A Doll’s House – reflection of woman’s transformation from subjugation

Article Posted in: Research Articles

A Doll’s House – Reflection of Woman’s Transformation from Subjugation

by – Rosy Maria D’Souza, Vol.III, Issue.XXIV, January 2017

About the Author:

Rosy Maria D’Souza is a post graduate in History and English Literature with B. Ed.  Teaching is her passion and she has been teaching for the past 20 years. She is a research scholar at Shri J.J.T. University, Jhunjhunu, Rajasthan.


“A Doll’s House” is a three-act play in prose written by Henrik Ibsen – a Norwegian playwright. It was published in 1879. “A Doll’s House” represents a picture of an innocent 19th century woman struggling to achieve emancipation.  This play contradicted the existing beliefs that wife is expected to be contentedly passive and the husband paternally protective and she would never leave her children. In the play Nora – the protagonist – leaves her husband and her children at the end of the play- which was quite shocking to the readers of that time.

Keywords: Subjugation, Pride, Relationship, Rebelliousness.

Henrik Ibsen’s play “A Doll’s House” was published in the late nineteenth century. The title “A Doll’s House” is significant because Nora the doll does not have any individuality of her own. She lives in the shadows of her husband as his puppet, his property. The opening of the play emphasizes the way the husbands treated their wives.  Torvald Helmer – who is recently promoted to a new position in the bank addresses Nora his wife as a little lark, little squirrel.

Further it is seen that Nora who is dependent on her husband economically does not have a freedom to be a spendthrift. Since it was Christmas week Nora was out for shopping. But Helmer discourages her saying “We can’t spend money recklessly”. Nora’s words “if you really want to give me something you might give me money, then I will have something with it” suggest that she does not have economic freedom. At the beginning she was extremely happy, she responds affectionately to her husband’s teasing and in fact, she does not mind her doll-like existence.

Helmer criticizes Nora for her behavior by blaming her further.  “You are …. Very like your father. You always find some new way of wheedling money out of me and as soon as you have got it, it seems melt in your hands. It is in the blood.” Besides economic dependence Nora does not have the freedom to enjoy the simplest things. Helmer is even particular what she eats. He taunts her saying, “Hasn’t Miss Sweat tooth been breaking rules in town today….. not been nibbling sweets”

But as the play progresses, Nora reveals that she is not just a “silly girl,” as Helmer calls her. The crucial point in Nora’s life arrives when the truth that she had borrowed some money from Krogstad comes out. This money amounting 250 Pounds was taken as a loan for Helmer’s treatment. He was jobless and she was very proud that she saved Helmer’s life. “It was I who saved Torvald’s life.  It was I who procured the money.”

She confesses this to her friend Mrs. Linde.  Mrs. Linde’s words further strengthens the fact that woman is denied of her independence. “No, a wife cannot borrow without her husband’s consent”. But when Helmer comes to know about this secret, his sweet talks to his wife turn into abuses. He calls her a miserable creature, a hypocrite, a liar, a criminal, no religion, no morality and no sense of duty. He keeps an option in front of her saying “You will still remain in my house, but I shall not allow you to bring up the children.”

Nora response highlights of her turning into a rebellious character. “When I was at home with papa, he told me his opinions about everything and so I had the same opinions……..? I was simply transformed from papa’s hand into yours. You arranged everything according to your own taste so I have same taste as yours. I have existed merely to perform tricks for you…. You and papa have committed a great sin against me.”

“You were perfectly right. I am not fit for the task (bring up your children). I must try and educate myself. I must do that for myself. ….It is for that reason that I cannot remain with you any longer.”

In spite of Helmer’s pleadings Nora leaves him and children. At the end she does not want to be under obligation saying “I have heard that when a wife deserts her husband’s house, he is logically freed from all obligations towards her. I set you free from all your obligations. So, here is your ring back….Good bye.”

Initially Nora seems a silly, childish woman, but as the play progresses, she is found to be intelligent, motivated, and at the end a strong-willed, independent thinker. It may seem that Nora made a very selfish decision by leaving her 3 children. While the loss of her children is a shame for her, a greater loss would have been her loss of identity.  If she had stayed back, Nora would not have gotten away from the shadows of her father and her husband as just a doll. Her house would have been as a doll’s house as the title of the play aptly says.

In the late nineteenth century when this play was written, women had no power. In a patriarchal society male-dominated power structure prevailed throughout organized society and in individual relationships. Many women were not educated since it was thought that education was not necessary for women whose role was to produce children for their husbands and to take care of them. Women were playmates for their husbands.  Ibsen wanted to show to the society that women were more than they were thought to be.  In order to emphasize this point, in the play he made Nora to leave her husband, her children and home which was  it was unheard of at that time. This play is a modern tragedy because it depicts the breakup of a family which was unimaginable in 19th century.


The play focuses late nineteenth century beliefs in which the wife is expected to be contentedly passive and the husband paternally protective. But tragically even in 21st century this same belief prevails in many of societies.



  • “A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen”. www.gutenberg.org, December 13, 2008 [EBook #2542],

< https://www.gutenberg.org/files/2542/2542-h/2542-h.htm>

  • “A Doll’s House – Wikipedia”. Wikimedia Foundation Inc, Web 27 November 2016, <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Doll’s_House>
  • “A Doll’s House Summary”. www.enotes.com/ topics/dolls-house, 2016, Web 7 December 2016. <https://www.enotes.com/topics/dolls-house>
Explore More in: Academic Research Paper

Read More Articles: