Sunteți pe pagina 1din 8

McKinney 1

Elizabeth McKinney
Intro to Literature
Scott Rogers
12-7-11
A Doll House in The Awakening
Feminism is one movement that has been discussed, argued over, written about,
despised, and praised for many years. Two authors who found inspiration from this idea
can be compared to reveal much about the beliefs that changed the world. Kate
Chopins work, The Awakening, can be used to explain Henrik Ibsens drama, A Doll
House in a deeper, magnified light. At first glance, the two works are similar, as both
have a central theme of feminism. With a second look, the reader will notice many
parallels between the characters; particularly the main charactersEdna Pontellier and
Nora Helmer. What many readers dont notice, however, is how much is further
explained when the two works are compared, concerning feminism beliefs of the time as
well as the two women. In fact, Noras role as feminism can be explained by Ednas
expanded role. However, to better understand Noras role through Edna, the reader
must first understand the similarities between the two.
In Ibsens A Doll House, a family lives in a small but nice city apartment. Torvald
Helmer and his wife Nora have several children and hired help. Torvald has recently
been promoted at the bank where he works. Noras old friend Kristine Linde stops by
unexpectedly one day and Nora reveals her biggest secret: she took out a loan from a
man named Nils Krogstad in order to pay for a vacation when her husband was ill. Nora
convinces her husband to give Kristine a job at the bank. Doing so will require Torvald to
fire Krogstad, who already has a bad reputation, so Krogstad threatens Nora with
exposition in order to convince her to make Torvald let Krogstad keep his job. Torvald

McKinney 2

refuses, and Krogstad sends him a letter telling Torvald everything about the loan.
Kristine talks to Krogstad, intending to ask him to request to have the letter back, but
instead confesses she still loves him. They had known each other personally before, but
Kristine married another man in order to take care of her family. Krogstad writes another
letter to Torvald, saying he took everything back, and would not be pressing matters
with the loan. In the middle of all of this, Dr. Rank, Torvalds best friend, tells Nora of his
love for her, but Nora does not return it. After Torvald reads the first letter, he reacts
explosively and argues with his wife. When he reads the second letter, he calms down
and forgives Nora, but the damage has been doneNora tells him she is leaving, and
she does.
Through this story, the author reveals several feminist ideas. The story of Nora
requesting a loan but needing a mans signature in order for the bank to approve it goes
against the feminist teaching that women do not need men to help themwomen
should be independent. Noras husband also supports the authors feminist viewpoints.
He treats Nora like a child, and expects her to keep up with the household chores while
caring for their children. These expectations do indeed apply to Noras job as a
housewife, but, because she is uneducated, she does not know that she can be happy
doing something other than what is expected of her. Feminists strive for every female to
be educated and choose the career and lifestyle they want.
The Awakening follows a similar path. The Pontellier family is vacationing during
the summer on Grand Isle. Lonce works in the city during the week, but stays with his
family on the weekend. Edna spends most of her time with her friend Robert Lebrun,
whom she ends up falling in love with, and with her friend Adle Ratignolle. Towards the

McKinney 3

end of summer, everyone goes back home to the city, and Robert goes to Mexico on
business. Lonce goes on a business trip and their sons go to visit Lonces mother,
leaving Edna at home alone. She eventually stops doing her duties as a housewife
overseeing the housework and receiving visitors, for example. She visits several of her
friends from the summer, as well as makes new friends. One of these is Alce Arobin,
who is very interested in Edna. Edna decides to move out of her husbands house and
into a small house just a block away. She has an affair with Alce, but ends this when
Robert comes home. Robert visits Edna a few times, but then leaves, saying he loves
her so he must leave. At the end of the story, Edna drowns herself in the sea at Grand
Isle, unable to bear the weight of her oppression any longer.
The similarities between the two stories start with the feminist beliefs that are
laced into them. Edna is given much independence on their summer vacation, but not
while she is at home, in the city. In the city, her husband tries to control all aspects of
her life. He does this by forcing her to keep her visiting hours and by putting her in
charge of housekeeping duties, despite the fact that they have several servants. Like
Nora, Edna is uneducated and does not know, at least in the beginning of the story, that
she can find a better life for herself.
There are many parallels between the two heroines, Edna and Nora. They are
both housewives who live in the late 1800s. The do not see themselves as feminists,
even though their respective authors have entwined many feminist ideas in their daily
lives. However, they do discover feminist thoughts in their minds throughout the story,
and when they realize what these thoughts are and what they mean, both women make
radical decisions. Each has children, and cares about them some of the time. The rest

McKinney 4

of the time, the mothers dont think of their kids. Edna is even acknowledged to not be a
mother woman, or someone who is constantly hovering over her children, ensuring
they are always healthy and alright (Chopin). They are unknowingly feigning happiness
in their homes in the beginning of their stories, staying oblivious because of the devotion
of their husbands and their children.
Edna and Nora each have a friend, Adle Ratignolle and Kristine Linde,
respectively, who they can confide in and who helps them on their journey to
discovering their feminism. They also both have a secret love, of sorts. Edna has Robert
and Alce, and Nora has Dr. Rank, though it is unrequited. There are other similarities
between the two women, such as their reactions to certain realizations and their
behavior in general, but these will be discussed later, in more detail.
The other major characters in the story can be compared as well. For example,
the womens husbands are very similar. Both men, Lonce Pontellier and Torvald
Helmer, are very devoted to their wives, and seem to love them as a husband should
love a wife. This is evident from the facts that Torvald gives his wife many endearing pet
names, and Lonce comes home from a bar in the second chapter, and wakes his wife
in order to tell her about his experiences there. He is excited to share his life with her,
and wants to share everything when it happens, which is why he wakes her up as soon
as he gets back (Chopin). Although they are often busy with work, they are not cheap
with presents for their wives. Torvald ensures his wife has everything she needs for the
dance she performs at the Christmas party, even offering, Tonight Im totally at your
service when she claims to need help with her dance (Ibsen 829). They also are both
very concerned with their reputations. When Torvald finds out about Noras loan

