Essay, Research Paper: Doll's House Analysis


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To view a work of art separately from it’s environment, ignoring the context,
will often undermine important aspects of the work. However, embracing the
context will allow one to appreciate the full scope and depth of the piece. In
order to fully absorb and understand it, one must consider factors in the
artist’s life and surroundings, i.e. the context. Henrik Ibsen created A
Doll’s House between 1878 and 1880. Like any significant work of art the
context not only influenced the play, but were essential parts of it. Norway, in
the early 19th century, was united with Sweden, who maintained seniority in the
relationship. Norway’s crown was based in Sweden, and most Norwegians felt
thier freedom was restricted. The linguistic difference that existed prohibited
any cultural merging. A good example being the relationship between Denmark and
Norway, the latter being a colony of Denmark’s until 1814. During the Danish
rule of Norway, there was a cultural synthesis involving literature. This
influence was still prominant during Ibsen’s time and throughout his work.
During the early part of the 19th century a patriotic movement materialized,
mainly sparked by a student named Henrik Wergeland. He studied and popularized
neglected folklore and other forgotten art and renewed confidence and pride in
the otherwise disappearing Norwegian artists. Wergeland and other patriots,
including Ibsen had their opposition. The Party of Intelligence felt that Norway
could only be redeemed by staying involved in the Euro- stream, while the
patriots preached isolationism and felt that Norway could only find new strength
from within itself. The Party considered the patriots crude and violent, while
the patriots saw in the Party the future of the establishment they were
currently trying to derail. Nasjonalromantikken, or national romaticism, became
a widely popular idea, in part because of Wergeland’s writings. This movement
centered around a restored appreciation for Norway’s non- material resources,
including the painters, musicians and folklorists. Asbjornsen and Moe
researched, rewrote, and published collections of Norwegian folktales and
restoration was begun on the Trondheim Cathedral, a very important piece of
national pride. There was much debate regarding language when new Norwegian
dialects were created while the most commonly spoken language, Landsmaal, was
not yet accepted as a written language. This caused many problems for the
writers, as they spoke one language, but were forced to write in another.
Aasmund Vinje, a schoolmaster and writer, created a written lanuage based on
Landsmaal and helped advance towards a solution. Ibsen, like most writers,
though, continued to work using the Dano - Norsk dialect, (Danish influenced
Norwegian) called riksmaal, and spoke out against Landsmaal. A Euro- romantic
movement around the middle of the century produced many Norwegian artists
including Andreas Munch, Bjornstjerne Bjornson, and Vinje. Wergeland’s sister,
Fru Collett, published The Sheriff’s Daughters in 1855 and it was considered
the first Norwegian novel of any stature. Danish writers continued to exert
their influence when Hans Christain Anderson and Ingemann became popular and
many Norsk writers looked to them for ideas and techniques. During the 1870s, a
Realist movement hit Norway and changed the writing of Ibsen, Bjornson, and the
‘Father of the Norwegian Novel,’ Kielland. During this time, prose drama and
fiction dominated this Norsk, artistic rennaisance, while poetry had little or
no place in it. Some saw poetry becoming popular around 1890, but this was more
of a prose poetry, or prose that invoved the evocation of moods. Henrik Ibsen
was born on March 28, 1828 in the small, southern town of Skien. When he was
young, Henrik’s father went bankrupt, which was considered very disgraceful at
the time. This affected young Ibsen greatly and he used it to allegorize in The
Wild Duck. Henrik attained an apprenticeship for a pharmacist, but despised the
job and moved to Christiana, where he intended to attend school. Instead, he
became the house poet and eventually stage manager at the Norske Theatre in
Bergen. He then went back to Christiana where he directed at the Mollergate
Theatre until 1862. During this time he married Susannah Thoreson and wrote The
Vikings in Helgeland, which popularized him as a writer in Norway. In 1864 he
applied for a poet’s pension from the government but was refused. He became
enraged at his homeland and left it, headed for Italy and Germany, though he
still made known his love for his homeland. He continued to write and produced a
number of plays and traveled to Egypt, among other countries. Ibsen was not
pleased with the nationalism of the foreigners he traveled with. He offended
many when he commented on this in a poem to a Swedish lady he knew, referring to
"A herd of German wild pigs, almost tamed." It made him glad he was
from a smaller, ‘non- competative,’ country. He was also disgusted with the
lack of religious importance in the Middle East, stating that the gods of Greece
still live, and Zeus still moves in the capitol, but "Where is Horus? Where
is Hathor? No trace exists, no memory." When in Rome, Ibsen began work on a
play titled Et Dukkehjem. A Doll’s House (in English) is a drama in which a
