A Doll’s House

Image gratitude S. Hermann & Richter, Pixabay

‘Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him..’ I started on a full-throated note. But I had barely begun, when I saw Ms Sharma shake her head, her lips protruding in a pout.

“Tsk, tsk. I don’t understand why you girls cannot think beyond Shakespeare!” she said.

I didn’t know what to say. He was ‘The Bard’. We had read the abridged version of all his plays and now, since the last one year we had been devouring Julius Caesar, line by line. Who else could I think of?

“I don’t know any other playwright,” I muttered.

“There’s a section titled ‘Drama’ in the library. Time to do some research!” she grinned, throwing her bag over her shoulder.

“And how will I know which monologue is best for a performance?” I called out.

Ms Sharma turned around, a beatific smile adorning her face. “You will, when you read one.”

I was to prepare for an inter-school elocution contest in the ‘Drama’ category which required me to look for a three-to-four-minute monologue or, at best, a conversation between two or three people.

I had been feeding myself on P G Wodehouse and Agatha Christie until then. Nonetheless, I made my way to the library. It was an entire cupboard, six shelves dedicated to drama. I sat cross-legged on the floor, the second-last shelf right in front of me. I began to read names, Chekhov, Beckett, Brecht, G B Shaw … I knew Chekhov. I had read an abridged version of ‘The Cherry Orchard’. I had even learnt about Shaw for the Maggi Quiz Contest.

My hand reached out for Shaw’s ‘Saint Joan’. As I pulled it out, my eyes fell on a thin paperback. ‘Henrik Ibsen- A Doll’s House’.  It sounded like a fun title. Besides, the book was rather thin! After all, I was a mere teenager.

I finished Shaw first, flagging my favourite speeches. Next, I moved to Ibsen and began to read what went on to become one of my favourite pieces in literature.

Henrik Ibsen was a Norwegian poet and playwright (1828-1906). His writing was realistic and modern. ‘A Doll’s House’ (original ‘Et dukkehjem’) which was published in 1879, beautifully showcases the subtle truth of seemingly happy households. The story of Nora Helmer begins in a perfectly normal home with a loving husband. A princess to her father, Nora has everything a woman would want. As the play progresses, the chinks begin to appear and as they say, what is essential is often invisible to the naked eye.

As Ms Sharma had pointed out, I knew the piece I’d choose the moment I read it. We practiced hard for the event, me trying to modulate my voice as I went back and forth between an angry and shocked Torvald and a heart-broken Nora, leaving the stage at the end of the speech without saying the customary ‘Thank you’!

Did I win? Well, yes, Peter Pan. But there was something more than a win which I brought home that day. ‘A Doll’s House’ was way ahead of its time, my first lesson of sorts in Feminism and the foundation of several stories and poems that I was to write in years to come. Some of them can be read on my dashboard on Women’s Web.

I must have reread the play multiple times and even studied it as part of European Drama in my later academic years. It has been translated and performed in many different languages.

Here is an excerpt, which was part of the performance. I hope it leads you to discover the play for yourselves.

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ACT III, SCENE II

   NORA: That is just it; you have never understood me. I have been greatly wronged, Torvald–first by papa and then by you.

HELMER: What! By us two–by us two, who have loved you better than anyone else in the world?

NORA: You have never loved me. You have only thought it pleasant to be in love with me.

HELMER: Nora, what do I hear you saying?

NORA: It is perfectly true, Torvald. When I was at home with papa, he told me his opinion about everything, and so I had the same opinions; and if I differed from him I concealed the fact, because he would not have liked it. He called me his doll-child, and he played with me just as I used to play with my dolls. And when I came to live with you–

HELMER: What sort of an expression is that to use about our marriage?

NORA: I mean that I was simply transferred from papa’s hands into yours. You arranged everything according to your own taste, and so I got the same tastes as your else I pretended to, I am really not quite sure which–I think sometimes the one and sometimes the other. When I look back on it, it seems to me as if I had been living here like a poor woman–just from hand to mouth. I have existed merely to perform tricks for you, Torvald. But you would have it so. You and papa have committed a great sin against me. It is your fault that I have made nothing of my life.

HELMER: How unreasonable and how ungrateful you are, Nora! Have you not been happy here?

NORA: No, I have never been happy. I thought I was, but it has never really been so.

HELMER: Not–not happy!

NORA: No, only merry. And you have always been so kind to me. But our home has been nothing but a playroom. I have been your doll-wife, just as at home I was papa’s doll-child; and here the children have been my dolls. I thought it great fun when you played with me, just as they thought it great fun when I played with them. That is what our marriage has been, Torvald.

HELMER: There is some truth in what you say–exaggerated and strained as your view of it is. But for the future it shall be different. Playtime shall be over, and lesson-time shall begin.

NORA: Whose lessons? Mine, or the children’s?

HELMER: Both yours and the children’s, my darling Nora.

NORA: Alas, Torvald, you are not the man to educate me into being a proper wife for you.

HELMER: And you can say that!

NORA: And I–how am I fitted to bring up the children?

HELMER: Nora!

NORA: Didn’t you say so yourself a little while ago–that you dare not trust me to bring them up?

HELMER: In a moment of anger! Why do you pay any heed to that?

NORA: Indeed, you were perfectly right. I am not fit for the task. There is another task I must undertake first. I must try and educate myself–you are not the man to help me in that. I must do that for myself. And that is why I am going to leave you now.

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 This post is part of # Blogchatter Half Marathon and I am introducing myself through some of the poems, prose pieces, monologues that shaped the writer in me.  

19 thoughts on “A Doll’s House”

  1. Coincidently I finished watching Unorthodox on NetFlix,which is based on memoir by Deborah Feldman. The protagonist of this web series has many parallels to Nora of “A Doll’s House”. Wonder if we have really come a long way or made any progress towards balancing the ‘his and her world’
    I can see from this post that you are a diligent person Sonia who never hesitates to take up the challenging tasks and emerge triumphant! More power to you.

  2. Your teacher was gem for pushing you out of your comfort zone. And thank you for introducing us to such pieces of literature that we have been unaware of

  3. Such teachers are gems. Also, I read Nora’s lines in Audrey Hepburn’s voice – god knows why. What a passage you have chosen. Marvelous.

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