Kehau Jai ’16Staff Writer
Often considered a feminist play, “A Doll House,” by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, opens at Seaver Theater on Nov. 15. Advocating women’s rights was not actually Ibsen’s original intent. In truth, when “A Doll House” was first performed in 1879, the term “feminist” wasn’t yet coined and women’s rights weren’t on Ibsen’s mind. So why is Ibsen’s masterpiece so often assigned a feminist theme?
This conclusion is primarilay derived from his plot. The play follows the seemingly carefree Nora Helmer, a wife and mother indulged and treated as a child by her doting, domineering husband Torvald Helmer. However, when Nora realizes the “doll house” nature of her marriage, she faces a life-shattering decision that must be made in a male-dominated world.
Ultimately, this play is about freedom, maturity, and human rights, not just women’s rights. Indeed, in his address to the Norwegian Women’s League in 1898, Ibsen says that he wrote “A Doll House” as a “description of humanity,” and did not “consciously [work] for the women’s rights movement.”
Even today, while many continue to argue for the presence of a feminist theme, Ibsen scholar Joan Templeton defends the play’s original intent.
She says, “Nora’s conflict represents something other than, or something more than women’s [rights].”
Scripps student Hope Simpson (’13), who plays Nora’s character foil Christine Linde, believes that “A Doll House” isn’t a feminist play in “modern definitions of feminism.” Still, she says, “Back in the 1870s and 1880s, when women had very strict gender roles, Nora definitely did her own thing . . . despite a lot of limitations.” Nora’s story is therefore one of self-discovery and free will.
In 1879, bourgeois white women often faced Nora’s “doll house” of false realities brought on by marriage. Yet Ibsen’s message of breaking free and recognizing one’s full potential applies to more than women.
Ibsen’s powerful, shocking ending was at first changed by his agent because he felt that it was too scandalous and unacceptable. This fact demonstrates the strength of Ibsen’s defiance in his theme of human rights.
5C students are performing “A Doll House” in its original form Nov. 15-17 at 8 p.m. and 17 and 18 at 2 p.m. at Seaver Theater.