Module B: A Doll’s House
This is the first of our lessons focusing on A Doll’s House. We will begin with a quick revision of general module concepts, and the rubric.
For this module, keep in mind that your interpretation should be a thorough and personal one. That means that you should try to engage with the concepts rather than taking them at face value. What unique ideas about the text do you have? How do you interpret its various concepts? And how can you support these arguments with detailed, convincing evidence? Answering these questions every week is important, and will make your final exam preparation much easier.
Below is the rubric for Module B: Critical Study of Literature. Remember that the rubric is very important for your progress in this term – it defines what you need to look for in the play, and provides guidelines for what you should be writing about.
Go through the rubric with your tutor, highlighting key phrases and discussing them. Then answer the questions that follow.
MODULE B: CRITICAL STUDY OF LITERATURE
In this module, students develop detailed analytical and critical knowledge, understanding and appreciation of a substantial literary text. Through increasingly informed and personal responses to the text in its entirety, students understand the distinctive qualities of the text, notions of textual integrity and significance.
Students study one prescribed text. Central to this study is the close analysis of the text’s construction, content and language to develop students’ own rich interpretation of the text, basing their judgements on detailed evidence drawn from their research and reading. In doing so, they evaluate notions of context with regard to the text’s composition and reception; investigate and evaluate the perspectives of others; and explore the ideas in the text, further strengthening their informed personal perspective.
Students have opportunities to appreciate and express views about the aesthetic and imaginative aspects of the text by composing creative and critical texts of their own. Through reading, viewing or listening they critically analyse, evaluate and comment on the text’s specific language features and form. They express complex ideas precisely and cohesively using appropriate register, structure and modality. They draft, appraise and refine their own texts, applying the conventions of syntax, spelling and grammar appropriately.
Opportunities for students to engage deeply with the text as a responder and composer further develops personal and intellectual connections with the text, enabling them to express their considered perspective of its value and meaning.
- What does the phrase ‘increasingly informed and personal responses to the text in its entirety’ mean? As a result, how does this module differ from the other two? (3 marks)
- Critical literature (listening to and responding to other authors who have written about the text) is important in this module. Locate 2 quotes from the rubric that demonstrate the importance of critical literature, and explain them. (4 marks)
REVISION OF POETIC DEVICES
As the rubric suggests, you will need to have a strong understanding of textual features, conventions and form.
The following table contains terminology used to analyse plays. Fill out the definitions, with the help of your tutor if needed. The first two are completed for you. (2 marks per definition)
|Point of attack|
|In media res|
A DOLL’S HOUSE – CONTEXTUAL LITERATURE
As you are conducting a critical study, you should not take the play at face value. You will need to understand how the play fits (or doesn’t fit!) into some broader themes:
- The literary tradition (was this a conventional or unconventional play? And why?)
- Historical context (what was the world like at the time of the play?)
- Theoretical traditions (how does this play fit into broader discussions about the nature of our world?)
- Relevance (how does the play resonate with us today?)
A Doll’s House premiered in Copenhagen on the 21st of December 1879. It was a hugely popular play, selling out shows worldwide and attracting actors/talent of a very high calibre. However, the play was also controversial. Discussions of the controversies, and the reasons for social tensions that underpin the play, will ensue in the coming weeks.
N.B. Keep in mind that these controversies have not entirely ebbed away. It is a good idea for you to evaluate your own position about these issues, and to start gathering some evidence/reasons for your beliefs. Don’t be afraid to change your mind later too! As you understand the play more, you will naturally move in different directions.
Henrik Ibsen, the play’s author, was a momentous figure in prose drama. Born to a poor family in 1828, Ibsen spent his young adulthood working in various theatres, before writing his first play at the age of 21. By the time A Doll’s House was performed, he had amassed a reputation as one of Norway’s greatest dramatists.
