How Not to Have a Relationship

         If I were to teach a course on relationships to a group of students of my choice, I would choose students at the college level with ages ranging from eighteen to twenty-four. I would choose this group because I think they need to be educated on how to have positive relationships. I would educate the students about negative relationships, focusing on what not to do in order for a relationship to be successful. I would use Nora and Torvald's relationship from Henrik Ibsen's 1879 A Doll's House, filmed twice in 1973 by Joseph Losey and Patrick Garland, respectively. I would use their relationship as a negative example because it contains all of the wrong components for a successful relationship. The relationship of Nora (Jane Fonda/Claire Bloom) and Torvald (David Warner/Anthony Hopkins) is materialistic; it lacks communication and is not pleasing to either partner.

         I would want my students to understand the importance of a positive relationship. In order to have a positive relationship, it cannot be based on material things. Nora and Torvald's marriage is very materialistic. She constantly begs for more money to buy more "stuff." Yes, she is working diligently to pay off her debt, but as the play and films show us, she is also working diligently to spend the money, too. Nora depends on Torvald monetarily, which is fine in some cases in which there is only one breadwinner. However, deep down I do not think Nora is happy being so dependent. If she were happy, her monetary dependence would be fine. I would want to stress the importance of satisfaction to my students because if one of the partners is not happy or satisfied, the relationship will not be positive. That is why effective communication is necessary in a relationship in order for it to remain healthy and positive.

         Nora and Torvald's relationship is severely lacking in good communication skills. I would want my students to see the end result of a relationship that does not have open communication. It dissolves, just as Nora and Torvald's relationship does at the end of the play. Throughout the play, whether one is reading it or watching the films, it is very noticeable how this couple never sits down together to discuss serious issues. Nora and Torvald never talk to one another about their children, their financial status, their relationship, or world issues. They do not exchange views and opinions about anything of serious importance.

         Torvald has Dr. Rank (Trevor Howard/Ralph Richardson) as his closest confidante, and sometimes Nora has Dr. Rank as hers, as well as Mrs. Linde (Delphine Seyrig/Anna Massey). When a couple is married, the spouses should be the closest confidantes with whom to share secrets and innermost thoughts. My students would need to understand this concept and see if they feel that the lack of communication between Nora and Torvald contributes to the relationship's ultimate failure. It think this is especially important in today's society because now, fifty percent of all marriages end in divorce. The people in this age group are targeted in this epidemic because they are at an age during which they begin to look for a marriage partner. I think that if they are well educated and know what it takes to have a positive, successful relationship, then they are one step ahead of everyone else.

         Another negative aspect of Nora and Torvald's relationship that I would educate my class about is the lack of happiness of one or both partners in the relationship. I do not think this relationship is pleasing to either Nora or Torvald. It is not pleasing to Nora because it has not turned out the way she expected. She lives a life with Torvald just like she did with her father-trapped and controlled. I believe she anticipated her life with Torvald would be much happier and more pleasing than the life she had with her father. However, she is disappointed. Her marriage does not meet her expectations. Deep down, I think she is very unhappy and disappointed with her life, and that is what gives her the strength and courage to stand up to Torvald at the end of the play and leave him. Her disappointments and unhappiness built up inside her for a very long time. Torvald and Nora had an unsuccessful, unhappy marriage for eight years. Since the two of them had never communicated, they had never fixed the problems in their marriage.

         I think Torvald had been unhappy with their relationship as well. I think he had wanted a playmate, someone whom he could control and who would worship the ground he walked on. Although Nora does this to a certain extent, she still gets a little "unruly" and does things he tells her not to, such as eating macaroons. I think he has also been unhappy because he tells her he has fantasized about her being his secret, passionate lover and that they would sneak off to have affairs. This, to me, illustrates his treatment of Nora as a sex object. I would take offense to this if I were Nora, but it does not seem to phase her.

         I think I would enjoy teaching a course about positive and negative relationships. Nora and Torvald's relationship is definitely a useful tool to utilize both through reading the play and viewing the films. I think that my students would benefit from these resources. I would also utilize other tools from this class to identify positives and negatives. Such characters as Morris (Montgomery Clift) and Catherine (Olivia de Havilland in Henry James's 1880 Washington Square, filmed as The Heiress by William Wyler in 1949, and Eliza (Audrey Hepburn) and Higgins (Rex Harrison) in George Cukor's 1964 film adaptation of George Bernard Shaw's 1913 play Pygmalion both illustrate negative relationships. I would use Stella (Kim Hunter) and Stanley (Marlon Brando) from Tennessee Williams' 1947 play A Streetcar Named Desire, filmed in 1951 by Elia Kazan, to illustrate the positive aspects of relationships.

         Ibsen's A Doll's House would be an excellent tool to illustrate a negative relationship with all its components to my students. I hope that they would gain knowledge about what it takes to keep a relationship positive and healthy by realizing what not to do through examining Nora and Torvald's characters. I think a course on relationships would be beneficial not only to college students, but also to society as a whole. Maybe if our society offered more courses such as that, the divorce rate would drop from that astounding fifty percent that it is currently!

Rhiannon Mitchell

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