Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House has long been considered one of the finest plays ever written. After its first performance in 1879, the play sparked controversy with its realistic depictions of marriage and the role of men and women in middle-class society. It has since become one of the world's most performed plays.

One of the play's recurring themes is the idea of appearance vs. reality. In the beginning of A Doll's House, Nora Helmer appears to live a comfortable life. However, she lives with a secret, one that could ruin her happy life if anyone were to find out. When reading the play, it is important to note what information is revealed during the course of the play and how those revelations affect each character.

While teaching A Doll's House, make sure students understand that strict societal expectations were in place at the time of the play's creation. The relationship between Nora and Torvald encapsulates Ibsen's critique of nineteenth century moral values and gender relations. Understanding the expectations of the time will help students grasp the play's tension and its conclusion.

Summary

In the beginning of A Doll's House, Nora Helmer seems to have everything she wants and needs, but she also hides a great secret from her husband, Torvald. As the play unfolds, the audience learns the consequences of keeping up appearances for the sake of societal image. This groundbreaking drama tackles issues that plagued the middle-class of Ibsen's time, such as the expectations of women, the importance of money, and the need for individual freedom.

Objectives for Teaching A Doll's House

  • Discuss how Nora and Torvald's marriage is a critique of nineteenth century society and gender norms.
  • Discuss Nora's character development in relation to the play's title.
  • Analyze the role of minor characters, such as the Helmer children and Anne.
  • Discuss how certain objects in the play are symbols for the play's essential themes.
  • Determine how each character's sense of responsibility influences his or her decisions.

Key Elements and Techniques

  • Foil
  • Foreshadowing
  • Irony
  • Litotes
  • Metaphor
  • Symbol

Themes and Motifs

  • Gender — The play critiques gender expectations of the time period, especially in terms of Nora who fights against them.
  • Responsibility — A theme that concerns most characters in the play, from Nora who is responsible for her children's welfare and paying her debt, to Christine who married a man she did not care for because he provided financial security.
  • Freedom —  Though it upset many audiences, Nora's eventual departure meant freedom for her because she felt suffocated in her marriage.

Related Works

Theme of Gender

 

Theme of Responsibility

 

Theme of Freedom

Key Facts

  • Length: 88 pages
  • Publication Date: 1879
  • Recommended Grade Band: 9 – 10

Movies

Two screen adaptations were released in 1973, one directed by Joseph Losey, and the other directed by Patrick Garland.

Your students will love:

  • Witnessing Nora's journey from the suffocating nature of her home to the freedom she finds in the end
  • Reading a play about the realistic issues and problems concerning the middle class

Students may have problems with:

  • Understanding Nora's motives, especially the fact that she leaves her children in the end
  • Understanding the expectations of nineteenth century society

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