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Essay: Exploring Freedom as a Motif in Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House

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  • Published: 1 February 2018*
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Freedom is one of the significant motifs that permeates throughout Henrik Ibsen’s three-act play A Doll’ House. Ibsen uses this motif to develop and inform a number of themes in the play among them the sacrificial role of women, mirage, home, and deception. We come to terms with this motif from the character Nora, a doll, who struggles to escape from her unbearable life at home and continual blackmailing from Krogstad, a friend she forged a loan with. The essay explains the role of freedom within the context of the play and considers how the motif might be illustrated differently should the play be given contemporary production.

Freedom in simple terms entails the power or right to act or think as desired by one. It entails staying free from imprisonment or slavery (Ronning 41). It can also go beyond the ordinary right of action, encompassing something much greater like being at the forefront in securing equal opportunity for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to everyone. Ibsen, in his play, uses the freedom motif to develop major ideas like the rights of women, self-fulfillment, and morality. Perhaps the greatest idea Ibsen develops from this motif is the belief that it is hard to achieve happiness until one attains full control of his or her life

Ibsen play, A Doll’s House uses the freedom motif to depict women's sacrificial role in the olden society. Generally, the play revolves around the assertions of the main protagonist Nora which is exemplified by the play’s female characters. Mrs. Linde, for instance, sacrifices her love for Krogstad, who is penniless and marries a richer man in order to support her mother and two brothers (Forward 23). The nanny is another woman who decides to neglect her own son and work for Nora as her caretaker. The nanny in her conversation with Norah considers herself lucky to have secured the job which rescued her from her poverty life.

 Ibsen's play depicts the 18th Century women as those whose freedom was confined to being a housewife. In the first act of the play, the Ibsen presents to us a protagonist, Nora, who is genuinely joyful and happy. She has every reason to brag looking from her lifestyle. She is blessed with a husband who does not mind supplying her shopping habits to their kids, many of them (Chen 9). Nora also finds ample time to entertain the many kinds she is blessed with. Regardless of what we are witnessing, we sense a lingering illusion in the actions of Norah at times we get caught off-guard by Nora’s extreme confidence and constant focus on material things. It turns out however that Nora’s freedom has been curtailed by societal norms that gives the husband total power over the wife. As the play proceeds, Nora in a bid to escape this bondage chooses her freedom before her duties as a mother and wife

The play also depicts the 18th-century women as less dominant partners in marriages who had to please their male counterparts at all times. These women were denied the freedom to freely express themselves in their marriages (Markussen 23). Nora, despite being stable economically, is no different from the other women in the play as she also leads a troubled life because the society views her as a less dominant partner in her marriage with Torvald. Torvald issues pronouncements and deigns to Nora, and Nora must conceal her credit from him since she knows Torvald would never acknowledge the possibility that his Wife can help spare his life. Besides, she should work in mystery to pay off her credit since it is illicit for a lady to get an advance without her husband’s authorization (Hossain 11). By spurring Nora's double-dealing, the states of mind of Torvald and society leave Nora powerless against Krogstad's shakedown.

If the play were to be given a contemporary production, the motif of freedom might be illustrated in an exploitative manner. The contemporary society has provided women with too much freedom to an extent where they begin to misuse it. Most of the issues that curtailed women's rights has been corrected in the contemporary world, for instance, the traditional role of women in the society has changed. Contemporary marriages now advocate for equality between men and women. Finally, women have been incorporated into a leadership position in the society. All these changes have rendered women more powerful, and with power, the possibility of abusing it becomes likely. That which would remain however is the theme of the sacrificial role of women developed by the freedom motif.

Works Cited

Chen, Nancy. “Playing with Size and Reality: The Fascination of a Dolls’ House World.” Children’s Literature in Education, vol. 46, no. 3, Sept. 2015, pp. 278-295. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1007/s10583-014-9234-y.

Forward, Stephanie. "Angels or demons? Stephanie Forward compares the presentation of women in John Fowles' The French Lieutenant's Woman and Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House." The English Review, vol. 21, no. 3, 2011, p. 2+. Literature Resource Center, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A246715010/LitRC?u=avl_jeff&sid=LitRC&xid=09295ecb. Accessed 16 Apr. 2018.

Hossain, Amir. “‘Re-Interpreting A Doll’s House through Post-Modernist Feminist Projections.’”  Complementary Index, JSCC Libraries, 2015, athena.jeffersonstate.edu:2069/eds/detail/detail?vid=5&sid=d46ce3f4-038e-4f6c-ba572c7af44a0fa2%40sessionmgr101&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWRzLWxpdmU%3d#db=edb&AN=120020038.

Markussen, Bjarne. "A Doll's House and Kramer vs. Kramer: objections to the family law." Forum for World Literature Studies, vol. 2, no. 1, 2010, p. 123+. Literature Resource Center, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A287111974/LitRC?u=avl_jeff&sid=LitRC&xid=7a26bce6. Accessed 18 Apr. 2018.

Ronning, Helge. "Intercultural implications of Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House: experiences with a production of Ibsen's play in Mozambique." Forum for World Literature Studies, vol. 2, no. 1, 2010, p. 75+. Literature Resource Center, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A287111967/LitRC?u=avl_jeff&sid=LitRC&xid=6b94e699. Accessed 17 Apr. 2018.

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