, Torvald was deceiving Nora (and probably himself too) when he claims that he loves her. Torvald shows his lack of love for Nora in the way he treats her—calling Nora by pet names and speaking down to her because he thinks that she is not intelligent and cannot think on her own.
He calls her “my little lark” and “my squirrel” (Ibsen 855) which is not necessarily all that demeaning. The ultimate form of destroying Nora’s identity as a person, woman, wife, and a mother comes at the near end of the play: Miserable creature–what have you done?What a horrible awakening! All these eight years–she who was my joy and pride–a hypocrite, a liar–worse, worse–a criminal! The unutterable ugliness of it all!–For shame! For shame!Now you have destroyed all my happiness. You have ruined all my future.
And I must sink to such miserable depths because of a thoughtless woman!You will still remain in my house, that is a matter of course. But I shall not allow youto bring up the children; I dare not trust them to you. (Ibsen 898-899)This behavior hurts the relationship of Torvald and Nora and leads it to a break down. Because of the deceit of both parties, the happy marriage they thought they had disintegrates until finally, Nora decides on what is the next right course for her to do.The Presence of Inequality in a Patriarchal Society More than the deceit of both parties, it is the presence of inequality that ruins both Nora and Torvald. It is already a fact that Nora committed the forgery because of the love she had for her husband. It is incomprehensible though why Torvald cannot accept that and Nora. It is only when the problem was solved that he decides to take Nora back.
This is very unacceptable as Torvald only loves his wife with the knowledge that he has of her—submissive, obedient, and incapable of deceit. In fact, he only loves her if she is within the context of his perception and idea of who Nora is. As what Downs wrote in his book:he likes, as he confesses, to indulge in fantasies of his wife in fictitious circumstances that enhance her erotic appeal; he even likes his corporeal eyes to see her in such circumstances, as is shown by his purchase of the Capri fisher girl’s costume and his insistence on her dancing a tarantella in public. (122)Torvald is then proven to be a very self-centered and materialistic person. More than that flaw however, Torvald cannot believe that Nora is capable of such a crime: “I may be falsely suspected of having been a party to your criminal action. Very likely people will think I was behind it all—that it was I who prompted you!” (Ibsen 899). Torvald thinks that Nora is not capable of thinking at all; thus, he concludes that people will instead blame him. That is probably the reason why he was mad at Nora in the first place—it would be her fault if he loses everything he had.
He does not even consider the fact that he supposedly loves her and that she committed the forgery because she wants to save his life. This is probably the case because in Ibsen’s time, it was a purely patriarchal society, a society dominated by the males. Ibsen intended the play to be a mirror of what was happening then, as such, the philosophy behind this is realism. Ibsen even wrote in a preliminary manuscript about this how he wants the play to reflect this male dominated society:A woman cannot be herself in the society of to-day, which is exclusively a masculine society, with laws written by men, and with accusers and judges who judge feminine conduct from the masculine standpoint.She has committed forgery, and it is her pride; for she did it for love of her husband, and to save his life. But this husband, full of everyday rectitude, stands on the basis of the law and regards the matter with a masculine eye. (Ibsen as qtd. by Postlewait)ConclusionThe ending of Nora and Torvald’s marriage was inevitable.
A true couple cannot connect when they just pretend to love each other, and that they would remain under the same roof just to preserve the image of a respectable marriage. Torvald’s lack of love and respect and the imperious control over his family ended their marriage. Nora in the end decided to walk away from a marriage that has no love and has no future. In the end, she had a sudden realization or epiphany that she needs to have an identity more than that of being Nora, the wife of Torvald. She needed to have an identity on her own. How can a marriage work if the husband does not treat with honor and respect the woman he calls as his wife, and how can a wife stay in a relationship with a person who treats her poorly and makes her lose her identity? Even though their marriage was shattered, both Torvald and Nora have to experience the conflict in their marriage in order to discover who they are and who the other person is.
This was needed so they can grow and become truly independent both as a member of a couple and as an individual.Works CitedPostlewait, Thomas. William Archer on Ibsen: The Major Essays, 1889-1919.
Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1984.Ibsen, Henrik. A Doll’s House.
New York: Dover Publications, 1992.Downs, Brian W. A Study of Six Plays by Ibsen. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1950.;