McKinney 5

problems, one of his first thoughts is what he will tell the public and what ends they must
go to in order to protect their images (Ibsen 840). Lonce, similarly, is quick to act when
Edna moves out of his house. By sending a story to the newspaper saying he is
remodeling their home, he saves his reputation of wealth and of being a family man
(Chopin).
On a bigger note, both men unconsciously hold back their wives, but without
meaning to. Torvald restricts his wife Nora in minimal ways, such as not allowing her to
eat macaroons and providing her with a limited monthly budget. The fact that Nora is
not allowed to eat macaroons is evident even to the family friend Dr. Rank. In the first
act, Nora offers him some, to which he replies I thought they were contraband here
(Ibsen 805). Lonce requires Edna to hold visiting hours once a week and forces her to
maintain his carefully-formed public image. They expect their wives to perform their
typical role as a housewife happily. Torvald expresses this towards the end of A Doll
House, when Nora tells him she is unhappy when he says, referring to her most
sacred vows, Arent they your duties to your husband and children? (Ibsen 844).
Lonce never realizes what he is doing to his wife, despite her many actions that make
her unhappiness clear. He simply assumes she will stay at home with the children,
taking care of the housework and receiving her visitors. The wives seem to have quite a
bit of freedom, as Nora is given free reign of the house and Edna is allowed to spend
her days, especially while on vacation, doing what she wants to do. But when one looks
deeper, it is easy to see how repressed the daily lives of the women are, just because of
their husbands expectations.

McKinney 6

Aside from similarities, these womens stories can teach the reader quite a bit
about the other story, as well as about the feminist beliefs and actions of the time. Both
women live in a time in which feminist beliefs are fairly new, but still have had an impact
on society.
In Ednas case, it is Robert who stirs up the first obviously feminist thoughts in
Edna. She describes herself as feeling alive when she is around him, and he brings
back memories of her childhood dreams, such as painting. Because of him, Edna rebels
against her husband, forsaking her duties in favor if visiting her friends and painting. Her
husband continues to cover up Ednas actions until she cant take it anymore. Her
husbands oppression, on top of losing Robert, causes Edna to give her life to the sea.in
the book, the sea represents freedom, which Edna so desperately seeks. Her drowning
herself in the sea symbolizes her finding freedom in the last place she can: death.
For Nora, it takes her husbands overreaction to her loan to make her realize that
she has no independence, and that is what she needs to be happy. She realizes that he
loves her like a child in many ways, and that he expected her to adopt his beliefs, just
like her father did as she was growing up. Because she did adopt both of their beliefs
when she lived with each of them, she lost herself. She acknowledges this by telling
Torvald, Ive been wronged greatly, Torvaldfirst by Papa, and then by you (Ibsen
842). She tells her husband she needs to leave so that she can find herself.
It is easy to see, through her actions, how Ednas feelings change, but not how
Noras change, because they dont change until the very end of the play. That is why the
reader must use Ednas more detailed conversion to understand Noras. Nora leaves
her husband because she is missing an unknown part of herself; Edna committed

McKinney 7

suicide because she knew what she was missing and couldnt have it. Edna picked up
pieces of herself throughout the story while Nora only found out they were missing at
the end of her story. It can be assumed that the pieces Edna missed are the same
pieces Nora is missing. In this case, it helps to compare these two, because Edna does
not directly say what she was looking for, so the reader can apply Noras words to
Ednas situation.
This theory is also relevant to the characters actions throughout each story.
Edna moves out of her home halfway through The Awakening while Nora leaves her
home at the end of A Doll House. Because Nora realized her life was not what she
wanted it to be and decided to leave in just a few moments, the reasons for her actions
and the events leading up to this decision are not clear; she did not have enough time to
explain herself. Chopin, on the other hand, shows many of Ednas actions that lead up
to her leaving home. For example, her transition from extra freedom on Grand Isle to
the old constrictions of her city home put a strain on her that she never had before. This
strain makes her feel trapped in her husbands house; she no longer feels like it is a
home to her. In Noras case, this realization is what pushes her to leave, but the reader
doesnt realize why exactly she realizes this until they compare it to Ednas reasons and
actions.

McKinney 8

Works Cited
Chopin, Kate. The Awakening. Page by Page Books. Project Gutenburg. Web. 2 Dec.
2011.<http://www.pagebypagebooks.com/Kate_Chopin/The_Awakening_and_Selected_
Short_Stories/index.html>.
Ibsen, Henrik. "A Doll House." Literature to Go. Michael Meyer. Boston, MA: Bedford/st
Martins, 2011. 792-847. Print.