It wasn’t too long ago that social norms stifled a woman’s spirit and opportunity to experience the world without being under the heavy thumb of her husband.
“A Doll House” by Henrik Ibsen, which is being performed each night at 7:30 p.m. from March 25-April 10 at the Noorda Theater, was written long before these issues were being addressed. This Norwegian play, written in the 1800s, was not well received in its time or for many years after, but today it is regarded as a landmark piece of feminist literature.
Though most of us may not remember a time when women were forced into subservience to men by familial and societal expectations, many of our parents probably do because it wasn’t long ago that this was the norm.
This was a time when women spent their days bustling around the house, performing the household chores and caring for their perfectly-dressed and well-mannered children, all while wearing high heels and looking flawless in their clean dress without a hair out of place.
Though the play’s protagonist, Nora, is a mother and homemaker, her primary role is to be a mindless songbird for her husband. Or worse still, he considers her a sweet little doll, a plaything, passed on from Nora’s father to her husband.
Throughout the course of the story, Nora transforms from feather-brained housewife to a woman seeking more from life. The story begins when she had spent the last eight years of her life fulfilling her sacred duties as wife and mother, but she realizes that she had been forced to ignore another duty equally sacred, that to herself.
Perhaps Nora’s seemingly meticulous and perfect life would have been enough for her, if her husband had truly cared for her as an equal human being. But she begins to realize that she deserves more from him than belittling and degrading treatment.
“There’s my little lark, talking as if it were a person,” he quips to her in one such instance.
In a time period where everyone was required to seem perfect, Ibsen demonstrated in what ways a conversation between husband and wife communicated little but condescension and disdain. A man’s role was to order his wife about, and her role was to offer him whatever he desired, not merely without complaint but with a smile.
“I lived to do tricks for you, and that’s how you liked it,” Nora tells her husband sadly, after the reality of her unmet needs sets in.
In a constructed reality wherein women are passively obedient to their dictatorial husbands, they are robbed of the human right to self-fulfillment. Come and witness Nora’s transformation from bondswoman to autonomous individual; her experience creates social commentary still extremely relevant today.