Monday, October 2, 2017

Patriarchal Society Essay

In a patriarchal society the bonds and limitations were quite clear: a woman has “sacred duties” to her husband and children. Anything that goes beyond these bounds is prohibited and shameful.

Henrik Ibsen’s play “A doll’s house” is a worthy illustration of what it is for a woman to live in a “man’s world”, and what could come of it. In this context, the comparison of Marge Piercy’s poem “A work of artifice” and Henrik Ibsen’s play “A Doll’s house” is quite relevant and sound, for it depicts the gender roles in a patriarchal society. If we draw a parallel between these two literary works, it would be clear that the bonsai tree, in a way, symbolizes Nora Helmer’s character, and her husband, Torvald Helmer is a gardener. The allusion is clear, though the essence of the ideas and conditions is not similar in all ways.

Ibsen in his play compares Nora to a doll, and her life and entourage also seem to be toy. In “A doll’s house”, Nora’s character and essence are gradually discovered, and all that the thoughts the audience has collected along the play, are summed up in the end of the play, during her final conversation with Torvald. The link between the characters of “A work of artifice” and “A Doll’s house” is most clearly seen in the similarity of the gardener and Torvald Helmer.

Marge Piercy gives no description of the gardener, nor does Ibsen. The similarity is in the gardener’s crooning and Torvald’s way of speaking to his wife. The gardener hums:

It is your nature
To be small and cozy,
Domestic and weak;
How lucky, little tree,
To have a pot to grow in.

These are the words Torvald Helmer would say to Nora, if they were a gardener and a bonsai tree.
Nora’s husband, on recovering from a threat of dishonor, comforts her in the same way: “try to calm yourself and make your mind easy again, my frightened little singing bird. Be at rest and feel secure; I have broad wings to shelter you under. How warm and cozy our home is, Nora. Here is shelter for you; here I will protect you like a hunted dove that I’ve saved from a hawk’s claws; I will bring peace to your poor beating heart.” The house, in the play is the same as the pot in the poem: they symbolize both security and limitation to the development.

The way Helmer calls Nora along the play is also very significant in showing the essence of their relationship. He rarely calls her be her name, Torvald uses endearing words that express his superiority at the same time. He calls her “little squirrel”, “skylark”, “my little spendthrift”, and other sweet little diminishing names. Nora’s husband actually treats her as his possession, his doll, which he likes to play with, and show to others in beautiful dresses and shining happily. Torvald is very surprised to hear her say anything more than a happy twittering (“Just listen!-little Nora talking about scientific investigations!”). He limits her activities, her own development, even her taste, just the way her father used to. Nora assimilates her identity with the man she belongs to.

First Nora’s father, and then her husband (who is known to have helped him out of hardships) used to carefully “prune” her. As Marge Piercy puts it “With living creatures one must begin very early to dwarf their growth”. And in this way the figure pictured in the poem perfectly fits Nora’s description in her “Doll’s house”:

The bound feet,
The crippled brain,
The hair in curlers,
The hands you
Love to touch.

After Nils Krogstad blackmailing, and her husband’s reaction to the falsehood she did to save his own life, Nora finally realizes what she really is, and what she could be. She finds strength to leave her “doll’s” house, and “perform duties for herself”, live, learn, move on. She decides to leave the “attractive pot”, and try to “grow eighty feet tall on the side of a mountain”.

The thing is that it is Nora’s fault she has put herself into such conditions, she used to play up to her husband’s opinions and wishes. But she was lucky enough to realize their marriage was a wretch based on lies – tiny and huge – from macaroons to forgery. Nora was lucky to have what a bonsai tree didn’t: a chance to start a new life and grow.

Ibsen, Henrik. Four Major Plays: A Doll House, the Wild Duck, Hedda Gabler, the Master Builder. Signet Book, reissue edition, 1989.

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