Ibsen’s life went against some of the social conventions of his time. His wife Suzannah Thoreson, whom he married in 1858, did not always live with him. This was not because their marriage was sour. Rather, it was because they both believed in the equality of men and women and the importance of being free to pursue their own lives/interests. Critics of Ibsen said this was a violation of the institution of marriage. Can you see how the practices and values of Ibsen’s personal life are reflected in the themes of his play?
The following is a piece of critical literature concerning the context of the play. It is an extract from Teaching A Doll House, Rachel, and Marisol by Joesephine Lee. Read through it with your tutor and highlight key ideas, before moving to the next extract and the questions.
In his 1962 study, The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism, Canadian political theorist Crawford Bough Macpherson outlined how concepts of individualism, framed by Hobbes and Locke around seventeenth-century market societies and still foundational for modern capitalistic states, defined the individual as ‘‘the proprietor of his own person or capacities, owing nothing to society for them. The individual was seen neither as a moral whole, nor a part of a larger social whole, but an owner of himself’’ (3). Although Macpherson’s formulations do not focus specifically on either race or gender, subsequent scholars in legal theory and literary and cultural studies have made ample use of ‘‘possessive individualism’’ to comment on both.4
For our purposes, the most useful of these studies is Gillian Brown’s illuminating study, Domestic Individualism. Through persuasive readings of nineteenth-century American fiction, Brown argues that the ‘‘masculine’’ ideology of the market economy, long thought to be separate from the ‘‘feminine’’ private domestic space, actually permeates the latter and vice versa. During the modern period of the expansion of the market economy, ‘‘[d]omestic ideology with its discourse of personal life proliferates alongside this economic development which removed women from the public realm of production and redirected men to work arenas increasingly subject to market contingencies’’ and gendered ideologies such as ‘‘domestic cult of true womanhood’’ were formulated in ways that helped ease ‘‘the transition to a life increasingly subject to the caprices of the market’’ (3). Gender binaries have long been predicated on marking these spaces as separate spheres and associating them with different values (public/private, capitalistic/familial, acquisitive/moral), yet ideologies of domesticity and market relations are irrevocably interwoven. Possessive individualism, ‘‘a self aligned with market relations such as exchange value, alienability, circulation, and competition’’ (Brown 2), formulates the ‘‘selves’’ within the home as well, creating different permutations of ‘‘domestic individualism.’’ Macpherson’s formulation and Brown’s elaboration prompt further examination of two particular preoccupations of the modern stage: the individual self and the middle-class home. Lukacs defined ‘‘the new drama’’ as ‘‘the drama of individualism, and that with a force, an intensity and an exclusiveness no other drama ever had’’ (151), and the home, for all its apparent ordinariness, is the prime locale in which to examine the tensions of individuation against a myriad of social forces. ‘
Here is another extract, this time from “First and Foremost a Human Being”: Idealism, Theatre and Gender in A Doll’s House by Toril Moi
A Doll’s House was published on 4 December 1879 in Copenhagen. The first performance took place at the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen on 21 December 1879, with Betty Hennings as Nora. In 1873, Arne Garborg’s idealist reading of Emperor and Galilean was written in a situation in which alternative aesthetic points of view were unavailable. Six years later, this had changed. Norwegian and Danish reviews of the book and the world premiere show that A Doll’s House was received in a cultural moment when the war between idealists and realists was already raging.
On 9 and 10 January 1880, Aftenbladet in Kristiania published two articles on A Doll’s House, which come across as exemplary instances of belated and embattled idealism. The author was Fredrik Petersen (1839–1903), a professor of theology at the University of Kristiania and thus a typical representative of the alliance between idealist aesthetics, established religion, and conservative social views that characterized the opponents of Ibsen in the 1880s and 1890s. (It is no coincidence that the character of Pastor Manders in Ghosts personifies precisely this social and political constellation.)
