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A Doll's House Setting

Where It All Goes Down

The Helmers' Living Room, Victorian Era, Norway

George Bernard Shaw said that A Doll's House is set in "every suburb in Europe" (source). You could probably tack America and a good portion of the rest of the world onto that as well. Though the play is set in Ibsen's native Norway, the characters don't spend a lot of time talking about things that are specifically Norwegian. The Helmers' living room is typical of any "respectable" middle-class room you might've found at the time. The choice of making the setting a bit generic seems to have been good one, as it allowed audiences everywhere to immediately superimpose their own lives onto the lives of the Helmers. In this way, there was no room to hide from Ibsen's message of a necessary spiritual awakening.

The play is also heavily influenced by its Victorian time period. This era was especially strict in many respects. Talk of sex and even babies was distasteful. Gender roles were pretty darn confining. Women were expected to be submissive to their husbands; husbands were expected to dominate. Women raised the children; men brought home the bacon. So it went. Anyone who challenged these deeply entrenched values faced some serious consequences. This charged atmosphere of gender division was the reason that the play became such a phenomenon. There's a good chance that, without the controversy, we'd have never even heard of A Doll's House. Needless to say, the pressure of strict Victorian values is the spark that ignites the play's central conflicts.

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