The problem play refers to a kind of drama which emerged in the 19th century as a section of the extensive realism movement in the arts. It handles contentious social problems via debates between the stage acting characters, who characteristically signify conflicting viewpoints with an truthful social context. The play normally focuses on handling a certain social issue in an accurate manner structured to alter the public opinion. It is mostly employed to demonstrate a situation where the main character in a play experiences religious, personal, environmental, political and social issues common to her or his entire society. This concept of the problem play has highly been illustrated in the play “A Doll’s House” written by Henrik Ibsen.
The play A Doll’s House was written in 1800s and it focused on demonstrating social problems that existed in the society during this time. This is the time when women were supposed to be submissive and to live based on the social restriction. Women were required to stay at home and look after their children and husbands. Men were on the other hand supposed to provide for their families and thus, they could work hard and go out of their way to satisfy the financial needs of the family. Women were considered weak and could only subordinate their men. The society norm was that the man should remain superior in their homes and make their women do what they want (Arnd 2). Although women were supposed to be weak based on the actual societal perspective, Henrik manages to create a very strong women character in Nora. Henrik employed problem play concept by demonstrating women liberalization in the era where conservation was highly practiced. Although Nora initially lived like a naïve housewife, we later in the play realized that Nora was an extra ordinary woman who had gone out of her way to save her husband’s life by borrowing money with forged father’s signature, and working secretly to repay her debt. Nora managed to work and earn money during a time when women were required by the society norm to stay at home and nurture their families. Nora even appeared to adhere to this norm even before her husband. However, she has stood strong for a while to protect her family. She even went against her husband morals with regard to forgery and debts.
Nora also display the concept of problem play by deciding to stand on her own when her husband reacted negatively after realizing that she forged her father’s signature and got a loan to a man he regarded as immoral. Based on the families of these times, a man was the head of the family and he was supposed to decide on what should be done during the critical time. Helmer, after seeing the Krogstad reports he decided that he can nolonger have a relation with Nora as a wife, but to protect his image to the society, Nora was to stay in the house and pretend to the world that all was well. She was also not to be entrusted to the children to prevent her from teaching themthe immoral act (Ibsen 38). Based on the societal norms during this time and in this region the family success was judged based on how well it can stick together. This is what Helmer tried to protect. However, Nora did not care about the outer image. Her concern was more on the internal relation and if it was not working out, she was willing to walk out despite what the society would say or think. Nora decision to walk out of her marriage and family was not stopped even by Helmer apology. To her, she had been played by the man she thought loved her. He had considered her as her “wife doll” and she would never live with it.
In normal circumstances, a wife could have been happy that the misunderstanding has been cleared and that she would live normally with her husband. However, Nora refused to compromise. She did not take it well that she was supposed to live with her husband without doing anything to save the situation. She treasured her rights as a human being who can think, do anything to save herself and her family, a woman who can work to get her own money, and woman whose mental ability is recognized. She seems to have been insulted by her husband thought of being there to protect him from all problems as she loves him in the return. This episode clearly demonstrated the concept of problem play where by Nora acted completely against what could have been accepted. She even went ahead and left her husband and children to demonstrate that her rights as a human being came before her role as a wife or a mother, and she would never make sacrifices to make others happy while she suffers (Ibsen 45). Nora slams the door and abandons her house to a world of novel chances.She is leaving to realize her personal duties towards herself, with hope of self-realization that normally guides to new beginning. It seems that Nora removed he blind fold and realized that her freedom and individuality have been snatched away by Helmer. After living for her husband, her sacrifice goes unrecognized and she cannot sacrifice herself anymore for a strange man who made her life in the illusion of love for quite a long time. In this section,Henrik painted Nora as a typical modern woman and not as 19th century woman (Ghafourinia and Jamili 424).
Nora is a character that was coined to change the public opinion on various issues which included the role of a woman in the society, and the woman submission role in the family. It can also be said to have been used to change the public opinion on women’s mental ability in solving life problem. Although Nora was regarded to be weak and the one who deserved her father and later her husband’s protection, she went out of her way to help her husband. The only reason he considered her weak was because he was not informed about it. She also did forgery, an act that she appeared to be too naïve even to know of its existence. Nora was strong and she was only considered weak for being submissive. The coming out of the marriage as a way of standing up for herself painted submission as the greatest woman’s weakness which should be concurred for a woman to be strong. The obedient that comes hand in hand with submission limits the women’s ability to think on how to handle their problems as well as their family’s problems. Nora is also seen to trying to fight to gain the freedom on deciding what she should purchase rather than telling Helmer to do it for her. Although this makes Helmer give Nora petty names that signifies her love for money, it also demonstrates Women independent mind when it comes to spending and making purchase decision, obligations that were not normally left for women during this time.
