I have a few thoughts about the Ibsen papers that might be useful as you move on to the next documents assignments, and two excellent papers from this batch as examples if you’re still struggling.
- The historical use section continues to be challenging. Many of you are discussing the importance of the document there; that’s good material, but mostly belongs in the Response section. The key thing to ask in the last section is “why would this document be important to an historian today? What do we learn about history reading it, and what else might we want to research?”
- The authorship question also presents a challenge: what’s relevant? Generally, I suggest that you go back to the authorship section (I know most of you write it first) at the end, and take out anything which doesn’t contribute to the rest of the assignment.
- While I don’t insist on highly formal writing, I don’t understand why you’d refer to an historical personage, like the author, by a personal name, as though they were a close friend. It’s not something that affects your grade, just an oddly common writing quirk I’ve seen.
- Overall, people who did the assignment did better than in the past. What I don’t understand is the fairly high number of you who are coming to class, taking the tests, but NOT handing in some or all of the document assignments, which are 30% of the course grade. Granted, I drop the lowest grade, but that’s only one out of the eight. You’re supposed to do at least seven and a missing assignment hurts your grade more than an F does.
Below the jump are two samples: both are excellent, though they are actually rather different. Both are detailed, careful, and make good use of the historical context in both the context and response sections. The Historical Use sections are thoughtful and even creative, and generally focused on the right questions.
The author of this play is Henrik Ibsen. Henrik Ibsen was born in Norway just before the 1830s and according to the document, he became head of the National Theatre in 1857 and later moved to Italy. Ibsen became very famous after A Doll’s House came about in 1879, but he also had later dramas that would garner attention as well. This specific work brought about a change in society as it brought to life many questions for people all across the world. In class we found that Ibsen wrote the play about individuality, but his impact would be far greater than that for many women across the world.
Before and after the play was written by Ibsen, there was a struggle taking place across the world, but mainly in the western world for women’s suffrage and the expansion of women’s rights. Before the play came out, women were trying to gain the right to vote in several countries and were trying to gain more freedoms so they did not have to rely solely on their husbands or their fathers. Many of the women in Europe and in the United States were treated as second class or somewhat like minors in their ability to hold property and what they were expected to do. An example from the beginning of the 1800s would be how women were treated in France from the Napoleonic Code. Women’s property rights and their ability to gain jobs or leave their husbands was a very difficult chore. The law made it difficult for women to set out on their own, but the social outlook for women of divorce or women trying to show their individuality was also holding women back in their desire for equal rights and freedoms.
It is important to note that this was a very important period in the time of industrial development and for the rise of individuality across the world. Great Britain and the United States were the two larger nations that were reaping the rewards from their industrialization efforts, but they were still having issues with individuality in their countries as were others across Europe and the world. In the United States, people of color were still struggling with the restrictions on their rights and the extreme racism that still affected the country after the Civil War that had only taken place slightly more than twenty years before the document’s release. Ibsen was looking around the world at the difficulty for people to show their individualism from their country, their community, religion, and the law. He was looking all around him at the restrictions placed on everyone by the expectations that were placed on the working man, the mother who raised the children, and that religion was to be followed without hesitation or questioning.
When Ibsen came out with A Doll’s House in 1879, the idea of using a woman in order to make his statement about individualism was a very original idea. Using Nora to show that many people desired to seek out their own path against the norms of society was a powerful message at the time with the women’s movement taking place and with the norms of society that frowned upon her actions. Ibsen made his mark on the world with this piece of writing and managed to go against what was viewed as normal writing by creating the character of Nora and her situation, but it was a vital piece of the puzzle that would begin the true conversations about changes that were necessary in the future for women’s equality and possibly for the equality of other races.
In our portion of the play, Nora and her husband Torvald are having a conversation. The conversation starts with Torvald explaining that because the lie Nora told had been forgiven, that he will provide shelter for her and will love her again. The problem for Torvald is that Nora has already decided that it is too late for these changes to be made and that she does not want the shelter being offered to her. In order to clear he mind and to set Torvald straight, Nora begins to tell Torvald things that he could never imagine hearing. Nora says things like, “You have never loved me. You have only thought it pleasant to be in love with me,” and “It is your fault that I have made nothing of my life” (Ibsen, Act III). These phrases come one after the other at Torvald telling him how he has never let Nora have an independent thought or how she has had no part in planning her life. Before she moves on to tell Torvald of her desire to set off alone, Nora tells Torvald that she had been like a doll to him, and throws his own words back in his face reminding him that he did not trust her to raise his children after the loan issue.
