Thursday, 3 June 2010

A Doll's House - Henrik Ibsen

I have no idea when I read this play before, but I know I did... probably in my general lit class in college.  It's a good play, and very short.  The only difficult part is that it deals with some major societal problems.

Nora is a housewife, presumably in the late 1800s, and she allows her husband, Torvald, to perceive her as a complete twit.  In fact, she encourages it.  She's not though, she's simply ignorant which is a fault of her father and her husband for over-sheltering her and only teaching her what they believed she needed to know.  In order to save her husband's life, years ago, she took a loan, not knowing the consequences of her signature and her illegal actions regarding the note.  She's been working secretly to pay it back, but the man whom she took the loan from has reared up and is using her actions and Torvald's ignorance of this situation as blackmail in an attempt to keep his job and even get promoted.  The actions of the play revolve around that.

I can imagine what kind of an outcry that caused in 1879 when it was published.  It seems to be an ideal marriage, except it falls apart when it's shaken at all.  I'm fully willing to put the blame for that on Torvald.  Throughout the whole play, I was just repulsed by him.  He's arrogant, all-knowing (or so he thinks), demeaning, controlling, and a coward to top it all.  Torvald knew Nora's dance better than she did, he would teach her.  He would teach her to do this and that.  He told, and thus she did.  He claimed ownership of her and yet failed to protect her.  He left her ignorant and failed to put himself in there to fill in the gap.  Of course, she had no real reason to think this odd or assert that she knew anything at all.  It was a fun play for both of them and their children, but at the same time, and it brings up this question, how can one love in a relationship like that, or even be truly happy?

It's a good read for a lot of reasons.  It's thought provoking more than anything.  I'd like to see it performed once.  Not all of the issues it brings up are relevant to the general North American culture, perhaps, but then again, maybe they still are.  They certainly are in Japan.  From what I've been told, "American women don't know how lucky they are."  (This was from a Russian-born American woman I met last year.)  You could easily say the play was feminist in nature, but I think more than that, it's shedding light on a problem with society in general, not just in familial relationships.  I would assert, though, that women aren't necessarily the only ones kept ignorant and then abandoned by the people who kept them in the dark when a crisis arises.  That seems to be an old form of control, someone in power keeps his or her power by keeping the ones underneath from knowing any different.  Lots of food for thought in there, but I:m sure nobody wants to read me ramble about it any more.  I actually read this a good while ago.  I've been reading Les Miserables... not that you can tell at all....   I spent a whole day thinking about it after I was done though.  I couldn't start my next book until I'd sorted my thoughts out on A Doll's House first.