How Well Do I Know You?
Henrik Ibsen’s ‘ A Doll’s House ’: A Reflection
Henrik Ibsen’s classic ‘ A Doll’s House ’, which is also called a modern tragedy raises questions against certain established notions such as love and marriage, faith and function. The present essay endeavours to elaborate upon these notions with special allusion to the problem play, which is also Ibsen’s masterpiece.
In the beginning of the play, we are made to see a warm, lovely and comfortable household in a night of Christmas Eve, dawning on images of cheerfulness and affection. However, by the end of the play, the whole situation takes a radical turn and slides into a state of morbid ruin and disrepair. Nora Helmer, the mistress of the household is shown to be a very good homemaker and an affectionate companion to her husband, Torvald Helmer. He loves her, chides her all the same and also calls her by pretty names. Helmer seems to be more of a control-freak and likes to maintain things as per his own norms and conditions. He even exercises control over Nora. Nora, unconscious of this, takes him to be the master of her universe and acquiesces. Nora, it appears, chooses to wear a blindfold for all his whims and eccentricities and obeys him like a faithful wife. She is shown to be incharge of all the domestic matters (like choosing the colour of her curtains or deciding on what should be made for dinner, etc.) but when it comes to taking external decisions, she is restrained. Helmer, on the other hand, is shown to be incharge of all the worldly matters. In fact, it is this that Ibsen vehemently protested. He refused to see women cribbed, cabined and confined. Life is full of pain and surprises and women should be allowed to see the grimmer aspects of life as well. There is no reason as to why she should be kept in protective custody. Helmer takes pride in his wife’s good housekeeping skills, which Nora mistakenly takes for his love.
Love is a very mysterious phenomenon. It eventually takes away more than it reasonably gives. To quote Larkin selfishly:
“The difficult part of love
Is being selfish enough,
Is having the blind persistence
To upset an existence
Just for your own sake,
What cheek it must take.
And then the unselfish side-
How can you be satisfied,
Putting someone else first
So that you come off worst?
My life is for me,
As well ignore gravity.
Still, vicious or virtuous,
Love suits most of us.
Only the bleeder found
Selfish this wrong way round
Is ever wholly rebuffed,
And he can get stuffed. (Love)
To Helmer, it is a fair bargain- give and take, precipitating into a well-settled arrangement called marriage, where he prefers to rein over his subservients or dependents. What is even worse, is that he takes Nora for granted for the unconditional love she bestows upon him. To Nora, love is a selfless thing. She gives herself wholly to Helmer’s comforts and needs. This also includes her children. To her, love is an eternal thing and marriage, a holy sacrament. She nurses and cherishes her faith in this institution at her best. Her emotion echoes the mood in the lines:
“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways,
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light,
I love thee freely, as men strive for night,
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise,
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith,
I loved thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and if God chose,
I shall but love thee better after death.” (Sonnet 43)