The change of opinion on women obligation can also be demonstrated by Mrs. Linden. Although she married for money, she later had to work to earn a living for herself and her ill mother and two younger brothers. She later had to work for herself and she is seen requesting Nora to talk to her husband to give him a job in the bank. This demonstrated that women had gone to school and they were climbing the corporate ladder, though they were still in the lower positions in the job market. Mrs. Linden was also seen approaching Krogstad to rekindle their previous romantic relationship and manages to convince him to return Nora’s signed promissory (Ibsen 34). This can be used to demonstrate the power of a woman in a relationship. Although women were supposed to be submissive, Mrs. Linden takes up the initiative of helping her friend using her power over a man. Moreover, Mrs. Linden was given a job while Krogstad was facing the possibilities of being sacked. Despite this, she did not shy off from having a relationship, and Krogstad did not refuse her on the basis of being unable to provide. Instead, Krogstad agreed to rekindle their romantic relationship, and stopped the blackmail to get his job back. This can be interpreted that Krogstad was comfortable to have Mrs. Linden as the family breadwinner, and that Krogstad felt much safer to have her, and to know that she can work to provide for the family. This made him to give up pushing Nora further to be rehired. The incident demonstrates the changing role of the woman in the society, and also the change on the opinion of women’s position in the world.
Mrs. Linden is also seen to play a great part in liberating Nora from her marriage where she was forced to be submissive and enhancing her ability to enjoy her freedom. She instructed Krogstad to leave the reports in the Helmer mailbox to allow him to know the truth and eliminate the fear and anxiety in Nora regarding what would happen in case the husband was to know all about it (Ibsen 34). Mrs. Linden acted as Nora confidant and advisor to some extent. The step taken by Mrs. Linden in this case was a way of communicating that women should be ready to test the strength of the marriage bond to be sure whether it is worth the sacrifice they give to it. The information was clear that Nora had borrowed the money using forged signature to save Helmer’s life. However, she was so scared to confess since she feared the outcome and would rather carry the burden. This approach demonstrated how the truth can liberate a woman and give a clear picture of personal worth in a relationship. It also demonstrates the importance of confrontation in a relationship. Submissive women were never given a chance to air their views in serious family problems. Instead men’s judgment was depended on to resolve all problems in the family, disregarding of whether women were satisfied with these decision. They were perceived as children with regard to mental and financial ability. This made it hard for them to confront the actual problems troubling their relationships and keep their pain and agony to themselves. The act of confrontation, especially when Nora tells her husband to sit and have their first conversation eight year after marriage was a liberating act, which demonstrates the changing role of a woman in a relationship, and the creating of equal parties in a marriage relationship.
The problem play concept was also displayed clearly in Helmer character. The society was highly concerned about morality, and Helmer did his best to gain respect by working with honesty. He also considered sacking Krogstad from his bank position since he was found with a forgery scandal in the past. His strong principles made him chose to separate with his wife when she realized that she also forged once to save his life. He did not see the wife’s good will in it, but the possibility of a tarnished image incase that information was to leak. He was more concerned about his image and what people would say, rather than what the family had achieved or would lose for his drastic measures. Ironically, when Krogstad canceled the promissory, he became overjoyed and decided to forgive his wife, and to take back all his previous words and decisions. This demonstrates that immorality was a social problem of that time and that even those that seemed to support morality were not truly moral. They only worked hard to ensure their immoral act did not leak to the public. Helmer was ready to separate with his wife to distance himself from her previous forgery acts, irrespective of the fact that she did it to save his life. Here, Helmer can be used to demonstrated problem play concept by being a victim of immorality which is a social problem affecting the society the characters were representing. However, ironically, once Krogstad cancelled the promissory, Helmer was ready to take her wife back and to forgive her. This demonstrates that Helmer was not against the act but the public impact it could have created to his career and public image if the information on his wife involvement in immoral acts could have leaked out. This occurrence demonstrated problem play by demonstrating the deadliness of immorality as a social problem and how the act was probably enacted by everyone while pretending to be clean and moral, and while the society anticipated everyone to be moral and honest (Oxford Reference 1).
According to the above analysis, A Doll’s House by Henrik demonstrated the concept of problem play by influencing the change of public opinion regarding the women roles and abilities. This was done in the society that was highly conservative and where women were required to remain submissive in their marriage during the 19th century. The problem play concept is also illustrated by the main play actors facing social problems in this case being immorality; forgery. On one hand, Helmer wants to sack Krogstad for being related with past immoral behavior when he realized that his wife has been practicing immoral activities too. Hoping that he is among the most morally upright individuals in the play, he also withdrew his decision to separate with his wife when he realized that Krogstad would not be broadcasting the incident. This means, he does not hate the act but the destruction of the public image. This demonstrates the intensity of this problem in the society.
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