It is beyond the faculties of human perception to fully and accurately assess the reality of existence. And, so, to cope we have developed an ability to filter out the excessive and unnecessary, the unpleasant and disconcerting—two aspects of our reality which are often considered irrespective of each other. For, throughout our lives we are assigned roles, and it becomes easy for the demands of our roles to overshadow our personal desires; quickly, can the reality of our individuality become excessive and unnecessary or unpleasant and disconcerting. So, we act as is expected of us and can come to believe that is who we are, setting aside that which makes us unique, conforming to proper, predictable forms. Henrik Ibsen’s Nora lived such a life, but broke free of the chains of passivity. Her husband Helmer, too, was slave to the idea of what society said was a man and a husband. Despite its age, A Doll’s House remains a timeless work exemplifying the inevitable tendency of man—both male and female—to succumb to the confines of social roles, abandoning intuition and sacrificing oneself for the sake of simple convenience. Ibsen’s drama illustrates the ease with which such crimes against ourselves are committed and the effect it has on society: a loss of love and understanding of both ourselves and each other.
Though Ibsen’s play centers on the institution of marriage and its susceptibility to that languid tendency of man, its focus is not so strictly limited. Nora and Helmer’s refusal to see their marriage for what it was is simply one manifestation of their inability to recognize reality for what it was. Such refusal manifests itself in every aspect of an individual’s life: religion, politics, health, morality—it is no way limited to the institution of marriage nor even to the dynamics of human relations, but rather encompasses all things that call for and so flourish by the uniqueness of an individual’s character. Nora, realizing she had foolishly accepted superficial definitions of her roles in life—a woman, a wife a mother—acknowledged that she has neglected to understand other things of life; “I do not exactly know what religion is” she says, and further,“the law is quite another thing from what I supposed”. It is the languor of silencing the questions and the wonderment which lay deep within our being which Ibsen is highlighting in the tragic story of Nora and Helmer, demanding the audience—every wife and every husband, every man and every woman—to question what they have accepted to be true, to question the very foundations of their understanding, to question everything until answers are clear. Ibsen impresses the uniqueness of our individuality as superseding its universality, bidding us all to stand and say as our dear Nora could say: “before all else I am a reasonable human being”.
Among the aspects of reality Ibsen stresses the importance of, is that which, despite the age of the play, and modernity’s seemingly progressive understanding of gender differences, begs to be constantly reevaluated and re-examined—that of love. Love, particularly between a man and a woman but also in all relationships. Indeed, it is an idea is fed into our minds from an early age—often from dubious sources; and what we receive, without asking, we seem to most easily accept. Nora, like many women of her time, and perhaps, still, many women of today, followed a trodden path: live, age, marry, mother, and love. Almost immediately are we shown evidence of her sacrifices, And, while Nora’s complacent acceptance of what those things supposedly mean suffocated her individuality, perhaps the greatest detriment to her being—as both a woman and a human—was her understanding of love. Nora, as many woman and men still do, found it easy to accept society’s definition of the love between a man and a woman. But, Nora, perhaps, unlike many today, awoke from her stupor, adamant in her newfound thirst for life and understanding. She shoots down her husband’s pronouncement and implied definition of love; “You have never loved me” she tells him, condemning it as nothing more than a mere superficial and fanciful whim; “you have only thought it pleasant to be in love with me”. The simple word love represents such an abstract idea and so, will mean many different things to many different minds. But, through Nora’s plight, Ibsen shows us that the answer is not simply something to be defined by the masses, but rather must be sought and found by each and every single individual beating human heart.
The Noras of our day are countless and ubiquitous. And so, in no way can Ibsen’s play be considered dated. Even the subtle nuances of the play’s olden days, which have been abandoned in our fast-paced modern life, and the intricacies of our historical, supposedly primitive, male-female relations still offer insight into the continuum that is humanity. Though Ibsen’s star is a woman who has abandoned her passive role in the universe, Nora is an example to all, stressing the dangers of comfort, conformity and complacency, and demanding the revolt against superficial understanding. For that terrible tendency to accept the status quo is in itself evidence to the existence of an honest truth, a single unadulterated reality. And, it is the goal of individuality to push the limits of human faculties and seek as Nora sought, to strive and not be content with “what most people say, or with what is found in books”, to struggle and ascend our own personal peaks to the heights of understanding— only with a true understanding of who we are do we cease to simply be males and females but rather grow to be men and women.