Explicitly fusing Christianity and idealist aesthetics, Petersen’s analysis is based on the idea that ‘‘[s]ociety needs divine ideality, needs faith in the idea of the good and the beautiful to survive.’’ The glaring flaw of A Doll’s House, therefore, is the absence of reconciliation: ‘‘And yet one does not leave this play in the uplifted mood which already in the time of the Greeks was regarded as an absolute requirement for any artistic or poetic work. Having seen something profoundly ugly [noget saare Uskjønt] we are left only with a distressing [pinlig] feeling, which is the inevitable consequence when there is no reconciliation to demonstrate the ultimate victory of the ideal.’’8 According to Petersen, the defining characteristic of realism in general was the refusal of reconciliation and uplift.
Why was the sense of uplift so important to idealist critics?9 Starting from the premise that art is a ‘‘a child of humankind’s creative capacity in its highest ideality, the aspect in which human beings are most like God,’’ Petersen insists that anything that is to be called a work of art has to bear the ‘‘creative, idealizing stamp of the human spirit.’’ Pointedly contrasting such idealization to ‘‘mere reproduction,’’ he expresses himself in terms that recall Schiller but also the discussion between George Sand and Balzac: ‘‘The ideality of art is beauty, because beauty is the natural external expression of the good. Even when art represents ugliness [det Uskjønne], it is not real but idealized ugliness’’ (Peterson).
Reconciliation enables the reader and spectator to leave the work with ‘‘ideality awakened in his soul,’’ and this, precisely, is what triggers the sense of uplift. Art is thus crucially important in the world because it empowers and ennobles us.
According to Petersen, realism is the antithesis of true art. By deliberately withholding reconciliation, realism demonstrates that it has lost all faith in the ‘‘divine ideality’s power in life.’’ In this way, realism is aligned with scepticism and secularism. This is significant, for the culture war that broke out over the Scandinavian ‘‘modern breakthrough’’ was articulated as a battle between Christian idealists and freethinking realists, led by the Jewish Georg Brandes.
Although he was the most interesting and most articulate, Petersen was not the only idealist to respond to A Doll’s House. Other critics, too, lamented the play’s lack of reconciliation. In Denmark, M.V. Brun, reviewing the play in Folkets Avis on 24 December 1879, even claimed that the absence of reconciliation between the spouses was entirely unnatural, running against common psychological sense. Once Nora understood that she had committed a crime, the natural thing for her to do would be to ‘‘throw herself into her husband’s arms and say, ‘I have erred, but I have erred without knowing it, and out of love for you, save me!’ and her husband would then have forgiven and saved her’’ (Brun). Throughout the play, Brun writes, the spectator still hopes that Nora will confess and that her confession will be followed by reconciliation. The audience is, therefore, completely unprepared for the ‘‘revolting break-up’’ in the third act, which he considers ‘‘hideous.’’ Indeed, A Doll’s House exhibits ‘‘such screaming dissonances that no beautiful harmony capable of resolving them exists.’’
Socialists and radicals, on the other hand, praised the play without reservations, but also without aesthetic sophistication. In the Danish newspaper Social-Demokraten, the owner of the signature ‘‘I-n’’ treated the play as a completely realistic, political treatise: ‘‘Our own life, our own everyday life has here been placed on stage and condemned! We have never in dramatic or poetic form seen a better, more powerful intervention in the question of women’s liberation!’’ In the radical Norwegian paper Dagbladet, Erik Vullum uses idealist terms to laud the play’s aesthetic perfection (he speaks of its ‘‘clarity and artistic harmony’’ and used beauty as his highest term of praise), a practice that he obviously considers entirely compatible with political praise for Ibsen’s radical social thought.
