A Doll's (Glass) House

     Henrik Ibsen completed writing A Doll's House in the summer of 1879. Almost immediately following publication, a public protest arose against both author and play. For many years A Doll's House was regarded solely as an attack upon marriage. People everywhere carried on debates as to whether Nora was justified in leaving her home, and whether it was the true act of a mother and a wife. There is much more to Ibsen's play than the morals of Nora Helmer. Nora Helmer's doll house has glass walls through which the we may peer, if we will take the time to clean the fingerprints from the glass.

     Ibsen's Nora Helmer personifies a female-oriented viewpoint of a double-standard society. Ibsen's Torvald Helmer personifies the male-oriented viewpoint in the same society. These conflicting viewpoints enabled Ibsen to investigate the entire make-up of marital relationships and the development of self-awareness in an individual. If Ibsen stressed the feminine in his play, to the detriment of the masculine, perhaps it was the case because he felt that the weaker side of the argument needed the stronger support in order to reach an equal balance of fairness and justice.

     In 1973 two movie adaptations of Ibsen's play were released--one directed by Patrick Garland--the other one directed by Joseph Losey. The finale in both movies (after the "wonderful thing" does not happen) is similar to Ibsen's. However, the viewpoints presented in the major portions of both films differ. Garland's version stresses the masculine viewpoint. Losey's version emphasizes the female viewpoint.

     In Garland's movie, the viewer gets the distinct impression that Nora (Claire Bloom) and Torvald (Anthony Hopkins) are very much in love. Nora is quite content with her life. She loves Torvald, and he loves her. He treats her with kindness and generosity and admires her as a wife and mother. He treats her as an exemplary Victorian husband is expected to treat his wife. It is Garland's Torvald that dilutes Ibsen's feminist concerns.

     Torvald, played by David Warner in Losey's film, is portrayed as a tyrant. He treats Nora (Jane Fonda) as though she were his chattel. However, his boorish actions and remarks seem to have little effect on Nora. She does as she pleases, including eating macaroons and eating macaroons and eating macaroons. Fonda, in her role as Nora, knows who she is and what she is doing. (Too much so, in my opinion.) Her friend, Christine Linde (acted by Delphine Seyrig), plays a bigger role in Losey's film than she (portrayed by Anna Massey) does in Garland's film. Linde knows how to make her own way in "a society of bachelor-souls" (Ibsen, The Pillars of Society 1977).

     Torvald offers to hire Christine in an attempt to further abase Krogstad--not because of Nora's pleas, or because he believes in equality of the sexes. Could it possibly be that Jane Fonda had a hand in writing the script for Losey's film?

     Ibsen's play, as well as the two movie adaptations, present similar views of the development of self-awareness and the need for personal identity. In all three versions, it is evident that Nora's problem is not just the false societal values placed upon women. She is her own worst enemy. The "wonderful thing" that she expects of Torvald is ridiculous from a woman who is educated and has even a modicum of religious training. The "wonderful thing" may be interpreted in several ways: (1) Torvald will protect Nora by falsely admitting to her forgery, (2) The Helmer marriage will escape the stereotyped images of marriage, and/or (3) Nora will discover the essence of personal truth.

     It is unreasonable that Nora should expect her husband to take on her guilt. Prior to Torvald's discovery of her deception, she showed no indication of a desire to escape a typical Victorian marriage. It is not Torvald's fault that Nora did not indulge in introspection earlier in her life. Why did she not, in eight years of marriage, ever instigate a serious conversation with Torvald?

     Nora finally realizes she has the right to exercise her free will. When Nora slams the door in her husband's face, she opens the door to the possibility of discovering herself as a human being, not a squirrel or songbird.

     It would be interesting to compare Bloom's and Fonda's interpretations of Nora with some of the other actresses who have played Nora: Eleanora Duse; Mrs. Fiske; Ethel Barrymore; and Madame Modjeska in the play's American debut in 1883 in Louisville, Kentucky (Reader's Encyclopedia 306).

     One thing is certain. When Nora slammed the door on her marriage, the glass walls of her doll house were washed clean.

Barbara Locke Chorn

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