Nora Helmer and Women in American Literature
Women were valued very little by nineteenth century society. The treatment of these women was also extremely negative; they were expected to stay home and fulfill domestic duties. Literature of this time embodies and mirrors social issues of women in society. Henrik Ibsen uses Nora Helmer in A Doll House to portray the negative treatment of all women throughout society during the nineteenth century. Many women characters throughout American literature reflect the same conflicts and attitudes of Nora in Ibsen's play A Doll House.
The role of a woman was inferior to that of a man, especially in marriages. The main duties of a woman were centered around the home. They were expected to fulfill their domestic duties, such as caring for the children, cooking washing, and cleaning the household. She had the responsibilities of dealing with a household and she almost always had children to care for, which required strength and knowledge; however, being able too fulfill marital duties and satisfying her husband brought satisfaction to some married women.
In the play A Doll House, Nora too finds happiness in keeping her husband pleased. She always 'play-acts' for Torvald, and she enjoys doing so. Nora has the responsibility of dealing with household issues. She basically oversees Anne-Marie, who is the children's nurse, in caring for the three small children; she is also responsible for doing household shopping as suggested in these lines:
...come here so I can show you everything I bought...new clothes for Ivar here--and a sword. here a horse and a trumpet for Bob...And here I have dress material and handkerchiefs for the maids. Old Anne Marie really deserves something more. (Ibsen 784)
This proves that Nora does have responsibilities in her home, and she is capable of effectively caring for the members of her family.
In Rose Terry Cooke's "How Celia Changed Her Mind," it is suggested that a married woman is nothing more than someone who is obligated to fulfill domestic responsibilities and duties. Mrs. Celia begins to understand and realize that the image she had of marriage being an equal partnership between the two parties is very uncommon, as illustrated in the following lines: "...she discovered how few among [women] were more than household drudges, the servants of their families, worked to the verge of exhaustion, and neither thanked or rewarded for their pains" (Cooke 472). A marriage, in the opinion of Mrs. Celia, calls for a woman to devote herself completely to domestic endeavors.
Economic factors also reflected the discrimination and inferior roles of a woman. The marriage vows that the woman took were supposed to evoke the image of mutual trust, yet a woman entered this marriage in which she did not have the same legal and economic rights that her spouse had. One of the main secret's of a man's domination of the household was his control of money (Longford 45).
Nora has the same money issues of other married women. In Act I of the play, Torvald tells Nora that just because he is getting a bigger salary, there still will be no depts and no borrowing. However, he then gives her some money to do a little shopping, but tells her that is all she will have to manage with. When he asks her what it is that she wants for the holidays, she replies, "You can give me money, Torvald. No more than you think you can spare; then one of these days I'll buy something with it" (Ibsen 784). Nora is very dependent on her husband for money, and he gives her money at his discretion.
In Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "Mrs. Beazley's Deeds," Mrs. Beazley's dilemma involves her spouse selling land and property that was left to her by her father. Although her signature is required on the legal documents, she only signs them because she feels that she is made to by her husband. When Miss Lawrence asks her why she continues to let her husband sell the property and why she continues to sign her property away, Mrs. Beazley responds: "Let him!--Oh, well you ain't married! Let him! Miss Lawrence, you don't know men" (Gilman 511). Mr. Beazley also tells Mrs. Beazley "what do you women know