A doll’s House (1879) by Henrik Ibsen Style

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A Doll’s House (1879)

by Henrik Ibsen


  • The play is written in a realistic style. The setting alone was highly unusual for its time—within the living room of a middle-class house.

  • Ibsen lets life speak for itself to allow for rich psychological identities of characters

  • Explores controversial issues of his day

  • In a modern context it is considered a feminist play given Nora’s journey from a somewhat oppressive marriage to her eventual independence. It is a critique of patriarchal society. Ibsen argued that anyone, not just women, should be true to their own nature and not be restricted by repressive social conventions or values.

  • Ibsen believed that women would revolt against conventions of society which were oppressive. Critics disagreed and he was forced to write an alternative ending for German audiences. (In the second ending, Nora sees her children and decides not to leave. Ibsen called this ending a barbaric outrage against the play.)

Themes and Motifs
Individual vs Society

  • Several characters in the play base their life decisions based on society’s expectations.

  • Throughout this play, Ibsen demonstrates the idea that social dictates often conflict with, or restrict, individual desires.

Morality and Values

  • Distinctions are made between public and private morality.

  • Many of the characters witness the transformation of their values or the values of those around them in the course of the play as they react to unexpected events that disrupt their stable lives.

  • Acts of deception and disloyalty taint many of the characters, and money or financial issues often pose a challenge to personal morality.

Gender Roles

  • Ibsen draws heavily upon the debate surrounding the role of women in contemporary society. Nora is a middle-class housewife whose primary duties are as a mother and a spouse. She is expected to defer to her husband in every situation and has no independent means.

  • On one hand, Nora is successful in her role as Torvald’s obedient wife. On a deeper level, however, her belief in traditional gender roles is less sincere, and she often defies her husband’s wishes.

The Inability to Escape One’s Past or Heritage

  • Health, sickness, and heredity figure heavily in A Doll’s House.

  • External symbols, such as illness, reflect internal qualities, such as moral decay.

  • Characters repeatedly confront elements of their past or conflicts they have inherited from their predecessors, and at times these issues surface on a physical level.

  • We are reminded again and again how difficult it is to escape one’s past and how deeply we are impacted by our actions and those of others close to us.

Pay attention to:

  • imagery and/or symbolism related to animals, clothing, and disease;

  • the importance/significance of financial instruments;

  • the social expectations required of various characters;

  • Nora’s role as a wife and mother.

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