In January 1880, the feminist novelist Amalie Skram published a brilliant commentary on A Doll’s House in Dagbladet. It is a tremendously insightful, sympathetic, and passionate defence of Nora’s actions, as well as a clear-eyed registration of the play’s radical challenge to the social order. Strikingly combining feminism and idealism, Skram completely identifies with Nora’s idealist fantasies: ‘‘Like lightning an insight strikes in Nora’s soul: too base, his soul cannot understand, let alone nourish, the kind of love that accepts all blame, yes, even offers up its life. [He rages] at the hypocrite, liar, criminal, yet the inner, essential truth is that she has risked everything to save his life’’ (309). Skram’s conclusion practically repeats Schiller’s idea that modern poets must either lament the absence of the ideal or glorify its presence: ‘‘Marriage is judged here. Its high and holy idea has fled away from earth. The poet can only expose the caricature that has been put in its place, or admonish us by pointing upward’’ (313). Around 1880, then, the idealists still monopolized the concepts required for a serious discussion of art and aesthetics. Even in its belated, moralizing form, idealism had intellectual power. Petersen’s review of A Doll’s House gives voice to a highly articulate and sophisticated theory of art, derived from German idealism and infused with Lutheran Christianity.
Note: to answer these questions, you may need to discuss ideas with your tutor and do some personal research as well.
- What is a ‘market economy’? Why is studying the economy, and the allocation/nature of wealth in society, important to studying the play? (4 marks)
- What do the terms ‘individualism’ and ‘liberalism’ mean? (Note: they are not exactly the same thing!) (4 marks)
- Prior to the first-wave feminist movements of the early 1900s, what were some of the dominant social narratives about the role of women in society? (3 marks)
- What are the various interpretations of the play that are outlined in the second extract? Why do you think so many critics had such different views of the text? (6 marks)
SUMMARY OF THE PLAY
For your benefit, a summary of the full play is provided below. Note that it is only a general summary – it does not substitute for actually reading the text!
Nora Helmer, a young woman, enters her house carrying packages. It is Christmas Eve, and a porter delivers a Christmas tree. Nora’s husband, Torvald, emerges from his study and greets her. She shows off the Christmas gifts she has bought for their children, and although Torvald chastises her for spending too much, he is also very affectionate towards her, calling her his “little skylark” and “little squirrel.” The two of them celebrate the fact that Torvald has recently been promoted to Bank Manager, meaning they can have a more comfortable life. Mrs. Linde and Dr. Rank arrive. Dr. Rank and Torvald exit to talk in his study. Mrs. Linde, who hasn’t seen Nora for eight years, tells her that she had an unhappy marriage and is now a widow hoping to find a job. Nora promises her that she will ask Torvald to give her a job. Nora then reveals a secret she has been hiding: when she and Torvald were first married, she borrowed money in order to finance a trip to Italy that was necessary to save Torvald’s life, as he had grown ill. She has paid off the debt in installments, secretly taking jobs and saving money from her allowance from Torvald.
Nils Krogstad, an employee at the bank, arrives and talks to Torvald in Torvald’s study. Dr. Rank comes out to talk to Nora and says that Krogstad is morally corrupt. Torvald enters, and after a brief conversation with Mrs. Linde, says he can give her a job at the bank. Torvald, Mrs. Linde, and Dr. Rank exit, and Nora plays happily with her children. Krogstad enters, and Nora tells the children to go to their nursemaid and not tell anyone about Krogstad’s visit. It is revealed that Krogstad is the person who Nora borrowed money from. He explains that he is being fired by Torvald, and that Nora must stop this happening or else Krogstad will tell everyone her secret. He adds that he has evidence that Nora forged her father’s signature in an IOU. Krogstad exits, and Torvald returns. Nora tries to persuade him not to fire Krogstad, but is unable to.
Act Two begins the next day, on Christmas Day. Nora, alone on stage, worries about her fate. Mrs. Linde arrives to help Nora sew her costume for a fancy dress ball that is being held on Boxing Day. Nora is dressing as an Italian fisher girl and plans on dancing the tarantella. Mrs. Linde asks to know more about Nora’s secret, but Nora refuses to tell her anything for the moment. Torvald enters and Nora tries again to convince him not to fire Krogstad. However, the harder Nora tries, the angrier Torvald gets, and he eventually decides to send Krogstad’s notice immediately.