Once she is done telling of Torvald’s controlling ways, she shares with him her desire to leave him and their children to set out on her own journey. Torvald doesn’t understand and gets angry, but Nora tells how she must find herself, religion, and whatever else follows on her own. Torvald believes she doesn’t know what she is doing, but the final line of our section makes it clear that she did “I have never felt my mind so clear and certain as to-night” (Ibsen, Act III). The tone she uses toward Torvald was unthinkable for a woman at the time, but it is used so self- confidently that it is clear she needs individuality. She is speaking her mind for the first time and showing Torvald and the audience that she only cares about finding herself because it has been denied for so long. Ibsen makes it clear that Nora’s search for individualism could not be stopped by anyone or anything.
The main points of the play seem to be very clear if you read or watched the whole play, but even if you just read that portion of Act III many things are made clear. Ibsen shows the lack of freedoms given to Nora, the lack of understanding that there is more to life than just the accepted norms, and the need for individualism for people. Ibsen makes his points by using the words of Nora and the reactions of Torvald. The back and forth shows the desire for Ibsen’s theme, individuality, and the lack of understanding on the part of those who think people should act only a certain way.
The intended audience for Ibsen’s play would most likely have been anyone who wanted to be entertained, but it may have been directed toward the common people of the country. I do not believe that there was an audience that this play was not intended to reach because the message that Ibsen is portraying can be taken in by everyone, even if they may not like it or appreciate it. The way that the people responded was shared by Dr. Dresner in class when he told of the audience’s shock and appreciation of the text upon reading it. It was a play that allowed the questions of individualism and women’s rights to be viewed by a broader audience than had been reached by their supporters. Ibsen brought an important subject to light and gave everyone a chance to read about it. By giving the people a chance to read a play discussing the issues, he gave them serious issues to talk about. The chance for serious questions to be raised and for serious discussions on the topics of individualism and women’s rights to take place was far greater than they would have been without Ibsen’s work.
Even though the questions were being asked and the discussions were taking place, it did not mean that everyone saw eye to eye on Ibsen’s work and the topics it covered. There was a mixed reaction to the play because it touched on hot button issues like women’s rights and individualism. Many people still felt that women should fit into certain roles and that they did not need to be making out their own way in the world. Having Ibsen putting ideas into the heads of many would only have caused problems for the people who still held to the idea that women needed to keep their traditional roles and nothing else.
After Ibsen’s play was written and was distributed to the masses, it would have a very distinct mark on the women of the world. The play allowed for the important issues of women’s rights to be talked about on a grander scale, which allowed for the women’s movement to have more of an audience than they had had before. Although it allowed for the discussions to begin taking place, it did not immediately allow for the rights of women to appear and it still took the hard work of women for the rights to come into being. It took until the 1900s for women in the U.S. to achieve the right to vote, but the play may have helped them get further along in their discussions. The play also gave hope to women in the Far East who were struggling to gain their own freedoms. Ibsen and his play is what allowed women and those seeking individualism across the world to begin to have a chance to open up discussions on a grand scale.
A Doll’s House is a very interesting piece of literature. It is an important turning point in the development in women’s rights, it was distributed across the world in great numbers, and it allowed us an insight into what the treatment of women would have been like in many places across the world. The insight this play provides into several issues taking place at the time allows for entertainment as well as education to those who read it then or read it today. The problem with Ibsen’s work is that it is a play and not based on absolute fact. If historians are to use this piece of literature, they will have to look at it along with the events of the time period and the true conditions of women at the time. In the United States, women had been granted other suffrage rights on a smaller scale around the time of the play and they were allowed much more freedom than those in Europe. As for Europe, some countries may have allowed for more freedoms for women and that has to be looked at before you can look to the play for historical use.
Another thing that must be looked at before using this text is its bias toward the male figure in the play. In the play you have Torvald Heller who appears to not understand his wife’s desire for individuality and treats her with very little respect regarding her opinions. It has to be understood that in many families the situation may have been different regarding the importance of the wife and mother. Ibsen may have been influenced by his own family’s situation that may not apply to a majority of the families in Europe. With the crowding of the cities, women may have gone to work to support their families and could have been looked to for more input on monetary and serious issues that took place inside the family structure.
