Henrik Ibsen and a Doll’s House

A Doll House is a good illustration of Henrik Ibsen’s personal life. He lived his life trying to succeed the challenges that came with being in the middle-class where uncertainties are the order of the day, from financial constraints to having challenges maintaining healthy relationships. In his time growing up, his father struggled to make ends meet and at one point, they had to move to an old house after losing their home to debtors. His upbringing inspired the play and he portrayed his experiences in different characters. His family broke due to poverty because his father became a drunkard and his mother sank into depression. His mother lost her sense of self and was controlled by his drunkard father for practically the rest of her life. In his play, Ibsen also stresses about the state of society; at the time, men were the decision maker, breadwinners while women spent their time in the house waiting on their husbands. His mother, due to her state of mind, always supported his father’s decisions. This is likely to portray a picture of success and peace in marriage while in reality, the marriage was a façade. All these aspects, Ibsen witnessed in his life growing up and transferred the same to the characters in the play. Norah and Torvald played the role of his mother and father respectively. Ibsen uses elements of money, ambition, and intimacy to display the falsehoods of marriages and relationships from personal experience to write the play, “A Doll House.”

The social event that triggered a series of events leading up to the writing of the play, “A doll’s house,” was the level of despair Ibsen’s father exhibited after becoming bankrupt. In extension, it brought out the importance that was attached to money during that time. He moved the family to an old house on a farm because he could no longer afford to pay for a decent house for them. Growing up, Ibsen did not respect his mother because of the way she was ill-treated by his father and did nothing about it. She made him resent women and he portrayed his feelings in the play (A & E Networks). Torvald did not consider his wife important. To him, she was expendable and he took every chance he got to belittle her as he wished. According to Ibsen, it was right for women to be treated as such because they amounted to nothing in his opinion. He went on to portray his mother’s depression in Nora. However, in Nora, he made her take the blame for sinking them in debt. In the case of Torvald and Nora, Nora is the one that sinks them into debt while in his own story, his father is the one that becomes bankrupt. However, his lack of respect for women does not end without him blaming Nora in the play for being dishonest. She had taken out a loan without informing her husband and started working to pay it off. When Torvald discovered, he was angry because he had not been consulted, yet he had been sick (Ibsen). It was lack of respect for Torvald, that his wife would do something about money without informing him. Ibsen, in his opinion, women did not deserve to have the freedom to handle their finances. He also felt that any woman who did anything without the instruction of her husband was a disgrace to society. This he portrayed through the character of Nora when she was being castigated by Torvald.  

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In the social structure of the play, the society was the same as where Ibsen grew up. He portrayed Nora as being slightly the opposite of his mother. Instead of taking out loans and making her husband pay as Nora did, Ibsen’s mother was meek and opinionless in the eyes of her husband. Torvald was not a drunkard, which is in contrast to Ibsen’s father. He drunk more when he had no money but Torvald was yet to deteriorate to that point. In a way, Ibsen tried to portray what he wished had been happening in his home when he was growing up. He seemed to have wanted his father to take better control of his drinking than he did. At the same time, he wished that his mother had disgraced herself more than she did, he portrayed her in Nora. However, he also made Nora want to free herself from her controlling husband. She wanted to study and become more than just a woman who stays home and dots on her children. In the whole play, however, Ibsen does not reference himself anywhere. He remains part of the story by implication rather than participation. 

Ibsen had grown in poverty, as his father struggled to get back on his feet and provide a comfortable home for his family. As such, in the play, Torvald and Nora want to make money by all means. They envision that life with more than enough money would be free of stress. They feel trapped by their debts, which leads to their obsession with money. Nora’s fixation is intense to a point where she talks to her friend about having excess money to negate the problems she has in life. This is a similar feeling and experience to Ibsen’s. He wants to earn money so that he can live a comfortable life. He seems to want to improve his life and be better than his father. He clearly resents living a miserable life, therefore, he works hard and even moves to a different country where life is promising. Ibsen, his father, Nora, and Torvald all share a common dream of living comfortably and working to earn it. Ibsen’s mother is the only character who does not seem to be much concerned about money and living a better life. She may desire to live a better life because she slips into depression when her husband turns into a drunkard, but her level of ambition is dismal. Ibsen made Nora different from his mother in a few aspects that made them different women.

The historical events that inspired Ibsen are varied. He had moved away from his family in order to try and make something out of himself. While away, he was able to write most of the work that is remembered today. The events that inspired most of his work were personal experiences. He cut contact with his family because he felt that he could no longer support them. He portrayed this aspect in the fact that Torvald had no family apart from Nora mentioned in the play. He also tries to show how women suffer in the hands of men, and even when it was clearly not something he believed in, he saw it happen and acknowledged it. In the case where Nora takes out a loan in order to pay for his treatment, Torvald gets angry at her and blames her for shaming him. However, he does not look back at why she took the loan in the first place. She had borrowed the money in order to get him treatment, a gesture he dismisses judging by his actions towards Nora. When the employee whom he fires writes the letter, he helps in breaking their marriage. Torvald blames his wife but after learning that they do not have to pay back the money, he suddenly thinks everything is settled. However, his behavior triggers Nora and she leaves him behind with the children. In the times during which Ibsen grew, women like Nora were rare. Women always did what their husbands wanted. If Nora had been Ibsen’s mother, she would have forgiven her husband and stayed back to save her marriage. 

Looking at Ibsen’s life and the narration in the play, Ibsen tried to put his life on paper mixed with imagination and realism. He made the setting vivid and relatable to many people. It is for this reason that even today, his work is relevant because he wrote about real life situations as he saw them in society. It is clear that his work was mostly critiquing the social set up that made the middle-class suffer a lot of instability. Coming from a middle-class family that was quickly plunged into poverty, Ibsen was wary of ending up in the same predicament once he was capable of fending for himself. He started working at an early age in an attempt to get himself out of poverty. It was out of his hard work and being outgoing that he landed an opportunity to go to Italy where his creativity was exploited fully. He wrote most of his work after leaving his home country. Additionally, him leaving his home country was portrayed as newly found freedom, which he expresses through Nora. Both he and Nora had faced rejection by trying to do something positive. Nora left her home after her husband accused her of shaming him, while she did what she did to save him. Ibsen was termed as a bad manager when he tried to run a theatre that ended up not making good returns and he left to Italy after that.

To conclude, Henrik Ibsen brought out all of his qualities in different characters in his play. He was resilient and failure did not define his destiny. He failed in running the theatre and went out to look for better deals, where he was able to write his plays (Decker). The play is ridden with deception, which does not come up at any point in the life of Ibsen. It shows how well he blends personal experiences with imagination to reach out to the audiences. Ibsen’s talent as a play right is certainly remarkable given the kind of hardship he had to endure to get to where he wanted. Eventually, he managed to become a household name in the world of modern drama.

Works Cited

A & E Networks. Biography Networks. 15 April 2019. Online. 24 April 2019.

Decker, C R. “Ibsen’s Literary Reputation and Victorian Taste.” Studies in Philology (1935): 632-645. Document.

Ibsen, Henrik. A Doll’s House. n.d. Document. 24 April 2019.

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