Dr. Rank arrives and is depressed, telling Nora he will die soon. She flirts with him and seems to be considering whether to ask him for money. He reveals that he is in love with her, and Nora gives up the idea of asking him for help. Dr. Rank leaves and Krogstad returns, asking if Nora had told Torvald her secret and telling her his ambition to eventually run the bank. He leaves a letter explaining the secret debt and forgery in Torvald’s letterbox and exits. Mrs. Linde returns and Nora explains the situation to her. Mrs. Linde tells Nora that she and Krogstad used to be in love, and asks that Nora distract Torvald while Mrs. Linde attempts to talk to Krogstad. Mrs. Linde leaves, and Nora begs Torvald to help her rehearse the tarantella. She dances in a crazed, uninhibited way, puzzling Torvald about what has gotten into her. Mrs. Linde returns, saying Krogstad was not in but that she left him a note. The Act ends with Nora declaring that she has thirty-one hours left to live.
Act Three opens on the next day. Krogstad comes to meet Mrs. Linde at the Helmers’ house while they are at the ball. It is revealed that the two of them once loved each other but that their relationship ended when Mrs. Linde chose to marry a richer man because that was the only way to support her family. Mrs. Linde suggests that, now that their respective spouses have both died, she and Krogstad marry so that she can take care of his children and they can live a happier life together. Krogstad is thrilled, and offers to ask for his letter to Torvald back, as he now regrets his earlier actions. Mrs. Linde, however, tells him to leave it, saying that the truth must come out.
Krogstad leaves, and Nora and Torvald return from the ball. Mrs. Linde urges Nora to tell her husband the truth, and then she leaves as well. Torvald tells Nora how much he desires her, but Nora stubbornly resists his advances. Dr. Rank arrives and talks happily about how much he enjoyed the party, especially the wine. He leaves and Torvald discovers two visiting cards that Dr. Rank put in his letterbox, indicating that he is about to die. Nora says goodnight to Torvald and sneaks out to the hall, preparing to escape and commit suicide. However Torvald stops her, having discovered the letter from Krogstad. He is furious with her, saying she has ruined his life and that, although they will keep living together to preserve appearances, they cannot be happy and he won’t let her raise their children.
The maid brings a note from Krogstad saying he no longer wishes to blackmail Nora; the IOU is enclosed. Torvald rejoices, saying he is saved and that he forgives Nora. However, Nora reveals that she was going to kill her herself because she thought that Torvald would step forward and defend her, ruining his life and career. She explains that she has realized that she can no longer live with Torvald, whom she considers to be a stranger to her, and wishes to leave in order to discover a sense of who she is. Torvald at first calls her stupid and insane, before changing his tone and promising to change so that she will stay. Nora, resolute, says she must leave. Torvald is left alone onstage in despair. The play ends with the sound of the slam of the front door as Nora exits.
If time permits, you may spend the rest of the class going through a few of the homework questions and clarifying doubts with your tutor. There will be a substantial amunt of content for you to cover before next week.
Before next week, answer the following questions about Act 1 and move on to the critical literature extract provided. Your tutor will revise the material with you in class next week.
Note: while you are completing this work, and reviewing the play, you should create and update a revision table. Such a table is used to categorise your evidence, and can be referred to when you are writing essays or revising for an exam.
It may look like this:
|Evidence (Quote/device etc.)||Effect of device/decision||Relevant themes/ideas||Additional notes|
|Symbolism of the Christmas tree||Suggests traditional Christian family values to the audience
Portrays materialistic concerns (presents under the tree)
Reminds the audience of the immutable presence of tradition/social norms
|Relationship between capitalism, religious norms and the domestic world
Suggests how a symbol can take on multiple meanings based on context (symbol of hope/togetherness at start, then oppression later on)
|See Austin E Quigley’s critical extract for more info
Use as evidence for a gender and performance paragraph?
