“Helmer: I would gladly work night and day for you. Nora- bear sorrow and want for your sake. But no man would sacrifice his honor for the one he loves.
Nora: It is a thing hundreds of thousands of women have done.”
A Doll’s House is the most performed play in the world. I recently got to read it and must say, it is a very powerful play. Ibsen is a genius, a Modernist genius. I have only ever had this much fun while reading Dario Fo‘s Accidental Death of an Anarchist. While there is no humour in this play, I loved reading it.
Nora, a housewife, is a spendthrift who had borrowed money from a shady character so that she, her husband and their infant son could travel south to Italy for her husband to recuperate from some illness. Like a wife who loves her husband, she arranges the money in not so legal terms which she diligently tries to pay back at the cost of sacrifice of her own materialistic needs. At first, she comes across as a woman who only lives to shop, spend and dote on her children and husband, but it is later that her true, striving character comes to light. This borrowed money is both her pride and joy as she exclaims to her friend Christine who has fallen on hard times and is a very independent woman. Later, this very pride becomes the source of unhappiness as she is a victim of blackmail by Krogstad.
The characters are well written and developed for a play that is only three acts long. Her husband, Torvald Helmer, who claims to love his “song-bird”, “skylark” so very much undergoes an ugly transformation for a moment which results in a revelation for Nora. This results in one of the most powerful scenes I have ever read in Literature. Nora, from being just a wife and a mother, feels the need to find herself. She realises that she has to true to her own womanhood. Torvald, who cannot understand his wife at this point, bewildered tries to protest against her assertion of her own identity.
“Helmer: But this is disgraceful. Is this the way you neglect your most sacred duties?
Nora: What do you consider is my most sacred duty?
Helmer: Do I have to tell you that? Isn’t it your duty to your husband and children?
Nora: I have another duty, just as sacred.
Helmer: You can’t have. What duty do you mean?
Nora: My duty to myself.”
Other characters like Doctor Rank and Krogstad offer an insight into the daily lives of different people. Krogstad is surprisingly my favorite character after Nora, he exemplifies the anti-hero, a man who just wants a second chance, not so much sinister but driven by need. I would recommend everyone to read this play at least once. Such a strong sense of womanhood from a male writer, I haven’t read such a compelling stance before.