Conflicting Views about Personal Freedom in the Play “A Doll’sHouse”
Inthe play A Doll’s house, personal freedom is one of the majorthemes. Besides other personal needs, such as happiness and property,all the characters highly value their personal freedom. The authorstructured the plot to demonstrate that without freedom, thecharacters would not have felt satisfied with the things that weregoing on around them. Some of the factors that highlight freedom arethe relationship between family members and the ambitions that theyhave as the plot progresses. For instance, one of the protagonists,Nora, is portrayed as an individual who sets out to liberate herselffrom the trappings of Torvald’s family. However, as the plotthickens, it is realized that the very perception of freedom iscreating rifts between families and relationships. This is ademonstration that the characters do not have a unanimous perceptionof the concept of freedom. This paper investigates the conflictingviews of personal freedom in the play, and particularly demonstrateshow different characters interpret personal freedom in economicterms, absolution from bondage in relationship, and power.
Inthe opening parts of the play, Nora feels like she is trapped in herrelationship with Helmer’s family. Since she got married to Helmer,Nora thinks that she has been restricted from pursuing her ownhappiness. When having a conversation with Mrs. Linde, she expresseshow she feels trapped. She responds to Mrs. Linde assertion that sheused to be an improvident, “But little Nora isn’t as stupid aseverybody thinks. Oh, we haven’t really been in a position where Icould afford to spend a lot of money. We’ve both had to work,”(Ibsen Act I p. 1686). Lack of constructive conversations with herhusband, as it supposed to be in a normal intimate relationship, is ademonstration of how bad their marriage is faring. The wrangle is therelationship are so bad that Nora restricts herself from pleasing herhusband, who she blames for the lack of her personal happiness. Atone instance, the couple goes for a dance at a party. After theparty, Nora felt that it was her chance to break away from thebondage she has been in and enjoy herself for a while. However, herhusband has other ideas, and wants them to leave so that she can goand satisfy his sexual desire, which, according to him, are theduties of a wife. Nora angrily refutes this, and feels like he istrying to control her life, hence taking away her freedom. Accordingto her, her personal freedom is having the liberty to decide what shewants, and not what her partner wants. She therefore feels likepersonal freedom is the absolution from bondage in relationship,which she would give anything to achieve. Her perception of freedomis justified when Helmer asserts himself over her, demanding that shemust do what he tells her to do. According to Helmer, personalfreedom does not exist in the realm of disobedience of the husband.This resounds a clear conflict of the concept of freedom between thetwo, as the imbalance of power puts one in bondage, and the other incontrol. When they are about to separate, Nora speaks her mind andconcept of personal freedom, telling Helmer,
“Listen, Torvald, from what I’ve heard, when a wife leaves herhusband’s house as I am doing now, he is absolved by law of allresponsibility for her. I can at any rate free you from allresponsibility. You must not feel in any way bound, any more than Ishall. There must be full freedom on both sides. Look, here’s yourring back. Give me mine,” (Ibsen Act III p.1733)
Onthe other hand, Helmer values economic freedom when it comes topersonal freedom. By claiming, “Seriously though, Nora, you knowwhat I think about these things. No debts! Never borrow! There’salways something inhibited, something unpleasant about a home builton credit and borrowed money,” (Ibsen Act I p.1662), Helmer impliesthat he would consider himself free if he did not depend on otherseconomically. In such terms, personal economic freedom is what woulddefine his happiness more than anything else. Helmer does notconsider economically needy people in the society as free people. Hefeels that they are likely to lose their sense of happiness once theyare in dire need of money, as they will have to depend on others.Just as Helmer interprets the concept of personal freedom througheconomic terms, so does Mrs. Linde. Mrs. Linde felt that she had theresponsibility of taking care of her brothers and mother. Whenspeaking about her support for her family members, she states, “Iam both proud and happy when I think of how I was able to makeMother’s life a little easier towards the end,” (Ibsen Act Ip.1688). The implication of this statement is that having economicfreedom was the most valuable form of personal freedom that she wouldachieve in her life, and intrinsically, was all that she cared for,as far as freedom was concerned. Further analysis of her characterreveals why she values personal economic freedom. Since she isoperating in a lower economic class than Tovald, her desire tocontrol her monetary needs is paramount. While other characters inthe play perceive freedom to be the liberty of doing what theydesire, she feels that true freedom is having the ability to takecare of one’s economic needs.
Besideseconomic freedom and absolution from bondage in relationship, thecharacters also interpret personal freedom as power. Perhaps the bestinterpretation of power as personal freedom is as it is manifested inthe relationship between Nora and Helmer. Nora wants the power tohave equal say in the marriage, which she perceives as total personalfreedom. At one instance, she says, “But our house has never beenanything but a play-room. I have been your doll wife, just as at homeI was Daddy’s doll child” (Ibsen Act III p.1730). In her opinion,her husband and father have left her powerless, to the extent thatshe regards herself as a mere “doll”. The stereotype that womenshould be submissive is what makes Nora feel powerless, and as such,without personal freedom. However, her husband does not regard heropinion that personal freedom is manifested in power. Before herenlightenment, Nora can be blamed for her subjugation, as she feelsthat her husband’s assertiveness is the norm. Regardless, deepinside her, based on this perception, she knows that she ispowerless, hence, not free. It is not until she takes the crucialdecision to leave, after realizing that she could not have the samepower as her husband. Upon leaving, she feels a certain satisfactionof having achieved personal freedom, which is brought about by theneutralization of the force that overpowered her.
Inthe play, Ibsen created themes and different characters to portraythem. One factor that makes the play a classical piece is thedifferent interpretation of the concept of personal freedom by thecharacters. While all of them regard personal freedom highly, theyhave different priorities about the same. Some of the outstandinginterpretations of personal freedom are economic freedom, libertyfrom bondage in relationship and power. The last two perceptions areinterrelated, and are best demonstrated in the nature of relationshipbetween a married couple. In the pursuit of personal freedom,facilitated by the difference in perception of the concept, thecharacters often cross each other’s paths, often resulting indispute and conflict of interest. However, in the long run, they alldemonstrate that personal freedom is indeed a universal want, albeit,relative in meaning.
Ibsen,Henrik. A Doll’s House. In Modern Theater. Print