Research Paper on a Doll’s House by Enrik Ibsen

-I choose the first topic which is to analyze Nora’s character in three aspects. -I came with this thesis: Ibsen focuses on this woman attributes. This three aspects of Nora contrast each other greatly and accentuate the fact that she is a determined woman, irresponsible and selfish. This attributes allowed her to exercise her power throughout the entire play. [ you can change if you have another aspects that can be better ]-I attached the 4 articles you have to cite for the essay-MLA 8th edition


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The Doll House Backlash: Criticism, Feminism, and Ibsen
Templeton, Joan
PMLA. Publications of the Modern Language Association of America; Jan 1989; 104, 1; Research Library
pg. 28
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South Central Review
Portal to Forgiveness: A Tribute to Ibsen’s Nora
Vicki Mahaffey, University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana
Any examination of the idea of forgiveness must acknowledge that
forgiveness is one possible way of responding—perhaps with time—to
a prior transgression. Harm was done to someone or something; a wound
was inflicted. What is to be done with the pain and suffering that resulted
from that transgression? Unexpectedly, this is a “literary” problem, because both the victim and the perpetrator respond by telling a story about
what happened. The question is, what kinds of stories get told? What
presuppositions authorize the different possible ways of telling them, and
what are the implications of the various narrative configurations?
Forgiveness is usually understood as one possible response of a victim
to someone who has offended him or her, as a decision to grant absolution
rather than to blame. Such a view turns the question of forgiveness into
a moral (or even moralistic) issue. I am arguing, on the contrary, that in
order to understand the significance of forgiveness, we must take it out of
the realm of morality altogether. When we do so, forgiveness emerges not
as a response to someone else’s action, but is instead an internal move—a
change of attitude within the self—that has no necessary relation to the
question of whether or not the victim has decided to absolve the other
party. Forgiveness, then, need not be defined as an indulgent or selfless
generosity toward the perpetrator: a gift that displaces and annuls the
rage of retribution. The offender’s culpability is actually irrelevant to the
most immediate problem at hand, the problem of how to move forward
after having received a wound. The first step towards a forgiveness associated with healing cannot take place as long as the victim is blaming
(or excusing) the person who has done wrong. The reason for this has to
do with the similar psychology at work in both blame and defense: power
is being attributed to the perpetrator. Where the blame is, that’s where
the power is. To blame is to continue to attribute power to the other; it
sustains the victim’s feeling of helplessness. It is often to expunge such
helplessness that a victim engages in retribution. But forgiveness (defined
as a conscious decision to refocus attention from past damage to what
remains in the present and possibly even the future, without minimizing
the severity of the damage) can be conceptualized as an alternative to
both blame and absolution. More specifically, forgiveness is a decision
© South Central Review 27.3 (Fall 2010): 54–73.
A Tribute to Ibsen’s Nora / Mahaffey
to avoid conflict, whether emotional or physical, in order to create a calm
space in which fuller self-realization may become possible.
The kind of story that victims typically tell in reaction against having
been wronged is a grievance story, a story of blame. The main character
of a grievance story is the perpetrator: the person who caused the harm.
Fred Luskin, who defines grievances as painful episodes that the narrator has endured but not healed from, summarizes research findings that
offenders and victims give significantly different accounts about who
was responsible for the hurt; both offenders and victims blame the other,
whether directly or indirectly, for the offense: “subjects who responded
from the point of view of the offended minimized their responsibility
for what happened and put blame on the offender. . . . they themselves
were relatively blameless.” On the other hand, “Subjects writing from
the point of view of the offender . . . placed more responsibility for what
happened with the offended and minimized the damage done by their
actions. In their stories the hurt was more accidental.”1 The idea of accidental injury is worth pausing over, because the offender’s insistence
that he or she did not intend to hurt the victim, that the victim provoked
the offender in such a way that in reacting, the offender accidentally did
harm, highlights the asymmetry between the accounts of the offender
and the victim. The victim accuses; the offender disavows and deflects
the charge by making a counter-accusation that is indirect, but nonetheless antagonistic.
