Henrik Ibsen wrote the play A Doll’s House in three acts. He spoke about the relationship between the married couple Torvald and Nora and demonstrated the position of women in society in the 19th century. Established roles social expectations form in people’s original models and patterns of behavior, which break down in the event of a sharp change in circumstances. In the relationship between Torvald and Nora, the spouse occupies a dominant position, which was awarded to him by the patriarchal society. He skillfully uses this and enjoys his role, which he inherited a priori, upon the fact of being born a man. His position can be seen in the language used to address his wife, where he also points to the stability of the world around him, in which the spouse is the guarantor of his unconditional masculinity and power.
Through Torvald Helmer’s remarks, the author lexically shows his wife’s relationship. Modern research in linguistics notes: “Helmer’s attitude towards his wife is affectionate, but in a manner more appropriate in treating a doll” (Torghabeh 96). Torvald uses diminutives and nicknames to associate Nora with small animals and birds. This communication pattern reflects the hierarchy within the home in the daily life of a married couple. In some situations, Torvald uses such appeals too often and deliberately; each time, he emphasizes the subordinate role of Nora and enjoys this. The fact that Nora agrees with each of his names and plays along (lowers her head or eyes down, speaks ingratiatingly about fatigue, and never demands anything directly) confirms his words and, therefore, relaxes him. No one argues with him and does not offer alternative positions of communication, which means that he is right, as usual.
By affirming the role of Nora (a weak, unprotected child in need of constant care), Torvald affirms his position, which is most important. He actualizes in his language his unconditional and fundamental involvement in another person’s life, alien to him. Therefore, we can say that his speech is an arrogant actualization of his supremacy and emphasizes this fact in front of other people who are strangers in his house with his wife. Torghabeh argues, “Helmer’s language indicates intimacy at the same time that it helps him maintain his superiority to Nora” (97). The arrogant Torvald is not interested in the position of his wife, but he is always worried about his position.
The Established World and Roles in It
Torvald’s expectations form his worldview, which he cannot later question. Despite his greatness and emphasizing his intellect (as opposed to Nora), Torvald probably lacks critical thinking. The essential components of critical thinking are doubts and questioning the guidelines. Torvald is deprived of this ability because the society of the 19th century gave him a highly comfortable kind of existence in a privileged status. Torvald does not understand and does not realize until the end of the play that his wife is a separate person and may not act by his expectations.
Moreover, Nora may not work under societal expectations. By the nature of Torvald, it is clear that he is terrified of public condemnation and discussion. Torvald would like to have an obedient wife and an ordinary exemplary family. Then other people would admire him too because he is the head of this family; they would see him as “the marriage’s dominant member” (Akter 85). He treats the family as a whole, not just Nora, as an entourage and inanimate objects surrounding him. These objects create an atmosphere of power around him, in which other people, other men, in front of whom he needs to keep a face, can be convinced.
The Right Wife as a Guarantee of Masculinity
Nora, for Torvald, is the key to his masculinity, and he values her due to this. He does not need the status of a loner, and even more so, he does not need the level of a man from whom his wife left of her own free will to nowhere. There is no idea in his mind that a woman, is “caring for their children and running the household” can take things and leave his house (Akter 82). He was entirely unprepared for the latter since he did not consider such an option.
Experiencing a financial problem, Torvald’s financial insolvency (at least situational) becomes apparent for him and others. Then the only constant in his life is his wife, who, as it seems to him, cannot leave him. Nora ensures that he is still alive, still able to work, and most importantly, to be loved. He can receive care and support; at least one person is ready to sacrifice all comfort for him. However, such sacrifices are not conditioned by affection or love but mainly by position in society and status.
Readers can trace Torvald’s position about his wife and himself in his language, reflecting the stability of things around him and marital fidelity and complaisance as a guarantee of masculinity. Torvald uses childish vocabulary towards Nora, emphasizing the lack of independence of his wife. He puts himself in opposition to her, declaring himself as her guardian and parent. Torvald also has a strong connection with established societal roles, and he does not accept any changes. He believes that the spouse can leave him; it seems incredible. He is ossified in a privileged status and can never take the place of another person. Torvald uses his wife as a pledge and a way to demonstrate his masculinity. Possessing a woman who is ready to devour any comfort for him, he shows himself and society masculinity and viability in life.
Akter, Saima. “Re-Reading Henrik Ibsen’s a Doll’s House: A Modern Feminist Perspective.” International Journal of English and Comparative Literary Studies, vol. 2, no. 3, 2021, pp. 79–87. Crossref.
Rajabali Askarzadeh Torghabeh. “Stylistic Analysis of Characters in Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House: Masculinity and Supremacy vs. Femininity and Helplessness”. Journal of Research in Applied Linguistics, vol. 10, no. 2, 2019, pp. 91-105.