In A Doll’s House, Henrik Ibsen focuses on the importance of women’s roles and freedom in society. Widely regarded as a feminist paean, the play features two major female characters; the most prominent of whom, Nora Helmer, shatters her position as a subservient, doll-like female when she walks out on her husband and children with a flagrant “door slam heard round the world. ” Nora’s evolution, though inspiring, should not overshadow another crucial woman in the play: Mrs. Kristine Linde.
Both women attain freedom in a society dominated by the adherence to conservative marital roles, but do it in different ways. While Nora reaches her consciousness and slams the door on her shackling domicile, Mrs. Linde opens the door to the possibility of domesticism as an independent, enlightened woman. Through this, Ibsen suggests that true freedom lies not in an independent life, but rather, in an independent will. From the moment she enters the play, Mrs. Linde is presented as an antithesis to Nora’s seemingly childish and frivolous nature.
She is weary, aged, and mature, looking and feeling “much, much older” (Ibsen 7). Nora, on the other hand, is dainty and whimsical. She is a “pretty little skylark” who hums around and indulges in whatever she fancies (Ibsen 4). While Nora has lived sheltered and well off in both her childhood and her adult life with Torvald, Mrs. Linde has faced hardship and loss throughout her entire life. For eight years, Nora is happily married and has three lovely children; forced to abandon the man she loved to marry one who could support her family financially, Mrs.
Linde’s sacrifices leave her a “bitter,” “empty” widow with little money and “no one to live for” (Ibsen 11). These physical and circumstantial differences presented between the two women are illusions that are shattered later on in the text. Though Nora and Mrs. Linde come from differing backgrounds, both unify in their place as women alienated in a male dictating society. Judging by Nora’s reaction to Mrs. Linde’s situation, Mrs. Linde seems to be Nora’s first encounter with a woman who doesn’t fit societal standards.
Her first instinct is to feel pity for Mrs. Linde’s lack of children or husband, classifying her “utterly alone” state as “terribly sad” and inferior to the life she has with Torvald (Ibsen 8). This all changes, however, once Nora agrees to help Mrs. Linde. By binding herself to a woman instead of a man for the first time, she reaches a further state of awareness. When Mrs. Linde mentions Nora’s “lack of trouble and hardship” and calls her a child, Nora becomes defensive, alluding to her displeasure with her position in society (Ibsen 12).
You’re just like the rest of them,” she claims, “you all think I’m useless when it comes to anything really serious… ” (Ibsen 12). The “them” and “you all” in Nora’s pivotal statement refers to the men who have bound Nora to the state of a useless doll in a dollhouse: dependent, incapable, and unenlightened—merely nice to play with and pretty to look at. At the end of their first reconnection, Nora reveals that her transformation from obedient doll to liberated woman had already begun. She now admires Mrs. Linde for her long years of work and independence and uses it as inspiration for her own. In Mrs.
Linde’s trust, Nora exposes her personal act of sovereignty: a few years ago, she had secretly borrowed money to save her husband’s life, incriminating herself. Even though she did the morally correct thing, Nora’s actions are condemnable and she will be found guilty by the society in which she lives. After revealing her secret to Mrs. Linde, Nora comes to understand the absurdity of her position in society. She rejects any sense of societally dictated guilt and furthers again her transformation to enlightenment. Mrs. Linde catalyzes Nora’s evolution of enlightenment and it continues on until she reaches her freedom at the end of the play.
For example, after Torvald has sent out Krogstad’s notice despite Nora’s outcry about the torturous consequences, he claims he is “man enough to take everything on [him]self” (Ibsen 44). To this, Nora sternly declares, “that is something you shall never, never do. ” She takes command of herself for the first time and insists against her societally dictated role of subordination. Nora advances her awareness when she extends this notion beyond the realm of her own situation. Whilst countering Krogstad, she asks “isn’t a daughter entitled to try and save her father from worry…? Isn’t a wife entitled to save her husband’s life? (Ibsen 29). Instead of saying “aren’t I entitled,” Nora invokes “daughters” and “wives,” generalizing her claim to all women in society. In doing this, she realizes that she is not just fighting for herself, but rather, a collective cause. Nora’s identification as one of many daughters and wives rather than as an individual is the key to her liberation from the dollhouse. However, she is not able to reach the final ledge of enlightenment without Mrs. Linde. Mrs. Linde, who is already a strong-minded, independent woman, realizes the benefit that will come from Nora’s secret unfolding.
Although she alludes to solving the problem by bribing Krogstad–“there was a time when he would have done anything for me”–she understands that the consequences of Nora’s secret will give her the final push to assert her freedom from the role of an incapable, subservient doll both in the “dollhouses” of her marriage and of society (Ibsen 56). To ensure that this occurs, Mrs. Linde refuses to allow Krogstad demand back his letter. Consequently, Torvald discovers the illegal actions Nora took to save his life and is outraged at Nora. He calls her a hypocrite, a liar, and accuses her of destroying his happiness (Ibsen 75).
When Krogstad returns the IOU with the forged signature, Torvald is overjoyed because “[they] are both saved! ” however, consciousness has already turned in Nora. She can no longer fathom sacrificing her independence and honor for men who treat her as a mere possession, or living in society where “a woman has no right to spare her old father on his death-bed, or to save her husband’s life” (Ibsen 83). She decides to leave Torvald and “think things out for [her]self,” slamming the door on the dollhouse behind her, liberating herself from subservience and achieving final enlightenment (Ibsen 83).
While Nora steps out of the dollhouse’s darkness and into the light of freedom and consciousness, Mrs. Linde takes a turn in the seemingly opposite direction. After reconnecting with Krogstad, the man she loved but left to marry her then-husband, Mrs. Linde begs him to “give [her] somebody and something to work for” because being “completely alone in the world [makes her feel] empty and forlorn” (Ibsen 64). Nora decides that in order to be true to herself, she must “learn to stand alone” and thus rejects her husband and family. Mrs.
Linde, on the other hand, decides she needs to be a mother and wife for the man she truly loves, in order be authentic and achieve happiness. Though it may seem as a reversion into socially dictated norms, Mrs. Linde’s desire for a husband and family to “work” and care for is actually a transformation much like Nora’s. Ibsen uses Mrs. Linde to demonstrate that Nora’s actions do not constitute the only solution available to women who feel trapped by society. Mrs. Linde’s offer to care for Krogstad and his children will be a positive move for both of them, ecause they love each other and are entering the relationship as equals. Unlike Torvald and Nora’s marriage, there is no hierarchy in Krogstad and Mrs. Linde’s relationship, as they are both “castaways” who “join forces” because they need each other (Ibsen 64). Mrs. Linde, having sacrificed her whole life to live with a man she didn’t love in order to help her brothers and mother, will finally be able to live with her chosen partner. Nora, on the other hand, had sacrificed her own will all her life by allowing her father and Torvald to fulfill theirs, and finally breaks free. In the end, Nora and Mrs.
Linde help each other reach enlightenment and freedom by setting in motion their respective transformations. Ibsen suggests that the truly free woman finds herself not in an independent life, but rather, in an independent will. Once feeling pity for Mrs. Linde’s loneliness, Nora exits her dollhouse with a door slam, embracing her choice of isolation and freedom as an opportunity to find herself. Likewise, Mrs. Linde, who has always been strong-minded and independent, asserts her freedom in society by choosing a domestic life with the man she loves, not because she is forced to, but because she wills it.
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