A Critical Analysis of Nora’s Search for ‘Identity and the Self’ in the play “A Doll’s House”
A feminist interpretation of Henrik Ibsen’s play “A Doll’s House” will reveal that Nora is endowed with a doll-like existence in her husband’s house, where she lacks an individual identity. She has sacrificed her own individuality in order to conform to Torvald’s expectation. But she gradually perceives this lack of an individual self and the needs for identity. She is disillusioned by Torvald’s selfishness. Therefore she chooses to search for identity by learning to lead her life on her own. In the beginning of the play Ibsen’s protagonist Nora appears to be a cosseted doll that is desired to play according to her husband’s expectation. Indeed her existence in Torvald’s house is shaped rather by patriarchy-imposed set of actions for the women. Her individual identity is strictly mutilated by her economic dependency on her husband. Therefore at the end of the play she chooses to achieve self-dependency by leading her life according to her own will.
Nora’s Development from Immaturity to a Matured Self
In the play, Nora, even though she is an adult housewife, grows from a childish immaturity to a maturated self. Along the progress of the play, she perceives that her immaturity originates in her pampered status in her father’s as well as her husband’s house. She appears to live in a romantic world. Here she is far-away from the harsh reality of life. She does not know the aftermaths of forgery that she commits to save Torvald’s life. Indeed she is driven by a fancy devotion to her husband; yet she is heartily honest. Indeed her attempt to save Torvald by forgery is rooted in her inexperience and immaturity. She hopes that Torvald will take the responsibility of the forgery on his shoulder, when he will come to know it. Such romantic immaturity is obvious in her speech, as she says, “Something glorious is going to happen” (Ibsen, Act II). From the opening of the play till the exposure of Nora’s forgery of her father’s signature, Nora appears to be an immature fancy girl. But when Torvald refuses to take the responsibility of Nora’s crime on his shoulder, her romanticism shudders into pieces. Indeed right at this point her self-exploration starts.
Nora’s Traditional Subservient Role in Torvald’s Family
Nora appears to be an apparatus to pacify her husband’s sexual appetites. In Torvald’s household, her roles are the traditional ones of cooking delicious dishes, raising children; washing clothes, maintaining house and hearth; and following her husband’s orders and simply to remain depended on her husband. She endeavors heartily to be an perfect mother and an ideal housewife, as such it is evident in her speech: “To be able to be free from care, quite free from care; to be able to play and romp with the children; to be able to keep the house beautifully and have everything just as Torvald likes it!” (Ibsen, Act I). In the beginning she appears to be loyal to her husband. She accepts her subservience as a pacifier of Torvald’s carnal-desires. She dresses up herself sexily to attract Torvald more and more. She pictures herself as his plaything. Such disparaging tendency is obvious in her speech, “Your squirrel would run about and do all her tricks if you would be nice, and do as she wants” (Ibsen, Act II).
Nora’s Self Awareness of Her Lack of Individuality and Identity
When Nora gets disenchanted for the first time, she perceives that her husband lives for his own self. She also realizes that she never exists in the way Torvald exists. Torvald exists through his economic independency and power to act on his own. On the contrary she has not existed because she has to run her life according to Torvald’s wish, not her own. This awareness provokes her to think of her subservient status in Torvald’s family in retrospect. After the disillusionment, she feels that she has a very little ‘say’ in her husband’s family. Her individuality and identity are so much surrendered to Torvald’s that she cannot even share her fears and anxiety freely with Torvald. Rather she is compelled to hide her anxiety least it might offend Torvald. Nora realizes this invisibility and stealthy being in the family as her lack of individual identity and individuality: “I have existed merely to perform tricks for you, Torvald. But you wanted it like that…It is your fault that I have made nothing of my life.” (Ibsen Act III)
Indeed Nora is a developing character. Along the progress of the novel, Nora heads towards individual existence and freedom. Also at some point of the novel, Nora discovers patriarchal politics of female body as well as “perfomativity” or “action-determined” gender identity of a woman in the male dominated society. Eventually she comes into conflict with her subservient position in Torvald’s households and, defying the patriarchy-assigned womanly actions within the four walls of a husband’s house, she decides to leave his husband’s house with a view to exploring her own self and boosting her individual identity.
Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, New York: Routledge. 1990. 02 November, 2010.
Ibsen, Henrik. A Doll’s House. Trans. Emma Goldman, New York: Penguin, 2006.