After she reveals the “dastardly deed” to her husband, he becomes understandably agitated; in his frustration he shares the outside world with her, the ignorance of the serious business world, and destroys her innocence and self-esteem. This disillusion marks the final destructive blow to her doll’s house. Their ideal home including their marriage and parenting has been a fabrication for the sake of society. Nora’s decision to leave this false life behind and discover for herself what is real is directly symbolic of woman’s ultimate realization. Although she becomes aware of her supposed subordinateness, it is not because of this that she has the desire to take action. Nora is utterly confused, as suggested by Harold Clurman, “She is groping sadly in a maze of confused feeling toward a way of life and a destiny of which she is most uncertain (256).” The one thing she is aware of is her ignorance, and her desire to go out into the world is not to “prove herself” but
to discover and educate herself. She must strive to find her individuality. That the perception of woman is inaccurate is also supported by the role of Torvald. Woman is believed to be subordinate to the domineering husband. Instead of being the strong supporter and protector of his family, Nora’s husband is a mean and cowardly man. Worried about his reputation he cares little about his wife’s feelings and fails to notice many of her needs. The popular impression of man is discarded in favor of a more realistic view, thus illustrating society’s distorted views. Ibsen, through this controversial play, has an impact upon society’s view of the subordinate position of women. By describing this role of woman, discussing its effects, and predicting a change in contemporary views, he stressed the importance of woman’s realization of this believed inferiority. Woman should no longer be seen as the shadow of man, but a person in herself, with her own triumphs and tragedies. The exploration of Nora reveals that she is dependant upon her husband and displays no independent standing. Her progression of understanding suggests woman’s future ability to comprehend their plight. Her state of shocked awareness at the end of the play is representative of the awakening of society to the changing view of the role of woman. “A Doll’s House” magnificently illustrates the need for and a prediction of this change.
Gender roles in society (male dominance in particular) prevent women from growing as individuals due to the control and restrictions that men force on them. The “Tarantella” scenes and ideas related to this dance in the play help the reader to understand the need for women to develop as individuals, without having to deal with the restraints created by men. In the play, Nora’s life is manipulated by her husband, a powerful man in society as well as in his own household. Evidence of this domination can be found in the scene in which Nora asks Helmer to assist her in practicing the “Tarantella” in order to keep him from reading his mail. Helmer’s language connotations hint at his desire to control his wife. For example, he says to Nora as she dances out of control, “Not so violent!” (1100). His use of the word “violent” allows for the reader’s association of this word to violent relationships (those in which the male dominates and controls his wife by violently attacking her). Helmer also says to Nora, “You dance as if your life were at stake” (1100). This statement is full of irony, as the Tarantella is also known as the “dance of death,” which implies that Nora is dancing for her life because staying at home, under the restrictions enforced by her husband, would symbolically be death for her.
Another way in which the Tarantella is expressed as a “dance of life” for Nora is through her husband’s control over what costume she must wear and the symbols the costume itself reveals. Helmer’s choice of a costume for Nora depicts the wardrobe of a young peasant girl. This ethnic costume is a symbol of duplicity; it creates a contrast between what it is meant to do and what it actually does. Helmer buys Nora this costume as a means of controlling her by converting her into his own little “doll.” However, the duplicity the costume symbolizes is made clear through the ironic way in which it helps to liberate Nora, when it was given to her by Helmer as a means of restriction. Nora’s wearing of the peasant girl costume symbolizes her individual freedom, in this case, by allowing her to step outside of her own culture. The costume is also symbolic of Helmer killing his wife by dressing her in such an outfit that turns her into a doll-like figure rather than a human being. He does so only to provoke his own sexual desires-more evidence of his domination of Nora and the gender roles that exist in society. When studying Nora’s role in the tarantella scenes, and the suffering she went through as a result of these gender roles, one is able to understand that freedom to be oneself is essential to developing a healthy existence, just as Nora learns herself.
Feminists argue that gender stereotyping and male-imposed standards have created a society full of women who lack individuality. In the play, Nora lacks this very individualism, and as a result, is driven to “slam the door” (1115) on the male dominance that restricts her from living as a free woman. Psychologist Jean Miller (1986) comments on this need for independence by stating, “Through increased self-determination, many women will gain greater power in American society.” Through Nora’s anticipation of the “miracle” in the play, she learns that in order to achieve this “self-determinism,” she must first gain self-knowledge. The “miracle” that occurs in the play is filled with dramatic irony, in that the miracle that Nora expects and the miracle that actually happens are entirely different. Nora dreams of the day that her husband will sympathize with her and cease to be the dominating figure with the “upper hand” in their relationship. She expects him to understand her struggles with the law and to be willing to take some of the blame himself. However, when he reacts to Krogstad’s letter by exhibiting more dominance and control than ever before, Nora becomes more aware of her own individual needs as a woman in society. She understands that in order to be free, she must develop her own view of the world, by setting herself apart from the control and determinism that males have over her life. Therefore, Nora’s decision to leave her husband and family is ironic because it proves to be the “miracle” she is waiting for, rather than the one she originally expected. Nora becomes a feminist heroine in the play by showing what women can achieve, but rarely attempt. The determinism that many men force on their women partners in society (in forms of control, dominance, and power) restricts the women’s ability to strengthen as individuals, and gain their own self-determinism.
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