The unwillingness or inability to forgive—either one’s victim or one’s
abuser—amounts to a sustained refusal to permit healing, often for what
seem to be very good reasons. Neither party will let the wrong or the
conflict with the perpetrator go, whether that wrong was perceived or
actual. Why hold on to a grievance that continues to cause suffering?
The answer is complicated, because it needs to take into account something that is going on beneath the surface. Both “blamers” often cling to
their reciprocally accusatory positions because they presume that they
know or understand what was happening in the mind of the other. This
presumption offers the solace of certainty, and uncertainty can seem
more threatening than (justifiable) suffering. To blame is to hold on to
an offence, whereas to forgive is to “lose” it, to give it away; the word
“give” is nestled in “forgive.” Often, when someone feels he or she has
lost something already, it becomes difficult to “lose” anything else, even
if what one is losing is a grievance and the “loss” results from a deliberate choice, a kind of gift to oneself and (perhaps secondarily) to another.
Forgiveness is the result of learning how to retell the story of hurt so
as to interweave one’s objections to having been harmed, having one’s
South Central Review
legitimate boundaries violated, with acceptance of the fact that unless
the wound was traumatic (incapable of being healed), the pain that was
inflicted need not be permanent. Perhaps what makes forgiveness more
difficult, though, is that in order to do it the victim must let the offender
go, along with the agon that keeps victim and offender intimately connected through “passion” (here understood with its secondary erotic
meaning heard through its original, etymological one: suffering). In
order to forgive, one must be willing to stand alone to do the slow and
exploratory work of healing.
The psychology behind accusation and (self) defense is oddly similar:
both parties (blamer and blamed) strive to preserve an illusion of innocence, of having been in the right when they performed (or endured) a
given action. Each side can only sustain the illusion of innocence if the
other side is exposed as culpable. The two sides compete for the prize
of seeming justified in their hostility. This competition simultaneously
sustains and denies any intimacy in the connection between victim
and perpetrator, the consummation of which is likely to be destructive.
Sigmund Freud offered insight into the dangers of agon when he asked
H.D. (Hilda Doolittle), who was one of his patients and adherents, never
to defend him or his works when she heard him being attacked. H.D.,
in Tribute to Freud, her account of having undergone psychoanalytic
treatment with Freud that she recorded retrospectively during the blitz
in London, recounts Freud’s reasons for making this strange request.
He explained that at the moment when she began to mount a defense of
her doctor and teacher, she would only drive the attacker’s anger and
prejudice deeper; she could do no good for Freud by defending him:
“antagonism cannot be rooted out from above the surface, and it thrives,
in a way, on heated argument.” Moreover, Freud asserted that her effort
to defend him would not benefit her, either; she would simply expose
her feelings. Instead, he recommended that she simply ignore whatever
she happens to hear: “If the matter is ignored, the attacker may forgo his
anger – or in time, even, his unconscious mind may find another object on
which to fix its tentacles.”2 Freud isn’t telling H.D. to give up her values,
convictions, or principles, nor is he saying that argument itself is always
useless. His advice concerns the best response to emotional (rather than
rational) objections: when someone is angry, the best response is not to
engage but to move on, to bypass what we might call the “intimacy of
agon.” He is reminding her of her limits as a conscious agent as well
as underscoring her autonomy of mind, which may well be affected by
an antagonistically charged “bonding” with one of Freud’s detractors.
To ignore a hate-filled challenge is a kind of “forgiveness”: you don’t
A Tribute to Ibsen’s Nora / Mahaffey
condone or confirm the other’s opinions or feelings, but you give him
or her permission to express them freely, without bonding with that
hate. When accusations are rooted in emotion rather than reason, and
when they are motivated by a hunger for conflict, it is destructive, not
constructive, for a listener to enter into partnership with the accuser by
arguing against him or her.
