Drama in the Classroom with Ibsen's 'A Doll's House'
A Short Summary
Nora Helmer appears to live a charmed life. She has a husband who loves her, servants to care for the house, and friends who dote on her. Appearances are deceiving. Nora committed a crime. She illegally borrowed money to pay for a trip to Italy, a trip that saved her sick husband's life. Nora secretly worked for years to pay back the loan, and right before paying off the balance, she receives a visit from the man (Krogstad) who lent her the money, a man who coincidentally works for Nora's husband, a man who is soon to be fired by Nora's husband, a man who blackmails Nora so he can keep his job.
Ibsen's A Doll's House has taken its place as one of literature's greatest plays. The following issues make it worthy of classroom discussion:
- The Role of Women: This is the overriding theme of the entire play. Students will be shocked to learn of the subservient role women played in the past. In Ibsen's A Doll's House, women were not allowed to own property or borrow money and were strongly discouraged to not work outside the home. A discussion of the women's rights movement may help students understand the context of the play.
- Economic Issues: The second leading cause of divorce in the United States is finances. Teach students how financial setbacks ruin lives. The following lives are ruined or nearly ruined because of financial setbacks: Mrs. Linde's husband dies, leaving her penniless and in desperate need of work, an excellent opportunity to explain the benefits of life insurance; Nora borrows money behind her husband's back (for his benefit), an excellent opportunity to discuss the importance of saving and investing; Krogstad blackmails Nora in order to maintain his position, a position he's about to lose because of previous dishonorable actions.
- Freedom: Philosophers, politicians, and revolutionaries have talked about freedom for centuries. It's a term thrown about casually. It's written about, sung about, and spoken about, but what does it really mean? This makes for a good definition essay and offers many possible thesis statements.
Doll House Analysis
Ibsen's A Doll House offers plentiful occasions for teaching and discussing the elements of literature:
- Characterization: As with real humans, Ibsen's characters are not always what they seem. In Act I, readers assume Torvald and Nora have a great relationship; that's not true. Krogstad appears to be evil and although he is guilty of various misdeeds, his intentions are to help his family.
- Irony: If you teach one literary device only, it should be irony. For example, Krogstad is ostracized by society for committing the same crime Nora, whose crime remains unknown, commits. Nora gets away with the crime and decides to confess it to her husband anyhow. Nora risks her freedom to save Torvald's life, yet he is angry with her. Torvald treats Nora like a little child, yet she is a strong, determined woman.
- Plot: Keeping track of who knows whom and whose paths crossed previously make the play an excellent example of an intertwining narrative and a good play for teaching flashback.
- Resolution: There is no resolution. The audience does not know what happens to Nora, nor is it clear whether or not she made the right decision.
- Symbolism: A discussion of the play's title makes for a great class discussion and the inspiration for an essay question.