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A Doll House Essay - True Man Wants

bizkitgirlzc 29 / 2  
Jun 3, 2008   #1
Can someone please check my grammar and see if the essay discusses how their relationship and how it presages what is to become of the couple in the end?

"The true man wants two things: danger and play. For that reason he wants woman, as the most dangerous plaything," said the well-known German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche. Interestingly enough, this idea is also created by Henry Ibsen in his play A Doll House. Ibsen uses dialogue, tone and stage directions to convey the master-pet relationship that exists within the dysfunctional marriage between Nora and Torvald Helmer, which builds up to their inevitable separation.

The title of the play is not at all misleading - the fact that Ibsen titled it A Doll House is sensible since the entire play does in fact take place in the house of the Helmers' - a home that can be metaphorically compared to a doll house, given that the characters act in a routine that is more or less equivalent to a playroom. The roles of doll and master are given, respectively, to Nora and her husband. These assigned roles are seen in the way Helmer speaks to Nora. He treats her like a pet or a child - often using terms such as "little lark, squirrel or little songbird." (1080) What is most interesting is the connotative diction that Helmer uses when he talks to Nora - "So little wastrel has been throwing money around again?" (1080) At first glance, the word wastrel doesn't sink in for what it is - a highly negative word meaning some one who spends carelessly, a good-for-nothing. It isn't noticeable at first because it is being surrounded by artificial diction like "little" and "throwing...around," in other words, Ibsen has Helmer sugarcoat the insults and the degradation towards Nora. The audience can begin to notice the lack of balance between these partners since one obviously believes to have the authority to control the other which foreshadows that the marriage will fail. Ibsen clearly points this out when Helmer refers to Nora as an expensive pet:

My wastrel is a little sweetheart, but she does go through an awful lot of money awfully fast. You've no idea how expensive it is for a man to keep a wastrel. (1082)

What this demonstrates is how Helmer doesn't even see his wife as a person but rather a thing he has to maintain. By using the word "wastrel" he's calling her basically a spendthrift and an idler but the tone he uses is frivolous making it more of a mock than coddling. A marriage is based on balance in respect and trust - Torvald treats Nora with neither and thus the marriage cannot hold. Unfortunately, the audience is not privy to what Helmer is thinking since this play falls under Realism Theatre - there are no asides or soliloquies from him to really know what he thinks of Nora. Ibsen uses their interaction through dialogue and detailed stage directions to show the audience the nature of their relationship and how it's destined to fail.

But this isn't one-sided either, because Nora plays the part of a doll or a pet well enough to go along with Helmer's role of master. Her behavior is that of a child, and when she speaks it lacks development, "...Just a tiny little bit?...Now that you're going to get...lots and lots of money." (1080) The lack of maturity in the way she speaks, using terms like "lots and lots" characterizes her as frivolous, even childish. It basically presents the deficiency of seriousness in this marriage. Furthermore, Helmer helps in Nora's characterizations of a pet or child - basically seeing her as a defenseless, lost creature. The dialogue between them shows precisely how this role-play works.

HELMER: (Takes out wallet.) Nora, what do you think I have here?

NORA: (turns around quickly). Money!
HELMER: Here. (Gives her some bills.) [1081]

What is presented here is Nora quickly turning to grab the money which easily reminds the audience of an all to eager dog wanting a doggie treat that its master is waggling with a "look what I have here!" It's a metaphor of the master-pet relationship that they have and Ibsen uses the stage directions along with the dialogic interaction between the two in order for the audience to visualize this. So far we see that there is an evident lack of equality in terms of respect for one another in this marriage - further evidence that the union cannot last. Nora evidently sees Helmer as her master and even hints to it when she says, "You know I wouldn't do anything to displease you." (1082) The submissiveness that is implied by saying that she won't do anything to displease her husband can be seen as a sign that she has been well-trained to be a good, tame little pet that is at her master's every beck and call. The reciprocity can be seen with Helmer. For example, the fact that he often uses repetition when speaking to her in order to scold her is also proof of the mater-pet relationship they share - "Nora, Nora." (1085) Syntactically speaking, this creates the effect of chiding her the way one would chide a child. Ibsen does this to emphasize Nora's characterization of a child/pet and enforce Helmer's role as her master - a marriage that cannot hold up with this system because Nora must eventually grow-up.

The frivolous tone that Ibsen has Helmer always use with Nora is recurring and the fact that he has Helmer use the word "little" throughout the dialogues along with words like "wastrel and prodigal" makes the insults almost affectionate and almost confuses the audience into forgetting the negative connotation of those words. It mirrors the way an owner would speak to a dog - using a cooing tone to sugar-coat the things he's saying to the dumb animal. In the same way, this can be applied to the way adults talk to babies - where the tone of their voice goes through more than the actual content. However, Ibsen uses this technique of conveying a frivolous tone to confuse the audience by creating the scenario where Nora and Helmer will role-play. At the same time this unsettles the audience of how degrading this treatment of a husband to a wife is in the Helmer marriage. In addition, the comparison that Ibsen uses in having Helmer compare Nora to different sorts of birds is in itself a foreshadowing symbol because in the end, Nora, like a bird, grows wings and flies off to find herself and her own path in life - it's a metaphor for what she will do. It isn't until the final argument between Helmer and Nora that we see her shed her child-like character and become a real a character and even a real person. This is perhaps the most realistic transformation out of the Realism Theatre Ibsen strives to achieve - Nora reacts and becomes a real person making her the protagonist of the play. She changes unlike Helmer who does nothing to resolve the societal problem he represents - Nora is the one to take action. She takes her final decision of leaving her family for the welfare of not only them but herself as well. Nora finally makes her own decision and does not care about her husband's consent.

Ultimately, she stops being "poor little Nora" (1083) and becomes a clearheaded woman that no longer tolerates being talked down to or used as a doll or as a plaything. Ibsen is able to show us that the build up of Nora's degradation and dehumanization in the rising action of the play that will lead to the inevitable break-up between Helmer and his wife in the play's dénouement and resolution. The upset balance in the relationship between them is never set to equivalence until Nora decides to become an adult and a real person - not a pet or a doll. The master-pet relationship that Ibsen creates for these two characters builds up the inevitable failure of Nora being a doll in a fake marriage.

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