Henrik Ibsen’s famous (or infamous) nineteenth-century play, A Doll’s
House (1879), provides readers or viewers with a particularly complex
and powerful set of stories about transgression and forgiveness, and
about the emotional need to assert and defend one’s own heroic “rightness” that often subtends accusation.3 Torvald Helmer and his wife Nora
“play” at marriage and parenting, but Nora discovers at the end of the
play that they were playing by very different rules. Nora thought that
each of them would do anything to promote the well-being of the other,
that each would sacrifice the self for the other. She saw herself and her
husband as sharing a secret, reciprocal bond, and it was the underlying
security provided by this bond that allowed them to enjoy themselves in
superficial but nonetheless delightful ways the rest of the time. She had
privately sacrificed herself to save her husband’s life when he was ill, and
she was certain that he would do the same for her if her well-being was
ever threatened. Torvald, in contrast, was playing a hierarchical game in
which the thing that mattered most was his honor and reputation. Nora
was his “doll wife” (as she had been her Daddy’s “doll child” before
she left home), a delightful toy that he cared for and that gave him much
entertainment and pleasure in return. As she explains, “the children in
turn have been my dolls. I thought it was fun when you came and played
with me, just as they thought it was fun when I went and played with
them.”4 The heroism Torvald prided himself on was predicated, not on
a willingness to sacrifice himself for those he loved, but on his ability
to protect them (and himself), which he does by creating an artificial
domestic world in which they are “safe” from harm, but also from reality. In Torvald’s world, neither his wife nor children have the power of
autonomous movement, which makes it impossible not only for them to
take risks, but also to change or grow.
Ibsen’s play is relevant to my discussion here because it stages a
conflict between two different models of forgiveness: Torvald’s understanding of what it means to forgive (and transgress) is pitted against the
new (and radically amoral) conception of forgiveness that Nora forms
as a result of what has happened in the course of the play. Torvald’s
understanding of transgression is the normative one: one must avoid
doing or being wronged because both states threaten the preservation of
South Central Review
one’s integrity. One can “forgive” and “forget” only if there is no longer
any threat to the status quo. In that case, nothing will have changed, and
everything can go on as it did before the threat occurred. Nora’s view of
forgiveness has less to do with transgression, because she had always been
operating by a different code of ethics that was not predicated on right
or wrong. Instead of protecting her self-interest, she valued something
almost diametrically opposed to such self-protection: the willingness
to sacrifice the self out of love. She and Torvald had been able to play
house so pleasurably because although neither had a clear view of what
was really happening, her self-sacrifice worked to promote his stability
of being, and they felt “happy.” When she finally apprehends the two
different codes under which she and her husband had been living, her
“forgiveness,” unlike his, is not a forgiveness of the other person; the
“gift” is not a gift to the spouse or offender, but to the self. What she gives
herself is temporary freedom from bondage, if we understand bondage
neutrally, not just as slavery, but as engagement in any bond with another
person, whether of intimacy or conflict. Nora gives herself space, and
specifically the space to achieve a new self-realization.5
Torvald’s model of forgiveness is apparent at two different points
in the play, in Act Two and again in Act Three. Both instances emphasize his readiness to blame Nora for violating his rules and precepts, a
reaction shockingly at variance from what Nora expects: that he will
want to sacrifice himself to save her (as she sacrificed herself for him:
by forging her father’s signature to borrow money to take him to Italy,
thereby restoring his health). In Act II, Nora tries to dissuade Torvald
from terminating Krogstad’s employment, the man who has power over
her because he lent her money without her husband’s knowledge. She
cajoles, “If a little squirrel were to ask ever so nicely . . . Would you
do something for it.” She then implores Torvald to let Krogstad keep
his job at the bank. Torvald replies, “The more you plead for him, the
more impossible you make it for me to keep him on,”6 and he dismisses
Krogstad immediately. Torvald’s response to her anxiety is to “forgive”
her for it, while refusing to do what she asks:
My dear Nora, I forgive you this anxiety of yours, although it
is actually a bit of an insult. Oh, but it is, I tell you! It’s hardly
flattering to suppose that anything this miserable pen-pusher
wrote could frighten me! But I forgive you all the same, because
it is rather a sweet way of showing how much you love me.
