Study Guide

A Doll's House Women and Femininity

By Henrik Ibsen

Women and Femininity

Act One
Torvald Helmer

HELMER: "That is like a woman! […] you know what I think about that. No debt, no borrowing." (1.21)

Torvald seems to stereotype all women as frivolous spendthrifts.

HELMER: "Is it my little squirrel bustling about?" (1.9)

By constantly referring to Nora with pet names, Helmer seems to dehumanize his wife.

Nora Helmer

NORA: "Tell me, is it really true that you did not love your husband? Why did you marry him?"
MRS. LINDE: "My mother was alive then, and was bedridden and helpless, and I had to provide for my two younger brothers; so I did not think I was justified in refusing his offer." (1.136-1.137)

Offering herself in marriage was one of the few ways a woman had of supporting her family.

Mrs. Christine Linde

MRS. LINDE: "I only feel my life unspeakably empty. No one to live for anymore." (1.143)

Christine seems to be fulfilled by living in service of others, a stereotypical role of women.

Act Two
Nora Helmer

NORA: "Surely you can understand that being with Torvald is a little like being with papa." (2.217)

It seems that for most of Nora's life she's been under the thumb of a man.

Act Three
Mrs. Christine Linde

MRS. LINDE: "Nils, a woman who has once sold herself for another's sake, doesn't do it a second time." (3.72)

Christine is unwilling to sell herself a second time. Did Nora sell herself in a way when she married Torvald?

MRS. LINDE: "I want to be a mother to someone, and your [Krogstad's] children need a mother." (3.58)

Christine is willingly stepping back into the traditional female role, which her friend Nora forsakes at the end of the play.

MRS. LINDE: "What a difference! Someone to work for and live for—a home to bring comfort into." (3.84)

A Doll's House is often discussed as play that shows the imprisonment of housewives, but Christine is an example of a woman who willingly and joyfully assumes the role.

Torvald Helmer

HELMER: "No man would sacrifice his honour for the one he loves."
NORA: "It is a thing hundreds of thousands of women have done." (3.345 3.346)

What does Nora mean by this? Do all housewives sacrifice their honor?

HELMER: "I shall not allow you to bring up the children; I dare not trust them to you." (3.242)

Torvald is stripping his wife of her most cherished feminine role: motherhood.

Nora Helmer

NORA: "What do you consider my most sacred duties?"
HELMER: "[…] your duties to your husband and your children."
NORA: "I have other duties just as sacred. […] Duties to myself." (3.310-3.314)

This idea was completely scandalous in Ibsen's time. The thought that a woman might have value other than being a homemaker and mother was outrageous.