A Doll House, and a Marxist Perspective in its Evening According to Karl Marx, "The history of all hitherto existing
society is the history of class struggles" (Communist Manifesto 78). Marx defined classes not by wealth, but rather the division of labor: those who lease/own labor (bourgeoisie) and those who lease out labor (proletariat). He believed this oppositional force, a characteristic of capitalism, would eventually crumble under violent revolution by the labor class (80). There is no doubt that Henrik Ibsen was exposed to these ideas, made popular in publications like The Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital and, indeed, more than merely referred to them in his own artistic choices. These are evident in Ibsen's groundbreaking A Doll House. Ibsen's conscious choice to enact a radical change to the Well-Made Play's structure suggests a microcosmic act of Marxist revolution within the social and dramaturgical reality of the play itself. Nora could represent the oppressed, whereas Torvald (and his capitalistic banker values) represents the classic oppressor. The scenes that follow Nora’s iconic Tarantella dance, however, reflect Ibsen's own questions about Marx's ideology: where do women fit in this binary world of bourgeoisie and proletariat? What about the bourgeois woman, who represents by proxy the oppressor, yet functions, as property of her husband, as the oppressed? Ibsen seems to suggest that this forgotten class need be considered, and thus complicates the absolute truism of Marxist ideology, suggesting further
Even Marx acknowledges the capitalistic precept that "nothing can have value without being the object of utility" (Das Kapital 117). its outcome is a symbolic
.. She flits around as his "little spendthrift. The result is a revolution within revolution. Torvald himself asserts. but then evolved into a ritual to exhaust feminine neuroses (176). Presumably. when Nora dances the Tarantella.completely and utterly" (182). in the third act. of sorts. the dance originated as a medicinal practice for those bit by a spider. "Can't I look at my richest treasure? At all the beauty that's mine. a beacon of capitalistic function. He is a banker.. however. she does not work. This assumption seems both confirmed and challenged.” his "little lark. and one who embodies "the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships." The status quo as collective. and absolute. that "there's no one who gives up honor for love. mine alone . after they return from their social engagement in the final act.exploration into a more individualistic model of power relations. not by wives of bankers (Ettlinger 176). Also. he proclaims. his property. This traditional folk dance was performed by Italian farmers.” He makes his possessive assumptions clear when. Ultimately.grasped as ideas" (The German Ideology 64). despite his anguish over Nora choosing to leave him. Nora appears powerless in all the ways that Torvald views power. Employing the language of Marx's binary archetypes makes obvious Torvald’s assuming the role of oppressor. Both ideas seem indicative of what Marx would declare an oppressed identity. She behaves as Torvald's charge.
She is a woman married to a bourgeois man. By having Nora clearheadedly leave her bourgeois life behind for one of uncertainty. absolving him of his wife's indiscretions. is mired by her defeated realization: she is neither a true part of the bourgeoisie or a revolutionary proletariat. in this pivotal moment. would not "give in to [Krogstad's] terms" (194). agitated. and is therefore a non-entity. She hoped that "the miracle of miracles" would occur when Torvald. and recognize her as an individual. an identity that exists outside of Marx's binary class struggle. Nora accepts this with icy calm. By making this anachronistic choice. all properties of. He immediately forgives her. She hoped he. It occurs once Torvald receives the second letter from Krogstad.transformation.” Nora sheds herself of the role of the oppressed. the oppressor. however. Nora must leave. forgotten. beyond the typical physical violence of revolution: he suggests that true change occurs in the education of the
. for it breaks from Marxist ideology. would realize the failure of a binary system of social class. "a people on the precipice. Ibsen has Nora play the role of the oppressed. Nora's act of empowerment. The exhaustion. as Marx would identify. While in this "costume" she plays desperate.” Ibsen advocates something beyond the binary class struggle. however. He did not. removing her "costume. uncertain.” ready for revolution. Ibsen takes liberty with what this revolution suggests. either from the "bite" or "hysteria" acts as absolution of the poison. Thus. The revolution does not occur in the society of the play. where "she'll begin to learn for herself. the revolution begins.
Ibsen leaves us imagining what the alternative might be. or objective. However. that which would be assumed by the audience (the binary within the structure of drama): subjectivity. oppressor or oppressed. The revolution changes from Marxist to Nora-ist. A door can be opened by anyone. because he believed in the collective power of humanity. reality is unsuccessful. The play ends as an act of Witness. proposing that defining the world through a concrete material. Nora just leaves. Ibsen consciously chooses not to offer an alternative. That is all.
. which refutes the material-oriented Marxist ideology. Marx would never use terms like selfactualization. that it was only through the synchronicity of human players in concert that would institute any force of change. She only insists that she must figure life out for herself. This is certainly not the revolution Marx anticipated. In Nora abandoning her non-entity position with Marx’s material-oriented binary construction. solely in reference to the individual. In this case. Nora doesn’t join the laboring Proletariat’s cause. after all. nor pursue the lofty wealth of the bourgeoisie.oppressed. Change can come from within. Therefore. Ibsen suggests the “something beyond” has nothing to do with the “goods of labor” at all. Yet Ibsen’s drama resonates in its literary action much the way a group of unionized laborers would resonate toppling the icons of oppression. this one single slam of the door. the statues of the status quo. He just leaves. towards self-actualization. her resolve to leave can only be for the good. Any hand can turn the knob and step out into the cold uncertainty of a rash decision.
In the world of A Doll House. one cannot argue the power of her departure. that is the true revolution. that is the violence.
.One assumes this is the first time Nora has wholly committed to a choice as a self-possessed individual. and though Marx’s idea of radical change was not intended in such an individualized way.
Das Kapital. Rolf Fjelde. 1998. Straus. 1964. Giroux. Karl. S. Marx. “Review of ‘La Tarantella Napoletana’ by Renato Penna. Washington D. Henrik. Karl and Fredrick Engels.
. Moscow: Progress Publishers. 1978. Ryazanskaya.: Regnery. The German Ideology.References Ettlinger.C. New York: Farrar. Trans. New York: New American Library. Ibsen. Marx. Ellen. Trans. Karl and Fredrick Engels. Marx. 2000.” Man 65 (Sep-Oct 1965): 174-177. The Communist Manifesto. A Doll House.