The expectations in a relationship between a man and a woman have changed over the course of time. At a point in time, men were dominant over women and were viewed as the breadwinners of the household. Both of their positions were shaped by societal expectations. Men, unlike women, were to go out and find a job that will pay enough to support their family. Women on the other hand were to stay at the house and care for it while the husband is out making money. However, on rare occasions, the norms were defied. But this did not change society, it simply changed the household. In the play, A Doll’s House, by Henrik Gibsen, Torvald Helmer, who plays the husband, takes on the role of how a man would have been in the nineteenth century, while his wife Nora plays the role of a woman in the nineteenth century.
The play begins with Nora paying a porter for delivering a Christmas tree and a basket, she pays him a shilling while the fee was much less. Instead of collecting her change, she tells the porter to keep it himself.
The reader may notice that Nora seems to be extremely confident with her money as she pounces around and enjoys her macaroons, which play a huge role in the beginning of this play. Nora clearly lacks respect for her husband and the efforts he puts into his career and success. Although the macaroons are a simple snack, it is the principle that matters most. If she was to go out of her way to hide a tasty treat from her husband, a reader can only imagine the other tricks she has up her sleeve.
Torvald Helmer is the ideal husband at the time of the play; he works. And that is pretty much what a man was expected to do in the nineteenth century. He did his part by succeeding in his career with the bank, reeling in a grand salary. Only for it to be weaseled by his little spendthrift.
Although Torvald acknowledges the fact that Nora is quick to spend his money, he is still quickly manipulated by Nora and her spending habits. For he is most likely intrigued with having a wife and a mother there for his children. But as a mother, Nora does not fit the part. It seems that the nurses spend more time with her children than she does. The neglect she shows her children is not what was normal in their society unless the woman had the money for it. Fortunately for Nora, her husband had enough money to pay the nurses.
Torvald may not be seen as misogynistic due to the fact that he continues to hand money over to Nora even after she spends it quickly.
NORA. Let us do as you suggest, Torvald, and then I shall have time to think what I am most in want of. That is a very sensible plan, isn’t it?
TORVALD. If you were to really save out of the money I give you, and then really buy something for yourself. But if you spend it all on the housekeeping and any number of unnecessary things, then I merely have to pay up again. (1.1)
Torvald says this in a way that he is somewhat forced to have to hand money over to his wife whenever she needs it. Which according to Helmer is quite often. He even compares her to her father, who was also a spendthrift and could not save his money. Helmer remains blind to the fact that Nora is addicted to spending money, so she can feel as if she is well-off.
In the further acts, Helmer and Nora are preparing for a dance. Nora has already persuaded Helmer to buy her a nice dress, so she can look beautiful. Being the husband he is, Helmer buys her a nice dress. Nora then feels like a queen because her husband is able to buy her an expensive dress. With societal norms, it is possible that it is normal for a woman to feel this way when her husband is able to treat her well and spoil her.
And as for a husband, he might feel a sense of pride that his wife is dressing with style. For all he wants is for her to be happy with his successes. And Nora certainly is.
Torvald does get aggressive with Nora while trying to teach her to dance:
HELMER (as he plays). Slower, slower!
NORA. I cant do it any other way
HELMER. Not so violently Nora! (3.1)
His frustration can be understood because Nora may not be trying her best to make this dance worth Helmer’s while. But she will put all of her effort into taking money from him. She skillfully distracts Helmer from the real problems surrounding them that she has caused. But that is the way of a woman in that time, for all a husband wants is a beautiful wife.
It may seem that the societal norms are being bent by Helmer and Nora, a husband in the nineteenth century may have been a lot less oblivious with his money. Instead, he would be a lot stricter with his wife. But in this case, Helmer seems laid back and very accepting of Nora and her money problem. While Nora on the other hand does not play the average role of a wife and mother. She is neglectful:
CHILDREN. No mother; but will you come and play again?
NORA. No,no,– not now.
CHILDREN. But, mother, you promised us.
NORA. Yes, but I cant now. (1.1)
Nora may be neglectful, but there is no proof that Helmer was not as well. He was too caught up with his job and with Nora that his children were not in his view.
Furthermore, Torvald and Nora are victims of societal norms but in a very extreme manner. Torvald being the husband, is expected to care for his wife and children by making money and succeeding in his career. While Nora is expected to care for the home and children, which she does, but she does it by spending money and buying things. When he children need her attention, she is not available, but come Christmas time when she has an excuse to spend money, she claims her love for her family by the clothes and toys she buys for her children. Nora, however, takes advantage of her husband’s success and uses it for her own selfish needs, which would not have been normal of a wife in the nineteenth century. So Torvald and Nora were enclosed in a societal norm, but it was Torvald who was the victim.
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