Individual freedom is a condition in which individuals seek the opportunity to act, speak and pursue happiness without external restrictions. A Doll’s house by Henrik Ibsen focuses on the life of a female character known as Nora, who has illustrated a social gender role throughout the play. Nora shows her struggle for life independence but comes to realization and decides to choose freedom rather than placing herself in a distrustful life with her husband and children. Her pursuit for freedom influences the social narrative of the 19th century. The phenomenon of women’s struggle for independence has existed globally and is portrayed in the female character in most literary works.
The theme of womanhood and marriage is rooted to gender roles of women in the society and culture in the period of 1879. The role of women in marriage and society was sharply defined at this time in history. Women were assumed to consider marriage and family since it enabled them to become mothers rather than pursuing their emotional and sexual satisfaction (Graeff, 114). Most women got married in their mid-20s which reinforced the natural hierarchy. Unmarried women relied on their fathers while married women relied on their husbands.
During this time, women were not allowed to acquire any further education other than high school. They play a significant role in domestic activities such as caring for the children and maintaining their household. Women were not allowed to work unless there was a great financial crisis in the family. With little education, they could take up various jobs as laborers such as maids, textile factory workers, and laundresses. In 1879, women were subordinates of men since the men were the controllers of society.
In the literary work of A Doll’s House, Nora presents the women of her time that tried to realize their ambitions, dreams, and sense of self-direction during the parochial way of life and heavily sexist social customs and narrow-minded way of life that dominated much of the life in 1879 (Kumaran, 102). At the beginning of the play, Nora seems to enjoy her role as a mother and wife, although she has to follow the patriarchal ideology of being a good married woman. For instance, Nora always followed what her husband said and follows the patriarchal ideology (Ibsen). The legitimating and social structure ideology in which men had more privilege and power over women significantly dominated the society and culture during that time.
Nora lived in the oppression and discrimination of patriarchal society. She struggles with the oppressive attitudes of her husband and the social norms that existed during that time. For instance, Helmer, her husband, judged her as being an extravagant person since she failed to manage her money and bought things that were not essential (Ibsen). However, Nora always adhered to his husband but felt depressed, worthless, and inferior. Nora clearly shows how the women of her time struggled in the face of women’s patriarchal domination, which led to the challenging condition for a woman.
Individual freedom is considered autonomy, self-determination, and spontaneity of a rational subject with servility and submissiveness. The concept of personal freedom can be considered as the normative value and abstract of human action. Rights and activities are used to measure the individual freedom of an individual (Graeff, 114). Free will in humans gives them the capacity to select among alternatives to act in a specific condition independent of social, natural, and dive restraints. For instance, in the early days, women were denied their freedom due to the restrictions of patriarchal ideology (Ghafourinia, 424). For many years, patriarchal systems controlled the lives of women and limited their freedoms. However, women are entitled to enjoying fundamental freedoms and human rights like other individuals.
Individual freedom is perceived as a constitutional value of humans, such as rights and the foundation of duties to decide freely concerning the critical issues in their lives (Young). This allows individuals to be responsible for their lives and society and the consequences of their decisions and actions. Different historical events and periods have shown people’s freedom. For instance, individual freedom has been demonstrated in three different levels: freedom of association, freedom of opinion and thought, and freedom of work.
Individual freedom is vital in one’s life since it offers the opportunity to think, pursue, act and speak without any restrictions (Young). It leads to enhanced creativity, increased productivity, enhanced expressions, and general high quality of life. Individual freedom allows one to do many things and succeed against tremendous odds. Personal freedom plays an essential role in human development since it’s a vital factor in welfare improvement. Ideally, human development entails increasing human choices.
One of the basic needs in human development is individual freedom which plays a significant role in the social process. For the functioning of any democratic society, people should be allowed to form their ideas and reflect on different perspectives. For instance, the freedom of expression is essential and highly fundamental for the functioning of a pluralist society. Freedom of expression would allow women to give their own opinions without fear of censorship, retaliation, or punishment in the early days.
Individual freedom is highly significant for any society looking forward to moving ahead, whether philosophically, economically, or spiritually (Young). Ideally, individual freedom allows one to choose where they belong in the social order. The social is a set of guidelines that influence the success of an individual. Once an individual breaks enough of these guidelines, they are in a better position to succeed. Enhancing personal power and freedom puts one in a better position to enjoy resources, experiences, and greater class status.
The feminist movement of the 20th century was a political and social movement that sought to bring freedom and equality in the society. The movement aimed to change many individual women’s lives and impact society in the 20th century (Gouws, 2). The feminist movement consisted of a series of reforms and political campaigns on domestic violence, sexual harassment, reproductive rights, women’s suffrage, and equivalent pay. The feminist movement led to many changes for women’s equality in education and employment. For instance, the feminist movement advocated against gender roles in society. Gender roles are varying expectations that groups, individuals, and societies are based on each society’s beliefs and values of gender. Gender roles were used to indicate which behaviors were appropriate for particular sex according to a society’s belief about varying sexes.
