Themes are overarching ideas, beliefs, and debating points a writer presents through his literary work. Ibsen’s A Doll’s House has themes that are not only relevant to that time but also interesting for the audiences. Some of the themes in A Doll’s House have been discussed below.
Themes in A Doll’s House
Individual and Social Fabric
This is one of the most important themes of the play. Most actions of an individual are in response to the society or community they live. Nora is a loyal wife and a dedicated mother, but she does not stick to the moral framework of society. She thinks it morally right to deceive her husband about her debt and forgery. Even suicidal thoughts are for her husband, who will ruin himself when protecting her later. Mrs. Linde yearns to be a caretaker and play the role of nurturer. She betrays Nora, which helps her see the true nature of Torvald. Also, Krogstad does not achieve happiness through any means but realizes by the end that he can achieve it through his reformation. He learns that a person must give proper respect to his personality if he wants to win the respect of others in society.
Nora, as a character, becomes prominent not only in the world of literature but also in the world of theatre. Her figure as a woman towers than those of men with whom she locks horns. She breaks Torvald’s traditional notion of women subservient to men; she still has to find future for herself and support her children when she decides to leave. However, what Torvald fails to understand the value of a woman and the reason for her debt. Nora has secured a bright future for her children and also supported her husband, but she has failed to support her own position. It shows that patriarchal circle has still the same strength as it has before the start of the play. Femininity though tries to break this circle; it seems that it needs more than merely the threat to leave as Nora does by the end of the play. However, she indeed stands in the shadow of her father whenever her husband has some praise for her despite having decision making ability at critical junctures.
Love and Marriage
Another important theme of the play is love and marriage. Nora and Torvald Helmer are presented as a happy couple, leading a blissful married life. The use of pet names by them for each other shows the involvement of love as opposed to Mrs. Linde’s life. This marriage proves a contrast to the marriage of Mrs. Linde and Krogstad that happens by the end of the play, which shows that love and marriage are based on realistic expectations. When the reality of the deception of Nora dawns upon Torvald, he reveals the other side of human nature and immediately expels Nora from his life, while she is also ready to go away. On the other hand, Mrs. Linde and Krogstad have never been in love with each other.
Moreover, Dr. Rank, too, has loved Nora for years though he has never married. Nora and Torvald show that their marriage is subject to social rules, conventions, and customs. When this rule is broken, the marriage stands canceled. Krogstad and Mrs. Linde’s marriage show that this is not always the case.
Deception is another major theme of the play. Nora’s action of borrowing debt and then forging her father’s signature show that she has deceived her husband. Although Krogstad blackmailed her several times on account of this forgery, she has never disclosed it to her husband. She then shares this deception to Mrs. Linde, who advises her that she should inform her husband. She believes that such marriages based on deceptions do not have a chance to succeed, and she proves right. Krogstad also suffers from a bad reputation as he is with Nora in forging the signature of her father and using her a ploy to get a promotion. Therefore, such frauds and deceptions have been presented in the play as corrupting forces that not only destroy the very foundations of the society but also ruin blissful married lives.
Materialism is an essential thematic strand that runs throughout the play. Stress upon money is the specific focus of the married couple Nora and Torvald Helmer. Financial autonomy and success are the central points of Torvald’s point of view about success, whether it is in marriage or business. His refusal to take cases that do not give him satisfaction is the primary reason for his financial success. Nora, too, thinks that by providing material comfort, she can win her husband as well as her married life. However, expectations of the material success of Nora and Torvald dash to the ground by the end of the play when they come to know the truth.
Although Ibsen has not given children of Nora and Helmer any space in the play, it is also a thematic strand that runs parallel to the truth of marital love. Emmy, Ivar, and Bobby show how parents are bringing them up and how they should be treated. Nora has a little time for them as she brings toys, but father never appears to have any time except for his financial career. However, in another way, he has time to call his wife with names such as “little person” or “little woman” or “little songbird” and other such names reserved for children. This shows that both of them are bringing up their children as their possessions instead of human beings, which is proved wrong by the end.
The play shows that parents are responsible for bringing up their children with the right moral values. For example, Nora is accused of following her father’s profligacy and money-making drive. Dr. Rank seems to have inherited disease as well as moral flaws from his father. Torvald, too, holds this idea that parents determine the moral character of a child as he states when Nora is with him that criminals always have mothers who lie in their lives.
Although religion does not directly appear in the play, it has some importance. For example, the events of the play occur around or on Christmas. While the events of the first act take place in the evening, the second on the day of Christmas and third on Boxing Day. The arrival of Christmas Tree in the first act also shows this occasion. Secondly, there is much stress on the morality that is undoubtedly Christian morality. However, it is interesting that it has not been directly mentioned. Only Torvald accuses Nora of having “no religion” and that his father does not have any principle. Nora too admits by the end that she does not know the reality of religion and that she is not sure about the clergy as well.
It is a minor theme but plays an important role in the progress of the play. Dr. Rank is an epitome of corruption and has inherited tuberculosis along with moral degradation from his father. In the same way, Torvald accuses Nora of inheriting moral ineptitude about money and financial matters from her father. In other words, it is suggested that such corruption, whether it is physical, or moral is a curse for the society.
Lies in Life
Lies and their importance in social life is another minor theme. Nora is living in a delusional world that by lying to her husband, she can save her marriage. However, it dawns upon her by the end of the play that lies complicate and even sometimes destroys very strong relations. Her married life, which seems quite happy, was built on lies and comes to an end.