Honor in marriage is a state of holding supreme levels of respect and self-respect for one self and one another. Honor is earned through esteemed behaviour, benevolent and just conduct, courage and integrity. In both “A Doll’s House” by Henrik Ibsen and Medea by Euripides, the author shows the significance of honor in marriage and how the lack of it jeopardizes a relationship.
The positive and negative role of honor is similar in both pieces of literature which is depicted through Medea and Nora’s sacrificial actions, Torvald and Jason’s use of wives as subsidiary “objects” for their own self interest, and the consequences that alter both Nora and Torvald’s and Medea and Jason’s relationship with their children. Medea and Nora mutually share a traditional outlook on marriage. They believe in sacrifice and enduring anything to protect and honor their spouse’s reputation or life.
The situations of both characters hold similar to each other because both wives risk everything, their own honor and dignity, to uphold the respect that is required in a marriage. In the play Medea, in order for Jason to retrieve the Golden Fleece, he needs Medea’s assistance to complete his conquest. Medea willingly kills her own father and brother to show her commitment to her marriage vows of protecting her husband. She regrets the sacrifices she makes because “[She][herself] betrayed [her] father and [her] home, and came with [him] to Pelias’ land of Iolcus” (Euripides, l 483-484), and in return Jason left her to suffer.
Medea proves her love to Jason when she goes to the extreme of killing her family members and ruins her own reputation in her mother land. With Medea’s “heart on fire with passionate love for Jason” (l 8) she thinks giving Jason her everything was the right thing to do but now that she is suffering in Jason’s land, she realizes her wrongs. Medea carries her marriage vows solemnly because she believes “this is indeed the greatest salvation of all–/ for the wife not to stand apart from the husband” (l 14-15).
Her dedication shows the characterization of Medea as a committed individual and a woman who follows through with her actions no matter the consequences that could negatively affect her. Similarly, Nora jeopardizes many aspects of her life to save Torvald’s. Since Torvald’s health was suffering, the doctor tells Nora to take Torvald out of town. In order for this to be done Nora has to take out a loan which is a dangerous action because legally a woman is not allowed to deal with financial matters.
Despite the consequences, Nora, in honor of her husband, risks her reputation to save Torvald’s life. Nora preaches that “[She has] something to be proud of” (Ibsen, 159) because “it was [her] who saved Torvald’s life” (159). Beyond that, she stands up for Torvald throughout the course of the play. Many times Krogstad insults Torvald in a discourteous manner and each time Nora reacts steadily with strength to defend her husband. Nora threatens Krogstad that “If [he][speaks] disrespectfully of [her] husband [she] will show [him] the door”(171).
This action is a daring move since Krogstad knows about the forgery, and if this information were to be released it could ruin her life. Since Nora stands up for Torvald, she demonstrated her willingness to sacrifice her reputation for his. The two characters hold an abundant amount of admiration for their spouses, and can be shown by their sacrificial actions. Jason and Torvald, unlike Medea and Nora lack the respect and honor that is required in a marriage. Despite the actions that Medea and Nora perform for their husbands Jason and Torvald, in return, use them for their own self pleasure.
Jason utilizes Medea’s strong power to get the Golden Fleece, and Medea, due to her passionate love for Jason, does not hesitate to assist. Without her decisive need to help, Jason would be in ruins, as “[She] saved [his] life, and every Greek knows [she] saved it” (Euripides, l 476). Medea’s strong contribution in retrieving the Golden Fleece put Jason on a high pedestal in Greek society’s eyes. Medea was strictly used as a pawn since she “[controlled] the bulls that breathed fire” (l 478), and was the one with “the Golden Fleece and guarded it and never slept” (l 481).
Jason’s selfishness knows no bounds. Without the help of Medea’s cunning and magic, Jason would never have attained the Golden Fleece. In “A Doll’s House”, Torvald utilizes Nora as an entertainment source and eliminates the whole purpose of a wife. Torvald uses endearments such as “feather brain” and “little scatter brain” that propose the thought that Nora is useless with no importance in his life. Nora feels as if she only plays the function of a “doll” and not as a typical wife. Throughout her marriage, “[She][lives] by performing tricks for [him].
That was how [he] wanted it. [He] and Papa have committed a grievous sin against [her]: it’s [his] fault that [she’s] made nothing of [her] life” (Ibsen, 226). In Torvald’s perspective the relationship has strictly one purpose, and that purpose does not involve any respect or honor toward Nora’s feelings and dreams. Torvald also uses Nora as a “decoration” on his arm to make himself feel he is worthy of a beautiful wife. Nora realizes the real truth behind his love, “[He’s] never loved [her]; [he’s] only found it pleasant to be in love with [her]” (225).
This is evident when Nora releases the truth about the forgery: “[She] was completely certain- that [he] would come forward and take all the blame- that [he’d] say ‘I’m the guilty one’”(230). This would have proved to Nora that Torvald would sacrifice himself for her. He believes that “no man would sacrifice his honor for the one he loves” (230). Torvald’s perspective on their marriage is based truly on a physical attraction rather than an emotional attachment. This is why he purchases extravagant dresses for Nora and expects her to look enticing at any event.
Both Medea and Jason’s and Nora and Torvald’s relationships seem to benefit only the husbands, as they were lucky to receive Nora and Medea’s power to alter their lives for the better. Individuals who honor their spouses, fulfill their duties to their families and society, which achieves a harmony and peace for their surroundings. Jason and Torvald show a lack of honor which contributes to their unfortunate change in the spouse’s and children’s relationships. Consequently, both mothers divorce themselves from their maternal feelings and abandon and kill their children as a result.
In Medea, the lack of respect, the desertion of Medea and her children by Jason, influences her to seek revenge against the ones dearest to him to devastate his life. She has come to the conclusion that killing her children will make Jason suffer emotional pain. After the killing of Creon’s daughter and Creon, Medea plans that “[she] shall kill her [her] own children” (l 792) to have the satisfaction of ruining Jason’s house. Her actions of killing her own children show her ruthlessness.
Medea’s only reason for doing this horrendous act is because she believes “[t]hey died from a disease they caught from their father”(l 364). Jason is a self-centered man because he refuses to accept the fact that he, rather than Medea, is responsible for the death of their children. Medea explains that he is the one to blame because of his “insolence and virgin wedding”. Like Medea, Nora cares about her children deeply, but in the end chooses herself over them. Torvald’s lack of honor and sacrifice in their relationship forces Nora to leave the house and children to survive.
The belief that “before everything else, [she’s] a wife and mother” (Ibsen, 228) is erased when “[she] believes that before everything else [she’s] a human being” (228). The idea of a perfect family in Nora’s mind is destroyed when Torvald shows self-centeredness, only caring about himself rather than her. He shows at the end of the play that he “[wasn’t] the man [she’d] always though he [was]” (229) because she is ready to kill herself, but Torvald did not do anything to prevent that. The two husbands’ deficiency of honor and respect towards their wives results in the loss of their children and a stable family.
In conclusion, honor is a sacred part of a marriage and it holds together not only the relationship between two people, but also with the kids. Henrik Ibsen and Euripides depict the theme of honor in the two plays which displays morals and values of the characters. Honor is shown through the sacrificial actions made by the wives based on love, respect and courage. Also, the plays show the consequences that a lack of honor and misusing a spouse for personal desires will, in the end, negatively impact their relationships.