Loveless Marriage: A Look at Henrik Ibsen's "A Doll's House"
In the eyes of a romantic, marriage is a sacred ceremony that brings two families together to celebrate the ideal true love. But to a realist, it's a way to gain stability and security. People only hear of the romanticized idea of marriage in movies, books and poetry. It's as if this idea of romance has been made a fantasy and is something that is unattainable except in dreams. Women want to be swept off of their feet by their one true love, but lets face it ladies you will only get that feeling from cheap romance novels. Here in the real world people get married for a sense of security, they no longer fall in love just for loves sake. Instead they look at the whole picture; is the person going somewhere, are they goal oriented, are they stable and smart with their money. And let's be honest everything becomes a little less expensive with a simple I do. The ideal marriage is based on a combination of both romance and security. Henrik Ibsen's "A Doll's House" displays three viewpoints of marriage; one of fantasy, one for security, and the other is a model of a true marriage.
Torvald's idea of marriage is one of fantasy. Before the party Torvald wants his wife, Nora, to dress up "as a Neapolitan peasant girl". He dresses her up because that's what he wants her to be. He acts as if Nora isn't even a person, but a doll or his own personal sex toy. At the party he pretends his wife's his "secret bride-to-be" and "no one suspects anything between them". Torvald imagines that they are secret lovers and he can't wait to ravish her once they are away from the crowd: "Helmer...All this evening I've longed for nothing but you. When I saw you turn and sway in the tanantella-my blood was pounding till I couldn't stand it-that's why I brought you down here so early-". When reading this passage one imagines what some guys fantasize about: Princess Laya in a bikini. That's what most guys do; imagine their wife as a fantasized image of what they want erotically. Torvald seems to need this to become aroused by his wife. He shouldn't need a fantasy to get in the mood; his wife should be all he needs. Sure some people role play to spice things up, but they are both usually involved in collaborating on the fantasy and here Torvald is making all the decisions and his wife must obey.
Throughout the play Torvald constantly views his wife as something to be admired. In the play he calls her a "lark", a "squirrel", and a "nymph". Even on a non-sexual level he still imagines his wife as something she's not. During the party he describes her as a "dream of loveliness" and says she's "worth looking at". Torvald looks at Nora and admires her, he doesn't love her. He doesn't know her well enough to love her because he can't get past the fantasy image. Nora is only a trophy in the eyes of her husband and nothing more.
Whoever has the power controls the marriage, or at least that's Nora's idea of marriage. Nora's way to have control is in her sex appeal. As I displayed earlier Torvald thrives on this. Nora seems aware of the power she contains and also realizes that once she ages and her sex appeal disintegrates, she will have to find something else to dangle in front of her husband. That's where the loan comes in to play. In the conversation between her and Kristine, Nora thinnks about telling Torvald about the loan:
"Mrs. Linde: Won't you ever tell him?
Nora (thoughtfully, half smiling): Yes-maybe sometime, years from now, when I'm no longer so attractive. Don't laugh! I only mean when Torvald loves me less than now, when he stops enjoying my dancing and dressing up and reciting for him. Then it might be wise to have something in reserve-"
Nora knows Torvald has "all his masculine pride" to worry about and he could never live down the "painfully humiliating" issue of being in debt to his wife.
Kristine and Krogstad have the only true idea of marriage in this play. First off, they know each other the way couples should. Kristine knows the evil plot Krogstad has in store for Nora and still wants to be with him. Kristine even tells Krogstad to go ahead and let Torvald know what Nora has done. She says that the truth has to come out and "those two have come to a full understanding; all these lies and evasions can't go on". She wants to help Nora and Torvald by showing them the reality of how their marriage really functions. In this way Kristine and Krogstad become a model for what a real marriage should be; being able to love your partner no matter what, now that's a real marriage.
Another way they represent a true marriage is that they depend on one another:
"Mrs. Linde: I need to have someone to care fore; and your children need a mother. We both need each other. Nils, I have faith that you're good at heart-I'll risk everything together with you.
Krogstad (gripping her hands): Kristine, thank you, thank you-Now I know I can win back a place in your eyes."
Kristine wants and needs someone to care for and so does Krogstad, that's why they work. Kristine and Krogstad are giving everything for love and they'll do it through the good and bad. Couples care for one another, But Nora and Torvald only care about themselves not each other.
I don't believe romance is dead, nor do I believe it's fantastic to get married because of money and power. Marriage is something to step into with eyes wide open and shouldn't be entered into based on illusions. Kristine and Krogstad have something real and true, and could possibly be the future Nora and Torvald. It's true that Nora and Torvald have no ideal marriage; they don't even seem to have a real marriage. They have a power system, where Nora lets Torvald believe he is in control. Torvald paints this illusion of his wife being his mistress and Nora plays along with his game. They're both playing roles in what society views as a true marriage. They're stuck in a loveless situation that will only end with "the sound of a door slamming shut".
Summary of A Doll's House
Found an interesting summary of the play A Doll's House and I thought it helped paint a vivid picture of what the play is about and the themes within the play. I especially like how it noted this work as feminist.