The feminist movement of the 20th century played an essential role in the deconstruction of gender roles and offered alternative visions (Gouws, 2). The twentieth-century women wanted a mindset of having it all. They wanted to be wives, mothers, and professional career women. The feminist movement also arose in response to recognition in marriage. Historically, marriage was a fundamental site for women’s oppression where married women had few rights. This was linked to the gender division of roles where married women took the lion’s share of caring and domestic work.
The feminist movement was against the practical effects on women that made them feel worse and inferior. Some of the impractical effects on women from marriage included gendered labor division where they earned less and were less independent than men. Women were expected to do much of the housework despite working outside the home, which impacted their dignity and energies.
The life of women during Nora’s time was constructed on social expectations and the norms of others. Nora represents traditional women of her time that were unjustly treated and oppressed (Kumaran, 102). Nora encountered gender inequalities and was perceived by his husband as incapable, discriminated and weak. Female subordination was rooted in legal and customary constraints that blocked women from succeeding in the public world. During Nora’s time, the main role of women was domestic work since they were considered physically and intellectually incapable as compared to men. Women could get any form of discrimination from their husbands due to patriarchal rule that governed women’s rights. Women were expected to depend on their husbands and only maintain the household.
At the beginning of the play, Nora is depicted as a wife lacking freedom in domestic and social spheres. Nora’s freedom and actions were restricted (Düzgün, 85). Nora also depicts the passion for freedom among many women of her time. She seems to be willing to go against the social norms due to her love for self-liberation. However, like most women, daughters, and wives, Nora was stereotypical thus failed to work outside. Therefore, she failed to understand the outside world, which created an imbalance with her desire for freedom.
Individual freedom is a central theme in A Doll’s House. Nora’s character reveals the need for individual freedom since she has failed to flourish without the perception of her as an equal partner in the marriage. Nora has always wanted to be an independent person but suppresses the desire to be independent due to patriarchal ideology. For instance, during the party, Nora wants to be in the party and enjoy, but Helmer wants her to return home. Since she has no control over her life, she has to obey her husband and get home after the tarantella dance. When Nora reacts, Helmer reminds her of her duty as a wife and shows his anger since he expects to be obeyed. Nora is also expected to accept Helmer’s wish, such as making love to her irrespective of whether she wishes it or not.
Nora clearly shows a lack of individual freedom since her own opinions were shaped by her father when she was his daughter and her husband as a wife. The imbalance of power distribution between Torvald and Nora indicates a lack of individual freedom. For instance, Nora cannot get her letter in the letterbox chapter since Helmer has the key. This means that Nora lacks the liberty to see her letter without having to go to Helmer. Additionally, as a marital woman, she was not permitted to work but would hinge on on her partner to pay off credits.
A Doll’s House shows the era where gender inequality and the construction of gender roles were issues that needed to be addressed. Societal expectations and patriarchal rule were detrimental to women’s pursuit of individual freedom. The history of patriarchal rule shows that women are treated unequally by men due to social norms that exist in society. The feminist movement of the 20th-century focus on discrimination against women and patriarchy, which leads to the misconception of gender roles in society. A Doll’s house shows the social issues that existed during the period of 1879. Society made women have no authority or control over their own lives. Nora experiences oppressive attitudes and discrimination from their husband and society. The literary work has offered a powerful comprehension of how society works, disadvantages women and the need to address subordination, injustice, inequalities, and oppression that women suffer. Individual freedom is important in one’s life since it offers an opportunity to pursue, act, speak and reduce the limits of interference with an individual’s life.
Düzgün, Şebnem. “A Cultural Materialist Approach to Gender Relations in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House.” Hacettepe Üniversitesi Edebiyat Fakültesi Dergisi 35.2 (2018): 85-94.
Ghafourinia, Fatemeh, and Leila Baradaran Jamili. “The Women’s Right in Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House.” Journal of Novel Applied Sciences 3.4 (2014): 424-429.
Gouws, Amanda, and Azille Coetzee. “Women’s movements and feminist activism.” (2019): 1-8.
Graeff, Peter. “Measuring individual freedom: actions and rights as indicators of individual liberty.” Fraser Institute, 2012. 113-135.
Ibsen, Henrik. A Doll’s House. Dover: New York, 1879.
Kumaran, A., and R. Ganeshan. “Emancipation of the Woman: A Study of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House.” The Criterion: An International Journal in English 2.3 (2011): 101-104.
Young, Robert. Personal autonomy: Beyond negative and positive liberty. Vol. 9. Taylor & Francis, 2017.