A Doll’s House
I recently read the critically acclaimed play, ‘A Doll’s House’, by Henrik Ibsen, a play which I had not before been familiar with and only stumbled across on my University course. I am not always a huge fan of plays as purely a form of literature, as I prefer to see them performed as was intended when written, but I found this play surprisingly captivating and easy to follow as I read it. The main storyline follows the life of Nora Helmer, who initially followed the stereotypical 19th century housewife’s life, performing the roles of wife and mother as a lower citizen to her husband. It emerges that she once scandalously borrowed money in order to take her husband on a trip to save his life, and as the secret of this debt, which she has kept so carefully hidden from her husband by pretending to be frivolous and ditsy when really she has been scrimping and saving, even working, to pay it off, is threatened to be revealed, so too does her apparent happiness unravel. Ultimately she decides that she has never been content in the ‘doll’s house’ life that she has lead, first with her father, then with her husband, she leaves him and their children to seek her own path in life, longing for knowledge and identity.
The play was controversial from its first performance and remains so today, and I could write many lines on Nora Helmer and whether she was right or wrong, whether she was sane or hysterical, whether her decision helps feminist activists or leaves them in the lurch. What truly fascinated me, however, was this idea of living life only insofar as a doll ‘lives’ theirs; we may have the objects, the dramas, the little rooms where our daily actions unfold, but do we truly have any independence?
It seems to me that this world is full of pressures, subtle and obvious, strong and gentle, all pushing you in one direction or another. Much as a child will direct the lives of their dolls, choosing who they will like and dislike, where they will go, what they will say, how their lives will be spent, so many decisions just seem out of our hands. Society indoctrinates, one way or another, and we are left thinking that if we are to achieve, then we must take these exams, gain these qualifications, move slowly and arduously up the housing market, make x amount of money, marry by this age but not before this one and have children who you must raise according to the current accepted view point. It is all so unaccommodating, but, inexplicably, it works on most of us.
What if, though, we didn’t want that? Is there a possibility that we could turn the space around us from a plaything to a real life, lived to the full? Could we work only to spend all our money on a trip of a lifetime, or would that always be considered frivolous? Could we settle down with someone without ‘testing the waters’ first and not be told that we could be seriously missing out? Hell, could you even just rent or work on building your own home and escape all of that hassle altogether, or would that never be a proper way of doing things?
Looking forward at my life, I know that some things that society decrees I can accept. I actually do believe that I am fortunate to be gaining a University degree, and hopefully can find a career from there. But there are also a lot of things which I wish could be different. A lot of ways in which myself, just another doll, look beyond the windows of the doll’s house and hope for something more.
Maybe it’s not possible and conceding to the rat race is truly the only way to go. I would like to think, though, with all the idealistic threads that are left in my mind, that you could combine both the conventional and the abnormal. I could have that five day a week, nine-til-five job, but then go running off to a beach hut with my husband at the weekends, turn off our phones and escape for just a little bit. Maybe. I admire that much in Nora Helmer; at least she had the guts to do what she really wanted to, even if she would have been scorned, mocked, rejected for it.
I swear to you that this is my dream. If I had a library like this, I would just disappear and never emerge…