Finally, historians can look to the widespread distribution of the literature and how it affected the thinking of political figures across the world. With the distribution of the texts to many people around the world, did it affect the thinking of the political higher-ups? Were they concerned that people who read the play would begin to create problems for the government? These questions could be very important to look at because it could give insight into who had access to the play across the world and if the governments of various countries were placing measures to slow down the advancement of women’s suffrage/rights.
|Authorship: Ibsen was raised in an average household, his family was not wealthy nor were they a part of an elite society. Ibsen found writing plays as a way that could help him to a successful financial future. He like many average Europeans lived at home with his parents, his father being the head of the household and bread winner for the family while his mother took care of the house and the children. This gives him a good advantage as he saw how his mother lived her life in the home and how her father treated her first hand. This childhood experience would later help in the writings of plays that expressed women’s need for independence and equal rights.
Context: During the time this play was written, women all over Europe has started asking for equality rights for literacy rates had increased throughout Europe. Women especially those in the middle classes demanded suffrage. This was not only experienced in Europe but also in the United States of America. This play you could say is a response to the world, to see the cold shoulder that men are giving women treating them as if they were second class citizens, children or even just another piece of property they own. Ibsen’s play was far from normal for its time for it was nothing that anyone had seen before more than just its context but also its style, he made to where it was not the usual normal happy ending that most plays usually have. His ideas opened up people’s minds to new ideas that many had never thought of, leaving people intrigued for what the underlying message of the play was. This play is important for it helped pave way for women all over the world to gain equality. The play was so important it has been translated and adapted to different languages around the world and is still infamous to this day.
Content: With Nora’s character Ibsen is very straight forward and serious with all that she says even in her tone of voice. As for Helmer, he is just utterly shocked throughout the play will the conversation he is having with his wife. Ibsen in this play is trying to show the audience a woman’s need for independence and equality. From the very begging of Act III, you can tell of how Helmer has an authoritative rule over Nora, by the way he seems to kind of talk down to her and by also telling her that, “she is in a way become both wife and child to him.” These kind of statements are used throughout the play by Helmer to the extent that at some point Nora goes on and explains to him of how she has never had independence and that this has caused her to always depend her thought on first her father then now Helmer once they became married, referring to herself as her father’s “doll-child” and now her husband’s “doll-wife.” You can notice Helmer’s authoritative voice as he “forbids” Nora to leave.
Ibsen makes it seem as if it were so simple for a woman to just get up and leave her family, without much struggle from the husband which is not factually true, for before a woman will have been able to leave her home she will have had to have gone through a lot more than a simple debate with her husband. Throughout the play Ibsen keeps a very serious tone, making it seem very significant to the audience.
Response: I believe the intended audience was for both men and a woman all over the world, for this is a story that all have come to appreciate and has inspired many since it was written. I believe all that have come across this piece have read into it and understood its significance, welcoming it into their societies as did the Japanese and Chinese though it may have taken time and work for suffrages just to be accomplished as times passed by. This and other documents of its kind, were actually taken seriously as this is seen in c. 1900 as the role of the woman is now changing from the stay at home, domesticated wife to now the new working woman due to the quick industrialization and equal rights including voting rights due to the immense suffrage strikes and protests by women.
Ibsen became very famous and continued to write many other plays.
Historical Use: What is interesting is how Ibsen as a man saw the inequality that he was even raised in within his parent’s home and saw it as wrong doing to the woman. This evidence helps to answers questions such as why is Europe to see the likes of suffrages, and women’s protests for equality? This document shows as of how men took an authoritative rule over their wives and even their daughters treating them like children that they have rights over, or even like a piece of property. This document is of use to as now as it shows as what may have ignited the flame that urged women to fight for their rights. Historians could have questions like, exactly how did men treat women? What was a woman’s place in the home and also what was expected of her? What Historians must watch for as I had said before is how Ibsen makes the whole process of Nora leaving seem as if it were as simple as packing your bags, reasoning with your husband then just leaving. Forgetting the fact that in certain areas of Europe a woman leaving her husband was not accepted or divorce laws were made so stringent that it was hard for a woman to leave. I believe Ibsen did this due mainly to the duration of the play, for going on into more deep and intricate scenes would have made the play a lot longer and not as engaging for the audience.