A Doll’s House is the new compulsory English Set Book in Kenya replacing ‘Caucasian Chalk Circle’ by Bertolt Brencht. It’s a three-act play work of 1879 by the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. Written a year after ‘The Pillars of Society’, the work was Ibsen’s first to create a sensation and is now perhaps his most famous work, and required reading in many high schools and universities. The play is significant for the way it deals with the fate of a married woman, who at the time in Norway lacked reasonable opportunities for self-fulfillment in a male-dominated world. It aroused a great sensation at the time, and caused a “storm of outraged controversy” that went beyond the theatre to the world newspapers and society.
It’s about how women are not allowed to perform certain roles and the sacrifices they make for their families. The play also addresses issues of corruption, hypocrisy, deceit and betrayal, among other themes. The themes are brought out through the use of dramatic irony, suspense and foreshadow, among other styles.
Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House uncovers a shocking secret: some dolls don’t get to play the roles they really want. Ibsen’s Nora Helmer is a doll trapped in her house, a condition underscored by the fact that all the play’s action takes place in her own living room. Repressed by a husband who expects her to fulfill her wifely and motherly roles under strict guidelines of morality and appearance, Nora discovers she has a will of her own. Ultimately, Nora realizes there is only one path that leads to her true identity, and that path begins outside the doll house.
Including Nora, other characters are Linde and Hellene, through which Ibsen questions the accepted social practices of the time by promoting women emancipation.
The play begins with Christmas eve. Nora enters with packages and a Christmas tree and pays the messenger more than she owes him. She calls Torvald, who is working in his study, to come and see what she has brought.
He calls her by pet names and jokingly calls her a spendthrift, cautioning her on spending money recklessly.Nora points out they can be a little bit reckless because Torvald has been appointed bank manager and they are expecting a large salary come the New Year. Torvald reminds her the salary will come later in the year, but Nora says they can borrow in the meantime.
Torvald tells her she is foolish in matters of money and her argument is typical of a woman. He also reminds her there can be no freedom or beauty about a home life that depends on debts.These statements show Torvald’s biased point of view on gender roles. He believes Nora’s role is to make the home beautiful and she is incapable of making sound financial decisions.
The act continues until Nora’s hidden evils are revealed. Torvald gets upset with her, which stirs up a confrontation. Consequently Nora decides to leave as she claims she has to leave to go and find out who is right between her and the world. Torvald reminds her of her duty as a wife and mother, but she tells him that she does not love him any more. Torvald tells her that he is willing to work night and day for her but no man can sacrifice his honour for others. Nora leaves.
As a genre study, A Doll’s House is a realistic drama that highlights the cultural conflicts of the nineteenth century. With its shocking and controversial conclusion, it marks a monumental, historic shift in the role of theater.
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