teenagers examine A Doll’s House

In the previous post, I said that young people’s abilities to think and write richly give me hope.   Below, I have posted two such responses to their exam question about Ibsen’s A Doll’s House.  A young woman and young man wrote these, both sophomores in high school.  See if you can tell who wrote which.

#1

In A Doll’s House, a play by Ibsen, Nora is ultimately responsible for her decisions, but other people such as Torvald, Mrs. Linde, and her father influence her self-perception perhaps more than she does herself. Torvald Helmer, Nora’s husband, plays a very large part in swaying Nora’s self-perception. Reaffirming his care for her, Torvald tells Nora that he going to help and protect her: “How warm and cosy our home is, Nora. Here is shelter for you; here I will protect you like a hunted dove that I have saved from a hawk’s claws; I will bring peace to your beating heart.” This statement that Torvald tells Nora, along with many others of similar message, provides Nora with a mask of protection. Although Torvald seems to genuinely mean what he is saying, it is giving Nora a false sense of self-perception that she is happy with Torvald and sheltered by him. This sense of security lies on the surface of Nora’s feelings and self-perception and if she were to dig deeper into herself, that superficial mask would no longer be there.  Not only does Torvald influence Nora’s self-perception but others do as well. Mrs. Linde affects how Nora thinks of herself by putting Nora below her and making her seem less important: “You are still very like a child in many things, and I am older than you in many ways and have a little more experience.” As a result of telling Nora things like this repeatedly, Mrs. Linde affects Nora’s self-perception by leading her to believe that she really is less important than others such as Mrs. Linde, and lacks many skills and experience. This shows that by persistently telling someone something, it will begin to affect how they think about themselves as they will begin to believe what you are saying is true about themselves. Admitting and realizing that others have effected how she thought of herself and lived her life, Nora expresses her suffering to Torvald: “I mean that I was simply transferred from papa’s hands into yours. You arranged everything according to your own taste, and so I got the same tastes as you or else I pretended to, I am really not quite sure which—I think sometimes the one and sometimes the other. When I look back on it, it seems to me as if I had been living here like a poor woman—just form hand to mouth. I have existed merely to perform tricks for you, Torvald. But you would have it so. You and papa have committed a great sin against me. It is your fault that I have made nothing of my life.” Nora, expressing her awareness of the impact of others on her own self-perception, shows that because of her father and Torvald she has been living an act. Nora says that she has “existed merely to perform tricks for you, Tovald” which shows that she thought of herself as being okay with simply living for others but now has come to the realization that this is not what she wants. She also conveys that this has been going on forever because of her father, which shows that others influencing her self-perception is not a new concept. Through Torvald, Mrs. Linde, and her father, Nora has formed a superficial self-perception of herself which, although seeming like it may have been correct, when she digs deeper she realizes is not fine and that it is not how she wants to think about herself. “I must stand quite alone, if I am to understand myself and everything about me.”

#2

In Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, the main character, Nora, is pushed to walk out on her family and leave her children behind due to her own warped self-perception. However, Nora is not the one who shapes her own beliefs and ideas. Instead, outside sources such as Torvald and Krogstad direct and control Nora’s self-perception. Torvald has a particularly large amount of power over Nora’s actions, being her husband. When Nora finally realizes that she has not been in control of herself, she says to Torvald, “You arranged everything according to your own taste, and so I got the same tastes as you or else I pretended to”. Torvald nearly entirely controlled her actions, how she dressed, what she said, and everything else about her public appearance and demeanor. This escalated to the point, where Nora was more like Torvald’s doll than an actual human being, at least on the outside. Krogstad, however, influenced Nora in a very different way from Torvald, indirectly. Krogstad never forced Nora to do anything or directly controlled her actions like Torvald did. Instead Krogstad caused Nora to constantly dread and worry herself over the debt that she owed him. Nora was ashamed of this debt and told no one except her friend Christine about it saying, “Speak low. Suppose Torvald were to hear! He mustn’t on any account—no one in the world must Know, Christine, except you”. Nora could not pay the debt off by herself and also could not tell Torvald, due to the fear she had of him finding out. As such, Krogstad had arguably more control over Nora than Torvald. While Torvald controlled how she acted in public, Krogstad controlled her thoughts in private. When Nora finally came to understand her situation, she realized that she could not escape the control of either of these two men by doing anything but leaving and starting over completely.

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