Essay: A Doll's House

The play A Doll's House (Henrik Ibsen) uses economic need to stress the effects of social taboos and gender roles. All of the leading female characters share with the audience the ways that both societal expectations and monetary needs have influenced their lives, molding them into who they have become. The women in the play, Anne Marie, Christine Linde, and Nora Helmer, illustrate the effects of stereotypical gender roles on individual freedom.

Anne Marie is the least developed character but nonetheless shares with the others the conflict of social pressure versus economic necessity. As the Helmer's nursemaid, it is her job to take care of the family's children. Ironically, earlier in her life she was forced to give up her own daughter to help with Nora's upbringing. While talking to Nora about motherhood, she shares that with the chance at "such a good job," being "a poor girl with troubles," she couldn't afford to pass it up, even at the price of losing her daughter (38). Upon taking the job, Anne Marie made an important decision. She gave up her daughter to better both of their lives. Anne Marie was poor and obviously in desperate need of a money. She would not have been able to support her daughter if she would have tried to keep her and search for a different job.

Christine Linde is a childhood friend of Nora's. She, like Anne Marie, grew up in much poorer circumstances than Nora, but has an entirely different motivation for working. Mrs. Linde's choices showed signs of following both social expectations and monetary need. Her mother was "ill and bedridden" and she felt compelled to marry a man she didn't love so that she could have the money to take care of her and her younger brothers; Christine confesses to Nora that she "just couldn't say no" (10). Unfortunately, when her husband died, his business died with him, so she had to work to support her ailing mother and young siblings. Eventually her mother passed, and the boys grew up, so they didn't need her any more. She then came to Nora, hoping that Trovald (Nora's husband) could get her a job. Mrs. Linde's history shows that she had given in to social expectations by becoming her brothers' mother figure while their real mother was ill.

Her decisions were influenced for economic reasons when she chose to marry and for both economic and social pressures when she decided to get a job to continue to support her family after her husband's death. Now Mrs. Linde, with nobody to support but herself, shows great independence by deciding to leave her town and get a new, stable job. As you can see, Mrs. Linde made choices that balanced the social vs. fiscal spectrum.

Nora Helmer, the protagonist in A Doll's House, has the most obvious connection to the conflict at hand. Before the play took place, she had forged her dead father's signature in order to borrow money to fund her husband's trip to Italy. In forging the signature, she went against social expectations by breaking the law, illegally obtained money, and flipping the role of husband and wife by supporting her husband when the doctor said he needed the leave. Ever since then, she has been working to pay off the loan.

Although Nora puts on a pretty face for everyone to see, she is really defying both her husband and society in general, even though her motives are good. At the end of the play, she confesses to Trovald that she hasn't been happy in her marriage, living as a "doll-wife" for him, and never having any serious conversations. She decides that she wants to become educated, and free from the rules that have been forced upon her. While Trovald tells her society's rules, "first and foremost you are a wife and a mother," Nora counters, "first and foremost I am a human being" (88). It is at this point that she realizes that her own belief system and what is socially acceptable don't match up. Trovald tells her that she "doesn't understand how society works," (89) but Nora has decided that it doesn't matter what society thinks; rather, it is a person's individual morals that are important. She broke the law for apparently economic reasons, but when looked at more closely, the forgery—and blackmail that followed—was a result of Nora's decision to uphold her own morals.

In conclusion, Anne Marie, Christine Linde, and Nora Helmer all have very different personalities, which causes them to handle their individual situations in different ways. However, they all balance economic need and societal standards, at times compromising one for the other, creating definite semblances between them.