Evolution Revisited: Nora, Nora, Nora!

     An interesting case study in regard to the evolution of the female character in literature is that of Nora Helmer in Henrik Ibsen's 1879 A Doll's House. Nora's metamorphosis in the play is slightly different from that of Jane Fonda's Norwegian in Joseph Losey's 1973 film version. The difference, I believe, is due in part to the evolution of Fonda as an individual at the time.

     Nora begins in the play version as a silly hearted, head-in-the-clouds stargazer. This, though, is her outward state. She has been molded this way by her ignorant husband, Torvald, who does not realize that they have never had an intelligent conversation in their years together. He also does not realize the sacrifices she made to keep him alive and functioning.

     Krogstad, in fact, understands Nora far better than Torvald does. He has seen her true nature-- perhaps this was easier for him since he had no preconceived notions of Nora's nature. For all he knew, she could be a loon or a genius.

     As the play progresses, Nora changes. She is forced to change somewhat. The constant worry that Torvald will find out her actions and lies leads her to plan quickly for his distraction, so he will not read his mail or guess the reasons for Krogstad's visits.

     In the end, Nora's true nature reveals itself to Torvald (and, in a sense, Torvald's true nature is revealed to Nora, but that is another story.) She is, in fact, an intelligent being who has ideas and opinions, hopes and fears. She is not, in fact, a skylark, a scampering squirrel, or a twittering titmouse, as Torvald suspected. Nora leaves Torvald (post-evolution), and I suspect after her departure she ate all the macaroons she wanted.

     The decision to leave the textual Torvald was harder for Nora than it was for Fonda in Losey's film. David Warner's film Helmer was a jerk to begin with. Nora made approximately the same evolution--her decisions were more clear-cut, though, and she had the advantage of audience support.

     During this time, Fonda was undergoing an evolution herself. She was no longer Barbarella, the space-queen. She was back on earth, post-Hanoi, and she needed a new cause. This cause was feminism. Her Nora was a woman unshackled, and I suspect Nora was composed more of Fonda than of Ibsen.

Jared R. Nelson

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