mirror of voids

Image: Konstantin Shpankov


A reflection on feminism from a doll house of Ibsen

At Agência Brasil, we read: “The National Pact for the Prevention of Feminicides, announced by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, at the end of the March of the Daisies 2023, in Brasília, this Wednesday (16th), meets the third of the 13 axes of the agenda of political demands of the women participating in the mobilization. Life free of all forms of violence, without racism and without sexism”.



This could be the journalistic hook, the reason for reading a doll house, by Henrik Ibsen. But the piece is so good it doesn't need a hook. Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906) was a Norwegian playwright, one of the creators of modern realistic theatre. Among so many fundamental pieces, in 1879 he wrote a doll house, about a woman who leaves her husband and children. According to the great Bernard Shaw, an innovation in Ibsen's dramaturgy was to introduce discussion into the theatrical text from a doll house, because “before we had, in what was called a well-constructed play, an exposition in the first act, the situation in the second and the outcome in the third. But in a doll house we have exposition, situation and discussion”.

But it is part of our duty to mention what Otto Maria Carpeaux wrote about the play: “Its problems are now obsolete – no one is interested in the moral consequences of hereditary syphilis anymore – or they have been entirely resolved – such as the legal emancipation of women [ …] a doll house it is today, with the emancipation of women a fait accompli for decades, Ibsen's most antiquated play. For then it was an incredibly revolutionary piece; Feminists of both sexes made a huge fuss around it, the whole of Europe discussed it. a doll house seems like a theatrical proclamation of the feminist struggle. But what do we fear in 1973 with feminism?”.

This is a profoundly unfortunate, mistaken reflection of the humanities master of several generations in Brazil. Otto Maria Carpeaux, an Austrian Jewish immigrant, fertilized Portuguese-language newspapers and books with his encyclopedic culture. Man of the left, on the front line against the dictatorship. But in the particular case of a doll house and of her feminism, he was a shocking misfortune. This is to be polite and respectful towards the master.

First, legal emancipation does not actually become emancipation in the reality of murdered women. If in Norway feminicide is now overcome, in Brazil and Latin America it is a matter of urgency, in the face of the barbarism of murders of women every day until today. Right now, this moment. They are women whose husbands, “partners” or boyfriends want to have ownership over the slave. So, to say the least, Carpeaux was unfamiliar with Brazilian society.

Not to mention that the theme, the problem of a work, never ends when a work of art is made. If that were the case, the tragedy of Oedipus's marriage to his own mother, the love between young people from enemy families in Shakespeare, the delirium of Don Quixote with chivalry romances would be overcome! So, even if feminism was obsolete, a doll house it would be like a seminal “obsolete”, of today and of the future. And it's not, not even as a problem. On the contrary, there is an urgency that calls for and calls for justice.



In the edition I have, from Veredas, the last six pages contain the most forceful dialogues on feminism.

“Helmer – Who loved you more than me and your father?

Nora (shaking her head) – You never loved me, it was just fun for you to be enchanted with me.

Helmer – Nora, what are you saying?

Nora – That's right, Helmer; when I was home, Dad would share his ideas with me, and I would share them. If I thought differently, I wouldn't say so, because he wouldn't have liked it. He called me his little doll, and played with me, as I played with my dolls. Then I came to live at his house.

Helmer – You use a singular expression to talk about our marriage.

Nora (unperturbed) – I want to say that from Dad's hands I passed into yours. You arranged everything to your liking, a taste I pretended to share. I lived on the jokes I played for you, Helmer; but it was what suited him. You and Dad committed a great crime against me. If I'm of no use, it's your fault.

Helmer How unfair you are, Nora, and ungrateful! Not happy here?

Nora – Never. I thought so, but I never was.

Helmer – Wasn't it… were you never happy?

Nora – Never; it was cheerful, nothing more. You were so kind to me! But our house was never more than a playroom. I was his wife-doll, as I had been a daughter-doll in my father's house. And our children, in turn, have been my dolls. I thought it was funny when you picked me up and played with me, as they find it funny that I pick them up and play with them. That's what our marriage was, Helmer….

Helmer - You shouldn't pay attention to that.

Nora: I must try to educate myself. And you are not the right man to help me in this task. It is something I must undertake alone. And for that I'll leave you.

Helmer (jumping up) What are you saying?