[He takes her in his arms] This is how things must be, my own
darling Nora. When it comes to the point, I’ve enough strength
A Tribute to Ibsen’s Nora / Mahaffey
and enough courage, believe me, for whatever happens. You’ll
find I’m man enough to take everything on myself.7
Nora’s response is terror and an assertion that she will never allow him
to do that, at which point Torvald compromises, saying, “All right, then
we’ll share it, Nora—as man and wife.”
In the light of what eventually happens—Torvald’s unwillingness,
despite his earlier assurance to the contrary, to take any imputation of
wrongdoing at all upon himself—his reassurance here, while probably
sincere, is revealed as more of a placation than a commitment. When his
integrity feels threatened, he will not be able to demonstrate the loving
willingness to assume responsibility he calls “manliness,” although by
this definition Nora, his female doll-wife, had been “man” enough to take
the responsibility for her husband’s illness and cure upon herself. The first
point to notice about Torvald’s forgiveness of Nora here is that she hasn’t
done anything wrong, except perhaps to interfere in matters of business
by asking him to reconsider a decision he has made. He calms his wife
by telling her a story, one that is true only under certain circumstances:
that he is committed to protecting Nora and their children at any cost to
himself. What he doesn’t specify is that he can only do this if it doesn’t
compromise his public reputation, what he calls his honor. Moreover,
his claim that he will assume responsibility for whatever happens rests
on the presupposition that Nora is helpless and innocent; in other words,
that she is a helpless victim and Krogstad a ruthless offender. In Act I,
Torvald had already condemned Krogstad for the same act of wrongdoing
that Nora also committed: forgery.8 A forgery, to him, is a particularly
pernicious form of lie, and he prides himself on an abhorrence of lies.
Although he begins by deploring the forgery of Krogstad, he goes on
to denounce the danger of other lies, especially those of a woman and
mother. He describes liars as contaminating the whole domestic space:
Just think how a man with a thing like that on his conscience will
always be having to lie and cheat and dissemble; he can never
drop the mask, not even with his own wife and children. And the
children—that’s the most terrible part of it, Nora. . . . A fog of
lies like that in a household, and it spreads disease and infection
to every part of it. Every breath the children take in that kind of
house is reeking with evil germs.9
At this point he jumps from Krogstad to women, claiming, “Practically
all juvenile delinquents come from homes where the mother is dishonest.”
Nora questions this, since he began with the example of a dishonest father
South Central Review
(Krogstad). Torvald brushes her question aside, conceding that although
fathers can have the same poisonous effect, “it’s generally traceable to
the mothers.”10 The act ends with Nora imagining herself as poisoning
her home, and then rejecting such a thing as even possible.
In this scene, Torvald dramatizes the psychology that makes forgiveness possible only in a moral sense: he has blamed a man for deception
and asserted his own inviolable honesty (and that of his family) in contrast
to it. Torvald is strongly defended against the notion that he or anyone
he loved could ever do anything wrong, borrow money, or keep secrets.
As Nora tells her friend Kristine in Act I, “he refuses to take on anything
that’s the least bit shady.”11 Of course his high ethical standard is not the
problem; the problem is his oversimplification of the difference between
right and wrong, his conviction—perhaps his determination—that there
can never be an overlap between them. That is what makes Torvald judgmental: he can never contemplate the possibility that a person could run
foul of the law through love, or compassion, or consideration, or even
innocence, which are the qualities that motivated Nora’s two deceptions:
her forgery of her father’s name, and her act of borrowing money (and

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