Book Review: A Doll’s House, by Henrik Ibsen

Book cover for A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen.
A circular logo with a silhouette of a woman in the middle holding her finger to her mouth as if to say, shhhh.

Secretum Meum Mihi Press

A Doll’s House, by Henrik Ibsen

Reviewed by Beverly Mantyh

Although we read about distant storms like tornadoes, floods and hurricanes daily, it is often the wild seas of relationships that cause us to fear that we might perish. Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House is an insightful view into the psychological drama and vulnerability of marriage.

Ibsen is considered by many to be the father of modern theater. A Doll’s House was among the first of Ibsen plays to use the stage as a soap box. The final act was considered so controversial that Ibsen wrote an alternative ending to be used “in cases of emergency.” Notoriety led to popular success; A Doll’s House was reprinted three times within the first three months of its original publishing date.

Ibsen’s small cast of characters and the intimate setting draw us into his theater of ideas. As Nora and Torvald Helmer prepare for Christmas in their middle class parlor, Ibsen exposes Nora’s deceptions and Torvald’s illusions. Nora took a loan without the knowledge of her husband and forged her father’s signature to secure it. A heroine in her own mind, she feels she spared her father anxiety on his deathbed and saved her husband’s health by traveling to a warmer climate. Just as relief from the debt is in sight, Nora’s masquerade is threatened by Krogman, the holder of Nora’s promissory note. Nora’s nemesis becomes the catalyst to truthfulness in the Helmer marriage.

In the third act, the raw exposure of authentic selves in the discussion between Nora and Torvald is anything but polite. Torvald is shown to be more concerned with appearances than his family. Nora has lied to herself as much as to him. Even Doctor Rank, Mrs. Linde and Krogstad have hidden agendas. The audience hopes for the light of truth to resolve the conflicts. Instead, Nora chooses not to weather the storm and abandons ship. Is it because of her inability to accept the truth or is it because of her selfish refusal to let go of romantic notions?

Ibsen’s “shocking” ending doesn’t leave quite the same impression on my jaded twenty-first century mind as it would have on the audiences of the late nineteenth century. Sadly, a woman abandoning her children for selfish reasons no longer inspires rioting. Voyeuristic headlines make us numb to the dreadful details of personal storms. However, Ibsen’s psychological insights are still as profound a hundred years later as they were in the 1890’s. To be real, Nora must abandon her romantic notions and take her rightful place at the heart of her family. A Doll’s House is a good read to inspire contemplation of the self that emerges within the pressure of life’s storms.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Nora seems incapable of assessing her own virtues and sins. She minimizes both her strengths and the effects of her shortcomings on others. What were the direct results of Nora’s inability to be honest with herself?
  2. Prayer strengthens us in self-knowledge. Do I give myself credit for my virtues? Do I have relationships that are harmed because I am procrastinating about real problems? Would it help to take my failings to Jesus in the storm?
  3. Norma tries high drama to divert attention from the revealing letter from Krogstad. Torvald confronts her, “No tragedy airs, please,” but then he blames her father for her actions. Dr. Rank and Krogstad also play the blame game. Does society still blame parents for the sins of their children? Should parents take the rap? How do the gospels answer this question?

Want to read the whole issue in one sitting? The articles in MY SECRET IS MINE newsletter are available to paid subscribers as a PDF download. CHECK IT OUT!

$8.00 / month

My Secret is Mine Newsletter – Premium

Advance copy of the current month’s newsletter by PDF

ONE free archive PDF download coupon per month

Audience access to… Read more

Related Newsletters