Confined to a Man’s World

         There are many types of characters to be found in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century plays. One of the most compelling characters is that of the woman trapped in a man's world. These characters came before women's liberation and the 1960s when many were beginning to see equality among all people. Nora Helmer is one of these characters.

         Nora is a young woman who is trapped in the role of mother, wife, and "squirrel." Torvald treats her like a child. He prefers to order her around rather than have a partnership. In the opening of Patrick Garland's 1973 film version of Henrik Ibsen's 1879 A Doll's House, Nora (Claire Bloom) enters her house after doing some Christmas shopping. Torvald, played by Anthony Hopkins, is in his study. This gives Nora the perfect opportunity to sneak one last macaroon before seeing Torvald. Because of Nora's role in the household, she must have Torvald's permission to do anything, including eating a macaroon. This is very strange by today's standards; but if one is forced to go back to the late 1870s, this may make a little more sense.

         Nora is portrayed as a naive, petty woman who only wants to have money to buy things at the beginning of A Doll's House. However, we soon find that she is not so innocent. She also has done something behind her spendthrift husband's back. She has borrowed money from a man, Krogstad (Denholm Elliot), that Torvald intends to fire. What is shocking about this situation is that Nora has done this. She is concerned about Torvald finding her eating a cookie, yet she has taken such a huge risk by taking out a loan behind his back, while forging her dead father's signature. Nora explains to Christine (Anna Massey) why she took out the loan, as well as the way she is paying it back. At this point, Nora becomes more of a woman and less of a little girl to the audience. Claire Bloom is able to show how she has been expected to be below her husband. However, she also shows that Nora is really a rather intelligent woman who has been able to work to take care of the situation she was in. In the book, Nora explains to Christine how she has been earning money to pay back the loan. "[…] I locked myself up and sat writing every evening […]. […] I was desperately tired, but […] it was a tremendous pleasure […]. It was like being a man."

         Nora was able to obtain the loan behind her husband's back, and she has also been successfully paying it back. Unfortunately, Nora's plans are skewed when Krogstad arrives and starts to push to keep his job. Nora's world begins to crumble in her eyes. She knows that the satisfaction she has felt in saving her husband and working to pay off the loan will not be enough to keep her in Torvald's grace when he discovers her secrets. However, Nora is foolish in her idea to kill herself instead of facing the truth and believing she can work toward her husband's forgiveness.

         The climax of the movie is wonderful when Anthony Hopkins' Torvald explodes at Claire Bloom's Nora. The written drama has Torvald upset about Nora's lies, but the scene in the Patrick Garland film version shows Torvald as more of a tyrant. However, the film version also shows Nora's strength finally emerge. When Nora leaves, many people must be surprised. She has left her husband, her children, and her "perfect" life. But Nora has been able to realize that, while Torvald was "saved," she was not. If she had stayed, she would be in the same place she was at the beginning of the play. However, it is impossible for Nora to regress that far. She has learned too much and seen her husband in his true light. Not only had she been his child toy, but also she had been his trophy.

         By leaving Torvald, Nora is able to show that it is possible to leave an easy life for a harder one if there was potential for it to be better. Nora's character has made a choice that many women throughout the past and current century should emulate.

Amanda J. Williams

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