…(and so on)
- What is the ‘realist’ style in drama? What characteristics does it have? (4 marks)
- Ibsen uses colloquial, everyday language in this play, rather than the poetic verse-style dramas he wrote when younger. Why do you think this is a significant choice? (3 marks)
- What does the language used between Torvald and Nora (such as their ‘pet’ names) suggest about their relationship? (3 marks)
- How are Nora and Kristine similar? And in what ways are they different? (provide evidence for your answer) (4 marks)
- Analyse the concept of ‘debt’ as it is presented in the first Act. What different kinds of debt manifest in the situation/characters? Why is debt such an important idea for the play? (3 marks)
- Thinking back to the work done in class on liberalism and individualism – does Nora’s lifestyle fit these paradigms? Is she free to be an individual at the start of the play? And if not, why? (Provide evidence for your answer) (4 marks)
- How does Ibsen establish tension, conflict and irony in the opening Act? (3 marks)
- Identify 4 dramatic devices used in Act I, and analyse their effect. (6 marks)
CRITICAL LITERATURE – A DOLL’S HOUSE REVISITED BY AUSTIN E QUIGLEY
Summarise the critical literature below in your own words (in the space provided), .
Nora, bringing with her a Christmas tree and some Christmas parcels, makes an extended entrance through the main doorway, and then addresses a seemingly innocuous instruction to the maid:
- NORA Hide the Chrismas tree away carefully, Helene. The children mustn’t see it till this evening when it’s decorated.
The Christmas tree is, at this point, visible in the hallway and framed by the door to the inner room. The tree is there in part because it is Christmas Eve, but it rapidly takes on other values – values that provide immediate indications of why the tree is initially framed in the doorway of Nora’s home. For Northam, these are primarily reinforcing values, registering in one visual symbol the notions dramatized in character interaction: family happiness, celebration, and security. He also notes that when Nora later feels threatened, she asks for the Christmas tree to be placed in the middle of the room where she can decorate it and at the same time feel reassured of the values it represents. And when Nora later becomes even more insecure and slightly desperate, the Christmas tree again appears, this time stripped of its finery and with its candles all burnt out (p. 235). Northam then asks us to note the way in which the tree externalizes the shifts in Nora’s moods, and the way in which it functions negatively now as “the symbol of family security. “II All of this seems quite convincing, but it offers us, as yet, no information not already available in the dialogue. What we also need to take into account are the ways in which the Christmas tree contracts relationships with other parts of the play – in particular the way it functions as part of an extensive network of related visual and verbal motifs.
Ibsen successfully achieves what many felt it impossible for anyone to achieve – the successful use of conventional plot patterns and limited characters to explore issues more complex than any of the characters can fully understand. To recognize this important fact is to begin to recognize what A Doll’s House offers us in that seemingly innocuous opening scene. Nora enters, we recall, bubbling with happiness, through the door of the house, and brings with her a Christmas tree that remains framed in the doorway. That doorway provides access to a house and a home that she values initially on the basis of one kind of certainty and rejects finally on the basis of another. She passes through this domain from one kind of certainty to another, and her entrance and exit are thus both like and unlike those of the other characters, who also carry their dogmatic certainties with them. But, for the audience, the door that opens to reveal Nora opens also to reveal the Christmas tree. And its presence provides an immediate occasion for the raising of issues to do with deception, disguise, and double values – issues that become central to the play. The door that opens upon Nora, and upon other characters who live by premature certainties and pragmatic deceptions, opens also for the audience upon the first embodiment of the image network – a network that trades, not upon premature certainties and the deceptions designed to sustain them, but upon doubt, doubleness, and diversity.