Nora – I need to be alone, to evaluate myself and everything around me. That's why I can't go on living with you.

Helmer - Nora! Daughter in law!

Nora – I want to leave now. For this night I will stay at Kristina's house.

Helmer – You are delusional. I can't let go. I forbid it!

Nora – From now on, you can't forbid me anything. I only take what belongs to me. I want nothing from you, not now, not ever.”

How many Brazilian women would like to act that way? How many have tried to live this breakup? I remember my childhood, when I saw a lady who tried to get out of her husband's oppression, and then, with no means of surviving, she came back. Until death.

“Helmer – First of all, you are a wife and mother.

Nora – I don't believe that anymore. I believe that first and foremost I am a human being.”



For much of the play, Nora is a different person. Silly, happy, selfish in relation to the fate of others. She enjoys her bourgeois condition, as the wife of the future bank director. She will be able to spend more, much more than before, buy, buy more, which seems to be her happiness. She sings so much as she walks around the house that her husband calls her a lark. And he repeats the compliment so many times that I was curious to hear the bird sing here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P5AvKci6b_w.

Nora is as much a singer and dancer as a biscuit ballerina.

He lives in a state of alienation that is confused with a little madness. Enjoy, enjoy, live among goods that extend to love. But what is love? Ibsen hints at the question elsewhere. Love is what gives a woman a more advantageous position. Poets, serenaders, lovers, fuck them. Love is not healed with beautiful words, even if they come from Camões, Vinícius or Carlos Pena Filho.

“Love is a fire that burns unseen,
it's a wound that hurts, and you don't feel it;
is a discontented contentment,
it is pain that goes unnoticed without hurting….

Of everything, to my love I will be attentive
Before, and with such zeal, and always, and so much
That even in the face of the greatest charm
My thought is more enchanted by him...

Gave you the cleanest morning
That time had dared to invent.
He even gave him the word wool,
And I couldn't give more”.

For her, a bourgeois woman, love is where there are more concrete goods. Solid, market value. For where are you going to love with hunger, poet? One cannot live according to poetic ingenuity. If it burns, it catches fire. Then Nora finds herself in another mistake. She sings, dances, spins, she's pretty, so she's loved. She is, she contains fairy springs in her being. In fact, the couple's relationship is a mirror of voids. In the climactic moment of the play, she discovers that she was pretending to be happy. But what is the happiness of a couple? Ball, costume, champagne? To be desired and desired on top of what?

So, if Nora only pretended to be happy before, if alienation brought the trap door of the lark to stop being happy in the cage, and since she didn't know how to be that way, then she lived groggy and slept, as if she were dead. And she rises from the tomb after her husband's outburst of rage:

Helmer – For eight years you were my joy and pride, and now I see that you are a hypocrite, an imposter. Worse yet, a criminal! What an abyss of turpitude. Oh, how awful! I should have known such a thing would happen. I should have known. With your father's frivolous principles... principles you inherited! Absence of religion, absence of morals, absolute absence of a sense of duty... You will remain in my house, but I will not allow you to educate the children. I do not venture to entrust them to you.”

Then Nora rises from the tomb. But she does not rise to the heavens from her glory. She goes for centuries outside of prison. She will not go blithely or contented in her next steps. Who knows, with the happiness of the bitter.

“Helmer – You are sick, Nora, you have a fever. I almost convince myself that he has lost his mind.

Nora – Tonight I feel more lucid and more sure of myself than ever.

Helmer – And is it with that firmness and in perfect lucidity that you leave your husband and your children?


Helmer: Nora, for you I would gladly work day and night. I would bear everything, worries and trials. But there is no one who sacrifices his honor for the person he loves.

Nora – Thousands and thousands of women have done this”.

Then Nora goes deeper into the vision of society and the future that awaits her: “When a woman leaves her husband's house, as I am doing now, the laws absolve her husband of any obligation towards her. Anyway, I leave you free from now on. Complete freedom from party to party”.

Norma is now a person.

The play ends, but not its major character. The stage lights go out, we close the book. We are alone in a corner reflecting on how much we would have liked to have seen such brave women in our childhood. But they lacked everything: bread, sugar, awareness of their own worth. Already today, for the Brazilians of the people in this 2023, bullets and death inflicted by “companions” come. We just have to move on to a new act.

*Urarian Mota is a writer and journalist. Author, among other books, of Soledad in Recife (boitempo).

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