Marriage and Gender Roles in “A Doll’s House”
The subject of marriage cannot be discussed without paying attention to its twin, love. Couples who are ultimately united in marriage should express love for each other with exception of some cultural practices where one gender is often forced to marry partners who are not their choice. Such a forced marriage depicts a gender imbalance where one gender dominates by dictating what should be done. Love has been misused to mean lust or some uncontrolled and unreasonable passion. The true expression of love involves the exercise of reason and judgment and will (Perry 47). Such a love will move one to appreciate his or her partner from a clear understanding and be willing to keep the marriage vows whatever it takes. A Doll’s House portrays the subject of marriage and gender roles as they are in the real world as Ibsen paints a picture of a marriage that begins with a perfect understanding but ends in divorce due to inequality and misunderstandings.
Nora and Mr. Helmer as couples work hard to keep their marriage but it is unfortunate that it ends in divorcé. Before the divorce, we see them juggling the marriage roles. One of the interesting scenes is where Nora and Helmer engage in hot exchanges over how money is to be spent. Nora has just brought some macaroons which she desires them to enjoy for a Christmas but Helmer is not pleased because she has bought them on debt and has been spendthrift (Ibsen 3). This is a common occurrence among married couples. The subject of money is always controversial and in most cases causes breakouts. Helmer reminds Trova of the rules they placed that no debts are allowed (Ibsen 4). In spite of this saddening conversation, we find Helmer praising his wife. Teasing her with names such as “my lark,” “squirrel” (Ibsen 3). This instance at the beginning of the play brings into the picture the common occurrences in a marriage. A family made up of husband and wife are brought into view having a normal life such as congregating for a Christmas, pouring praises on each other, trying to be affectionate and having normal squabbles about expenditure. However, the end is sad as it ends with a divorce.
There is a sad rift in this family. Nora had born Mr.Helmer three children. It is sad that Helmer finds his wife uneducated and incapable to take care of the children (Ibsen 115). There is a great failure on the part of Helmer on how he approaches his wife. This is a present reality in the society today where women are denied a fair education and are seen as incapable of taking up some roles even those that they are most capable of while they have the will to drive them to major achievements (Alison 47). Rather than confront her sharply on her inabilities he ought to have endured with her and taught her patiently. Now Nora is sad and tells him that she must leave him, stand aside and understand herself first before she can live with him (Ibsen 115). This is a divorce. Nora has just lived with helmer for eight years but she is disappointed and confesses that she had not understood the kind of a man Helmer was. It is sad ending indeed for Helmer to hear his “doll” say that she has lost confidence in him as a man to spend with the remainder of her life. In fact, she does not believe that helmer has any strength left to be a better man (Ibsen 120). Again, Ibsen demonstrates the power of fate that befalls many marriages. Just as the couples were powerless when they fell in love, at the end of it all their remains no power even in Helmer to win his “doll” back.
In the conversation between Krogstad and Mrs. Linden, we find a sad story of a woman forced into marriage due to circumstances. Mrs. Linden states that she had a helpless mother and brothers to take care of and could not wait for Mr. Krogstad and his fortunes to mature (Ibsen 89). This she regrets. Mrs. Linden finds herself in such a predicament because she has to take care of her bedridden mother and two younger brothers. This scene furnishes us with a change of gender roles. Linden is portrayed as having to wait for Krogstad’s fortune which depicts her as incapable of working or is not supposed to work and earn. It is also important to remember that she married her husband because of circumstances not out of love. Mrs. Linden adds more information on how women are perceived as a being who sales “herself for the sake of others” (Ibsen 92). This a high price that even men could not give; we find Mr. Helmer betraying and forfeiting his wife (Ibsen 120).
The characters in the play are assigned names that are quite symbolic. We have Mr. Rank a male character assigned such a high name depicting position, Mr. Helmer called as one trying to reach the “helm” while a character such as Mrs. Nora is praised as a doll or even little creature. This depicts the cultural practice of that time. Men must have been expected to soar to high positions while women stayed at home and do their knitting and regular house chores (Ibsen 97). The position of men is lifted while that of women languishes at a low level. This is an indication of an inconceivable huge gap.
The play has brought out a perfect blend of marriage life and gender roles. It has broken the myth that women fall first in love and deep as compared to men: in fact, revelations have indicated that the opposite is true that men fall in love first and deep than women (Linda). This is found to be the case with Mr. Helmer. He is broken when Mrs. Nora wants to divorce him while he has been mistreating her. Women are expected to lay low and follow with an unquestioned obedience to the demands of the male figure. They are expected to stay at home and wait for gifts from their husband. This kind of masculinity and feminism has corrupted most cultures even today. Women should defend their rights in reasonable lines such as Nora had to do when she was not appreciated nor recognized.
Cahall, Perry J. The Mystery of Marriage: A Theology of the Body and the Sacrament. Liturgy Training Publications, 2016.
Mackinnon, Alison. Women, love, and learning: The double bind. Peter Lang, 2010.
Lindsey, Linda L. Gender roles: A sociological perspective. Routledge, 2015.
Henrik, Ibsen. A Doll’s House. https://www2.hf.uio.no/polyglotta/public/media/libraries/file/10/A%20Dolls%20House-%20Henrik%20Ibsen.pdf