Victorian Society

Peer pressure can hinder us from making choices that we would want to do, possibly in the situation of dropping a class or responsibility, or wearing comfortable clothing that isn’t deemed refined enough. The fear of being judged by the community around us can often inhibit us from doing something. A Doll's House is a gripping and morally gray play set in the Victorian Era written by Henrik Ibsen. It features a wife, Nora, who is onlys staying in her unhappy, unfulfilling marriage and household because society tells her that she cannot leave. However, in the last act of the play Nora leaves her husband and children for a new and independent life on her own, refusing to be anyone’s doll. Henrik Ibsen develops the motif of respect and reputation to prove that Victorian Society is crushing personal aspirations and desires.

Henrik often uses the submission of women to portray the longing to be respected in Victorian Society. For example, while Nora is longing to go to a party she degrades herself to her husband, Helmer, to convince him to get her an expensive dress for the gathering. “Your squirrel would run about and do all her tricks if you would be nice, and do what she wants” (Ibsen 41). Her statement ‘Your squirrel would run about and do all her tricks’ emits a sexual indication, like if she gets her dress then she will sexually please Helmer. She is degrading herself inthe moment, calling herself animal names and using her prowess to benefit from the respect and reputation by having a beautiful dress at this party. By doing so she is cheapening and sacrificing her body and intimate actions for the praise of the community.

Ibsen uses Nora’s childlike tendencies to demonstrate the contrast of how she acts, what responses she gets, and in turn, why she eventually leaves her family. While Nora is in the process of leaving Helmer, he degrades her by saying that she is being impulsive for leaving. But she disagrees and breaks away from being his metaphorical doll on pages 80-81.

Helmer: But there’s no one who gives up honor for love.

Nora: Millions of women have done just that.

Helmer: Oh, you just think and talk like a silly child.

Nora: Perhaps. But you neither think nor talk like the man I could join myself to. When your big fight was over - and it wasn't from any threat against me, what damage you - when all the danger was past exactly the same, your little lark, your doll that you’d have to handle with double care not that I’d turned out so brittle and frail. Torvald - in that instant it dawned on me that for eight years I’ve been living here with a stranger, and that I’d even conceived three children - oh, I can’t stand the thought of it! I could tear myself to bits.

Nora acts in a childlike manner to maintain the reputation of the submissive, innocent wife. When she does want to be taken seriously, no one does because they think she can not handle it. Helmer sees Nora leaving the family as irresponsible and not an act of independence. This is because she has acted so childlike and incapable in the past. She is finally letting her true aspirations rise about the community’s expectations of her and they still press to hinder her.

Ibsen uses the battle of morality in Nora to emphasize that respect and reputation are not above personal goals and aspirations. Nora, in the process of leaving Helmer, expresses the suffocation she feels of not just him, but every male figure that’s been in her life. “But our home’s been nothing but a playpen. I’ve been your doll-wife here, just as at home I was papa’s doll-child. And in turn, the children have been my dolls” (77).Nora is now combating against the reputations that she’s built for herself using the bricks of society, showing that it is all temporary and she has to find her own path and self before being responsible for others. She knows that she has been bending at the will of the men in her life, and that affects how she raises her children. This internal battle is ultimately for the psychological good of her marriage and children. However, Victorian society still cannot see it as the healthiest choice for all parties involved.

Ibsen uses Victorian beliefs to portray how Nora and Helmers relationship was a sham. Nora and Helmer are talking about Krogstad and how bad of a person Helmer thinks that he is, when Nora has ironically committed the same crime as him, if not worse. “Just imagine how a man with that sort of guilt in him has to lie and cheat and deceive on air sides, has to wear a mask even with the nearest and dearest he has, wit his own wife and children. And with the children, Nora - that’s where it’s most terrible” (33). Irony is being utilized by Ibsen when Torvald is saying this in front of his wife, who has deceived him so often. But because taking money out of the bank without his permission was something not culturally or legally accepted, it formed likes and secrecy in their marriage. Even if Nora wanted to be Transparent with Helmer, the aspiration was suffocated under the expectations to remain culturally pure and maintain a certain reputation and level of respect.

Throughout the play, Henrik Ibsen continuously makes social commentary on how there is an increased crumbling of real and raw aspirations and ambitions because of the pressure to be respected and maintain a reputation in Victorian society. However, this does not just apply to Victorian Society. The pressure to do or not do something is demonstrated in everyday life of the 21st century. The things people wanted to become as children are now considered irrational, so it has become increasingly common to get stuck in jobs and classes we hate that we also lack passion for. Do fear and anxiety of those around us keep people from completing, or even setting, goals that will better our mental health and physical well being?