In Ibsen’s A Doll House, we become witnesses to the modern middle-class conception of marriage. As the play begins, the inner dynamics of familial life are presented as comically romantic. Torvald Helmer, an ambitious bank manager, coddles his dutiful housewife Nora with money and “sweet” talk, and thus the stability and ideal of the home is maintained and perpetuated. Yet as dialogues develop between characters and everyday actions continue to unfold, we quickly realize there’s something sinister with this family portrait, and that the ordered marital life of the Helmer’s is not all that it appears on the surface: Eros becomes irreconcilable with economics; endearment becomes demeaning; individuals become accessories to needs and crimes; love becomes a lie and a liability. Emphasizing complex networks of relationships built upon traditional concepts of gender, Ibsen’s play debates the grounds of meaning, dramatizes conflicts of the self, and spotlights how the dissonances of domestic life coincide with the dialectic of history.
For your first essay, choose one of the following two prompts and consider the corresponding set of questions below. (Note that these questions are intended solely to help guide/organize your papers. You are not obligated to answer each one, but may use the questions as a reference to launch/support your own interpretations/arguments.)
Prompt 1: Money and marriage
Discuss the way(s) in which money influences marriage dynamics in the play.
- In what way does money organize the play and the actions/relationships between men and women within the play?
- How does Nora’s use of money both cage and liberate her? How does her relationship to money enforce her dependence on her husband and shape her independence?
- What are the circumstances of Mrs. Linde’s marriage? What does she expect from her marriage but fail to attain? What does she sacrifice? How is her marriage story different and similar to from Nora’s?
- How does Torvald treat and think about money? How is this transferred to his relationship with Nora? How is Torvald’s public life transmitted to his private life? What is the relationship between marital status and economic status, money and dominance?
- What is a doll? What is a doll house? How are they symbolically represented in the play? How do props and stage descriptions—as materials, as metaphors—accentuate the relationship between money and marriage?
Prompt 2: Individual vs. collective identities
Discuss the way(s) in which individual identities are shaped by relationships with others.
- What is Nora’s relationship to each character? How is her behavior during these interactions contrasted with her private emotions? How do her relationships with other characters develop/amplify her situation?
- How does Nora assert her individuality, her autonomy, throughout the play? What are some examples? What is at risk?
- How do gender constructs/assumptions affect individuality and identity? How does Nora’s role as a housewife and Mrs. Linde’s situation as a working widow acquiesce to and challenge these notions?
- ● What is Krogstad’s reputation and how does it influence his motives? How does his past and current situation inform his relationships to Torvald, Nora, and Mrs. Linde?
- What are the circumstances of Nora’s lies? What factors contribute to them? What do her lies say about her identity (and identity to others)? What does her telling the truth at the end of the play say about her development as a female individual?
Before you begin writing your essay, do a close re-reading of the play. This entails looking up words or names you do not know, identifying patterns in the text and passages that stand out to you, paying attention to details of language, asking yourself why a writer chose to present their ideas in the way they did (and how they did it), thinking of the way in which the text affects you, etc. Be sure to revisit your underlines, annotations, marginalia, notes from lectures, and lesson plans uploaded to Blackboard and to review any comments you may have already received from me on past assignments/essays.
Your essay should include (i) a title that sets the stage for your paper and page numbers; (ii) an introductory paragraph with a clear thesis statement that prepares/alerts the reader to what your paper will be about; (iii) several main-body paragraphs that analyze examples from the text which strengthen/support your thesis; and (iv) a conclusion that summarizes the paper as a whole. Remember to cite/quote passages from the text—indicated in your paper by quotation marks followed by page numbers in parentheses—to explain how/why they are relevant to your interpretation, rather than using them in place of your own thoughts.
All work needs to be your own. If you draw on the ideas or language of another writer’s work, be sure to provide proper sourcing and full bibliographical information. Failure to do so is considered plagiarism and will result in an automatic failure in the course. I am far more interested in hearing what you have to say than something that exists online. I give no extra points for additional research and, as a matter of fact, prefer papers without references to sources not read or discussed in class. If you feel you must consult outside materials, and have questions regarding citation—or any other questions—do not hesitate to reach out to me.
4 typed and double-spaced pages in 12-point Times New Roman font.