woman (Nora), as a result of certain events, realizes how one - sided her love
for her husband is. Throughout their marriage, she is viewed as an object,
rather than a caring equal. She leaves her husband, and her children, in the
search for individuality and freedom. At the time of it’s peformance, most
viewers were offended at the way Nora spoke to her husband. At the time,
marriage was a private thing, not suited for discussion in one of the most
public of art forms, and divorce was something one did not bring up at all. Many
called Ibsen an anarchist for suggesting that women leave their families in
search of themselves. Ibsen was not suggesting anyone do anything. His reply was
that his job was to ask questions, not to answer them. He was mearly requesting
that people look at, and think about, the social structure they support. One of
Ibsen’s main ideologies was that every human being has the right to act on
private judgement against conventional beliefs. The play reflects this clearly,
and the rebel in it is a woman for a reason. Ibsen knew no one would contemplate
his theme so thoroughly had Nora been a man or child. Many view this play as a
feminist drama, one created to better women’s lives. Ibsen’s only purpose
was to better human interactions. He once offended a dinner party, thrown in
honor of him, by a woman’s rights group, when he stated that he did not know
what the woman’s cause was. He did not see woman’s causes as any different
than human causes. In Ibsen’s notes for A Doll’s House, he speaks of two
types of moral consciousness, one for men and one for women. He felt that the
two did not understand each other, but, in practical life, women were judged by
masculine law as though they were men. "A woman cannot be herself in
today’s society." He was also quoted as saying that: "A man is easy
to study, but one never fully understands a woman. They are a sea which none can
fathom." The rule over Norway, by Sweden, made freedom a popular topic of
that time. Ibsen, though, saw political freedom and personal freedom as two very
different things. I shall never agree to identify Freedom with political
freedom. What you call Freedom, I call freedoms, and what I call the battle for
Freedom is nothing but the continuous pursuit of the idea of Freedom. He who
possesses Freedom otherwise than as something to be striven for possesses
something dead and meaningless, for by it’s very definition Freedom
perpetually expands as one seeks to embrace it, so that if, during the quest,
anyone stops and says: ‘Now I have it!’ he shows thereby that he has lost
it. According to Ibsen’s view of ‘Freedom,’ it is not something that can
be given to someone, the way Denmark had "given" it to Norway, with
the stipulation that Sweden be the big sister in the relationship. Norway was
considered ‘free’ by the Swedes. They had thier own crown, and government,
but it was so closely intertwined with that of Sweden that any Norsk
individuality was lost. Sweden, like Nora’s husband Torvald, was undoubtedly
dominant. Norway had freedoms, and could be involved in the legislation of
itself. Nora had freedoms, and was allowed her own life, to some degree. But any
concern for Nora’s (or Norway’s) personal being was purely superficial.
Eventually both became tired of having thier ‘Freedom’ restricted and took
action. The search for ‘Freedom’ for Nora, like Norway, began from within.
The most direct historical comparison that can be made with the play is with the
woman it is based on. Laura Kieler was a woman whose conduct was admired greatly
by Ibsen. So much so that he based his most rebellious character on her, clearly
solidifying the connection between context and art. Laura, unlike Nora, did not,
however, leave her husband. It swiftly became common knowledge that this was the
woman that Nora was based on, and Laura’a life was all but ruined. Ibsen
expressed much concern and regret upon learning what effect his play had had on
her, but by then there was nothing to be done. A Doll’s House had many
critics, and the ending we know was not the one shown all over at first. One
actress refused to participate unless the ending was changed, citing that she
would never leave her children. Ibsen decided that, if it was necessary that the
ending be changed, he should be the one to change it. He considered this the
lesser of two evils, though still calling the situation a "barbaric
outrage." Ibsen’s contemporary, Bjornson, said about the play, "It
is technically excellent, but written by a vulgar and evil mind." Ibsen had
this to say about his critics and his writing: Most critical objections boil
down to a reproach against the writer for being himself, thinking, feeling,
seeing and writing as himself, instead of seeing and writing as the critic would
have done, had he been able. The essential thing is to protect one’s essential
self, to keep it pure and free of all intrusive elements, and to draw a clear
distinction between what one has merely experienced and what one has spiritually
lived through; for only the latter is proper matter for creative writing.
Ibsen’s supporters eventually outnumbered his critics, and A Doll’s House,
with the original ending, made him artistically, socially, and financially
successful. The play is not nearly the social phenomenon it was at the time, but
it’s content, like that of all great art, can be a lesson to us still.
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