We thus tum, as we must, to a close look at the complex interaction in the play between its well-made components and the verbal and visual analogies that have twined themselves around the simple narrative action. And we might glance at once at the point of crisis in the well-made component of the play, to consider precisely what the crisis is that emerges from an action not fully understood by any of the characters. We should look with particular care at Nora’s description of the basic problem she feels she has encountered in her life, and at the ways in which she describes its genesis and assigns blame for its persistence. And we should ask ourselves whether these are the views of someone who knows what it is that has gone wrong, or the views of someone who knows only that something has gone wrong. If we look more carefully at Nora’s claims, we find that they are not entirely consistent, and this recognition itself should signal to us that her views stand in need of supplementation. Nora attacks Torvald at the end of the play (a) for having. persistently played his masculine hero role, and (b) for not playing the role when she most wanted him to perform it (by refusing to take the blame for the forgery). Nora then leaves, denying that she believes in miracles but basing much of her justification for leaving upon the fact that Torvald has not provided one. These inconsistencies should lead us to regard with some suspicion the conclusions that Nora offers about the nature and genesis of her problems. And if we look closely at them, we find them less and less persuasive.
Nora seeks to blame her father and her husband not just for the ways in which they wanted her to please them, but also for the fact that she wanted to please them. This abdication of responsibility for her-own actions, whatever its partial truth, seems less than the whole truth. If it came to a choice between pleasing them or disagreeing with them, she preferred to please them, and this was presumably what pleased her most. Furthermore, she is not entirely sure whether her tastes tended to coincide with theirs or whether she simply pretended that they did. And by this point in her argument, the implication is that to be guided or moulded in any way by others is, of necessity, a bad thing, and something to be blamed entirely upon those doing the mOUlding. These are large conclusions with large implications. But if we have watched with care the details of the preceding action, we shall be in a position to see that Nora’s conclusions are not the play’s conclusions. There is evidence for Nora’s position and evidence against it, and the play invites us to consider the questions of whether it is necessarily a bad thing to be moulded by others, and whether Nora’s father and husband were the prime moulders in her case.
To take the second question first: it is surely clear that Nora is misrepresenting the past as we have come to know it. Her life is not structured solely by the wishes of either her father or Torvald. She herself makes the distinction between people one loves and people one would rather be with (p. 250). And as she clearly acts upon this notion by currently spending a lot of time with others, including Dr. Rank, to whom this statement is addressed, and has acted upon it in the past when she was living with her father, it is evident that there are and have been other major influences on her life: “When I was a girl at home, I loved Daddy best, of course. But I also thought it great fun if I could slip into the maids’ room” (p. 250). While she does recall that one appeal of the servants was that they did not preach at her, she also recalls how exciting it was to hear them talk. And the implication is that she learned from them – as she learned from the midwives who helped deliver her children – ideas and attitudes somewhat at variance with those she learned from her father and her husband. What is at issue, then, is not just restricted knowledge, but the restricted use she chooses to make of her knowledge. And there the issue of moulding becomes not one of imposed patterns, but one of offered and accepted patterns.
Looked at in this light, the moulding then becomes a matter not just of coercion, but of selective and willing acceptance. And the selective nature of her acceptance is most persistently manifest in Nora’s propensity for lying. The most obvious lie we are presented with early in the play is her fervent avowal that it would never occur to her to go against her husband’s wishes (p. 205), even as she hides in her pocket a bag of the macaroons that he has forbidden her to bring into the house. In a play which deals with the. ambivalent value of deception, we should not make too hasty a judgement about the moral implications of Nora’s lies, but the point here is simply that she goes along with Torvald’s views only as far as it suits her and no further. She is just as ready to lie to Krogstad and to Dr. Rank, and it is evident that she feels that a certain amount of deception is useful in dealing with men. Here again, one could ask whether this attitude is the fault of the moulders or the moulded, and it is clear, by now, that the answer is by no means a simple one. Though the terminology is dated, it is difficult to reject entirely Weigand’s contention that: “Whatever the identity of her father, we have to watch her for only two minutes to know her as a daughter of Eve, adept in an infinity of little arts that make her irresistibly winsome to the masculine eye.”
YOUR SUMMARY OF THE EXTRACT’S IDEAS