Ibsen's "A Doll's House" is a powerful drama about a woman's need to be not just a wife and a mother but a full human being. As such it has been hailed as a visionary work, and Ibsen has become seen as a kind of male precursor of feminism. Written in 1879, during a time of revolutionary upheaval in Europe, this play, and Ibsen's work in general are also regarded as some of the earliest examples of modernism. Dealing honestly and directly with social issues considered by conservative convention to be unsuitable for public discussion, the Norwegian playwright's masterful dramas left the rosy entertainments of the Romantic era behind and relentlessly probed the disturbing implications of a civilization losing faith in its own traditional religion and social structure.
Nora's choice of turning her back on the core Western values of family and religion for the dangerous attractions of authenticity, integrity, and full selfhood have always stimulated heated discussion. Was she right or wrong to leave her husband and children? I believe she did the right thing. But I will also consider the implications of the contrary conclusion.
I must confess that although I have a genuine admiration for Ibsen's dramatic talent, albeit based on a reading, rather than a staging of A Doll's House, I have a major quibble with the plausibility of Nora's transformation. It is as if she is two women. The first version of her we see is vain, manipulative, shallow, calculating, coy, and spoiled.
She controls the men around her with her beauty and charms of personality. She has Helmer wrapped around her little finger, although when he discovers her financial peccadilloes he pompously huffs and puffs that he will educate her about the morality that he has presumed without having earned. He is basically the classic bourgeois, more concerned about appearances than substance, and fearing a loss of reputation more than his lack of character. Helmer's first ...