Nora's Identity as a Person in A Doll's House

Nora, the protagonist of Ibsen's problem play A Doll's House takes the bold decision to abandon her husband and children at the end of the play not primarily to be free from marital life marked by domination of her husband, but to educate herself so that she can stand on her own thereby enabling herself to establish her personal identity and to develop a sense of an individual.

Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906)

As the play opens, we find Nora as a passive recipient of whatever treatment is meted out to her. Her husband is always trying to impose his will on her and she is expected to behave the way he wants her to. She cannot eat the things she likes and cannot spend money at her will. She is expected to conduct herself as told by her husband. Helmer treats her as his personal property. She has no sense of individuality. Before marriage, she was controlled by her father and after marriage; she was under the control of her husband. She moves as gestures by the norms of the patriarchal society. She is no better than a childbearing machine confined within the four walls of the house. Her husband and his status are a source of her identity. She has nothing to pride on as an individual. The adjectives Helmer uses to address Nora are an indication of how she is seen by her husband. She is his squirrel and skylark. She is no more than an object existing solely for the pleasure of her husband. Things happen to her and she can’t make things happen. She has to follow the dictates and whims of her domineering husband.

A dutiful and loyal wife as she is, she forges a signature to get money to arrange for her husband’s treatment. The fact that she has borrowed money without asking for her husband’s permission wouldn’t be acceptable to Helmer. She decides to keep the matter a secret. After this she is always haunted by a fear of being exposed. Krogstad’s threats to reveal the matter to her husband if she doesn’t act on his behalf add to her psychological suffering. Her husband doesn’t entertain the presence of dishonest Krogstad and chides her as he finds Krogstad visiting their house. Nora is waiting for miracles to happen. She is hopeful that no matter what happens her husband will come to her rescue. However, when her act of forgery is revealed to Helmer, all his pretensions to love Nora are exposed and he comes out in his true colors. This is one of the greatest turning point in the play as it helps to see the disillusionment dawn upon Nora. After Krogstad took back the charge through a letter, Helmer feels safe and enacts a drama of a loving husband again. Nora now knows who her husband really is and decides to leave home and go away from a relation which has meant only suffering and humiliation for her. She finds no point in continuing to live with a person who always places his dignify and status above his love and care for his wife. His hypocrisies are no longer hidden from Nora.

Nora’s decision to leave her husband does not arise from a need to seek freedom from her status as a mother and a wife, more importantly, it stems from a need to establish her identity as a person. All along she had depended upon her husband basically due to the lack of education and the firsthand knowledge of the world. She quits her husband and children because she feels that her duty towards herself as an individual is more important than her duties as a wife and a mother. First and foremost, she is an individual and educating herself and becoming an individual in her own right is above everything else. It is for establishing her identity as an individual; she feels the need to leave her home and family.

Nora's decision at the end is intended to show that a man has no business to treat his wife as an item of his property or as a possession of his. A woman has a mind of her own, and an individuality of her own. She needs a favorable environment in which she can think for herself and can make her own wishes known to her husband. She should not be taken for granted by her husband.

 Helmer has shown himself to be a complete egoist, a self-centered man, a self-complacent husband who thinks that a wife is intended to be a source of warmth and comfort in the household and that all that matters is the husband's ideas, opinions, and tastes to which a wife must conform. Nora, by her bold action at the end, shows that she is not the conformist type of wife or that she has been a conformist for too long a time and that she is not prepared to continue in that role.

The first and final serious talk between Nora and Helmer represents a reversal in their previous roles. Now Nora takes the lead, forcing Helmer to look at their marriage from a totally-new angle. Her discussion of her position reveals an intuitive intelligence which has led her to connive at her own oppression since this had seemed the easiest way to a comfortable life. Faced with the most uncomfortable reality of the social, religious, and moral codes which her husband represents, her energy and love of life come into their own. She can no longer love Helmer for he is not the man she had believed him to be. Despite his attempts to persuade her to stay, or at least remain in contact with him, she no longer believes in miracles. Handing back her wedding ring, the symbol of their marriage, she leaves, her claim for independence complete. As the-sound of the slammed street door reverberates, she escapes to face the challenge of reality, a challenge which she is at least prepared to face, although she may be ill equipped to win the fight.

She is developing a character and evolves into a rebellious person towards the end of the play. It is exactly what she needs to be an individual and asserts her identity.

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