The role of a woman in marriage throughout history has been the role of the submissive, attentive wife. Her role has mainly been comprised of living for her husband and her children. Many authors reflect this issue in their writings. Henrik Ibsen, in his 1879 play, A Doll's House, given beautiful life by the 1973 movie, A Doll's House, directed by Patrick Garland, examines the consequences of the stereotypical roles of women and men in marriage. He walks his readers through the path of a woman regaining her strength and self-respect. This essay will attempt to follow Nora (Claire Bloom), the main character, through her journey into regaining her self-esteem and self worth. The two main actors portray the characters as Ibsen described. Therefore, the cast alone gave me a good feeling about the movie, since I knew that playing Torvald and Nora would be very difficult.
From the very first lines of the play, we notice the status quo between Torvald (Anthony Hopkins) and Nora. As Torvald, the stereotypically strong, dignified husband, Hopkins plays the role of a pompous, arrogant authoritarian, oblivious of his insensitivity to his wife's feelings and needs. Bloom's portrayal of Nora, "little skylark twittering" shows her to be cunning and deceptive from the start, but cleverly playing the game of being her husband's little doll. Torvald's continual reference to Nora by using bird names parallels Nora's image of herself. For example, in the first act, Torvald continually refers to Nora as his "little featherbrain," his "little scatterbrain," his "squirrel sulking," and most importantly his "song bird." These images of weak birds characterize Nora as a weak person. The simple twittering, little birds we see every day are very susceptible to cold weather and to dying; and so is Nora. The image of a "little featherbrain" and a "little scatterbrain" indicate stupidity. Nora cannot think for herself because her thoughts are scattered and unorganized.
In contrast, we are led to believe that Torvald is the loving and accommodating husband. He treats Nora like a child. She, not knowing any better at this stage, acts accordingly. For example, as a child forbidden by its mother from eating candy before dinner, Nora hides her "forbidden" macaroons from Torvald. Acting as a parent, Torvald suspects her hiding macaroons from him. He repeatedly asks her if she is sure she has not eaten any macaroons. Nora's response to Torvald shows us her lack of self-esteem. Instead of sharing with him her love for macaroons, she hides it. Instead of standing up for her rights as a human being to eat what she likes, she acts as a little bird afraid of her master's wrath. Thus, in the beginning of the play we are introduced to Nora as the weak, stupid, dependent wife.
The second stage of her independence is foreshadowed by the invitation to the "fancy dress party." Her invitation to the "fancy dress party" with Torvald is of extreme significance to her self-esteem. If one looks closely, one will see that till the party has taken place, Nora has never stepped foot outside of her house. All the places where she seems to be are places with walls. We never see her step outside alone. The only time she does leave the house is to go to another place with walls. Nora's seclusion and her constant indoor state symbolize her imprisonment. She is caged as a bird would be caged. She cannot fly away till she retains her independence. However, her going to the party signifies the fact that she is attempting to break free. This is shown earlier on in the play during her discussion with Mrs. Linde (Delphine Seyrig).
In her attempt to break free, she finds Mrs. Linde to be a refuge. Whenever Torvald is not around Nora, we glimpse her efforts to break free. For example, Nora shows her strength in the mere fact that she had saved her husband's life. Although this had taken place before the play started, in revealing her secret to Mrs. Linde, she attempts to gain independence. When Mrs. Linde comes to visit Nora, we see Nora's power slowly emerging through the cracks. For instance, in explaining her hardships, Mrs. Linde says, "You know so little about the troubles and hardships of life." Nora's answer is of strength, "I? So little." One can hear the sarcasm within Nora's words. Mrs. Linde continues on: "You're only a baby, Nora." In a strong voice Nora answers, "Don't be so superior." This emergence of strength is classical to Nora as long as Torvald is not around. As readers, we see Nora step into the second stage of her independence. After being fully under the control of Torvald, Nora attempts to break free.
The third stage of her independence is obvious when Krogstad (Edward Fox) comes to visit her about her actions of eight years ago. She had taken matters in her own hands, forged her father's signature in order to borrow enough money to save her sick husband's life by taking him off to Italy for the winter. Krogstad decides to manipulate her to get her to help him keep his job at the bank that Torvald is about to take over. However, she turns on him with a classical show of strength in Act 1:
"Hasn't a daughter the right to protect her dying father from worry and anxiety? Hasn't a wife the right to save her husband's life? I don't know much about the law, but I'm quite certain that it must say somewhere that things like that are allowed. Don't you, a lawyer, know that? You must be a very stupid lawyer, Mr. Krogstad."
Not only does Nora refer to Krogstad as a "stupid lawyer," but she also calls the law "a very stupid law." Her strong statements show that she has the potential of being a strong woman. Thus, through her confession to Mrs. Linde and her strength of character against Krogstad, Nora finds herself ready to engage in battle with Torvald. It is not until Nora sees the truth of Torvald's character that she finally breaks free as a lark from his grasp and his imprisonment. Her long-expected "miracle" never takes place, for Torvald shows his selfish character. Hopkins makes Torvald the great villain as he slaps Bloom and delivers his lines to her, calling her a "stupid, stupid woman." Also, he says to her, "No man would sacrifice his honor for the one he loves." However, she finally comes to a much larger understanding of women's plights for she says in answer, "Thousands of women have." In this four-word statement, she realizes that she has had many accomplishments and that she is worthy of a larger award than what she has been given.
One also notices that Torvald stops referring to her using bird imagery. He has finally noticed that she has a strength of character that far exceeds his own. Instead of her relying on him, he is dependent upon her, "but to lose you--to lose you, Nora! No, no, I can't even imagine it" He cannot imagine his life without her. He cannot live without her. However, in the context of the approaching death of their good friend, Dr. Rank (Trevor Howard), who professes his love for her, and the denouement of the revelation of her forgery and shame, Nora has realized she does not love her husband, does not know herself, and decides to leave him altogether, including their three young children. Clearly, Nora has set herself free. Instead of her using his "great wings" to protect her, she breaks free of their "warm and cozy home" and asserts: "I set you free from your obligations. You're not to feel yourself bound in anyway, nor shall I." In setting her husband free, Nora has set herself free to fly like a young bird seeking independence from its mother.
In conclusion, one can see Nora's struggle to break free of her caged prison. In the beginning of the play, she is first weak and childlike. She then gains some strength to stand up to Mrs. Linde, even going as far as helping her, and to push off Krogstad. She finally, after realizing Torvald's true character, breaks free of her cage and does what birds do best--Fly. Fortunately, Patrick Garland's film is a cinematic triumph for a beautifully written play.