The play A Doll’s House labeled Norwegian Henrik Ibsen as the perpetrator of scandal in 1879, when the play was staged. In the debate over women’s rights that was stirring worldwide, Ibsen confronted a storm of protests, especially from the patriarchal church, against a woman leaving her husband at the conclusion of the play. With no prior knowledge of Jung’s theories of the anima and animus, Ibsen created a protagonist who begins as an anima woman attempting to enact her husband Torvald’s ideal woman but who, in the end, rejects this persona and leaves him in search of self-realization.
In Act I, Nora Helmer surreptitiously eats macaroons and must lie about it for fear of her husband Torvald’s reprisal for eating sweets. Hearing her return from shopping, he calls out, “Is that my little lark twittering out there?… Is it my little squirrel bustling about?… Has my little spendthrift been wasting money again?” Three short pages into the script, the reader quickly deduces the nature of the relationship between Nora and Torvald. There is a sweet outer layer to the darker censure of Nora that lies only slightly under the surface of his words. It is a father-child arrangement based on Torvald’s need for control over his wife and his own image, both of which are illusory, creating the tension of uncertainty about Nora’s choices.
Nora as Loyal Ariadne
An old friend from school days, Mrs. Christine Linde, comes to visit Nora. Their conversation allows them to fill in the ten-year gap of news, including Nora’s need to take in needlework to make ends meet and Torvald’s exhaustion and illness that required a period of recuperation in Italy, a tremendous expense that Nora explains came from her papa. Torvald recovered and returned to Norway where he has just received a promotion in the bank and the promise of a secure future for his family. This situation, too, is an illusion, for although Torvald has recovered, his debt is not to her papa, who has since died, but to his wife who secretly borrowed the large sum from a moneylender of questionable repute to pay for the expenses of his recuperation.
The Tangled Web
By Act II the characters’ lives have intertwined. Nora offers to help the widowed Mrs. Linde by telling her husband of her friend’s accounting skills, which convinces Torvald to give her a bank position recently become available with the termination of Nils Krogstad, the secret moneylender of Nora Helmer. The deception indeed has led to a tangled web, but it will be the necessary test of the anima for Nora and Torvald. When Krogstad is fired, he will make public the news of the scandalous loan, an announcement that Torvald’s ego will not survive. Krogstad indeed sends Torvald the note calling in the balance of the loan and the letter sits untouched in the box. While Nora and Torvald are upstairs at a holiday celebration, Christine and Krogstad meet, revealing their former love affair. Christine’s good fortune leads her to offer Krogstad the security of marriage, and he accepts her offer, at the same time rescinding the loan to Nora.
In Act III Torvald and Nora are alone. He calls her his “fascinating, charming little darling… all the beauty that is mine, all my very own… more captivating than ever… I want to be with you, my darling wife. I have often wished that you might be threatened by some great danger, so that I might risk my life’s blood, and everything, for your sake.” Once he has read the letter revealing Nora’s loan dilemma, his words quickly change to “miserable creature, hypocrite, liar, criminal, the unutterable ugliness of it, no religion, no morality, no sense of duty… Now you have destroyed my happiness… ruined my future..I must sink to such miserable depths because of a thoughtless woman!” Torvald’s anima calls upon all the images he knows as woman: Aphrodite the beautiful, Ariadne the loyal, Persephone the obliging, Pygmalion’s Galatea, the woman he created. She is every woman in his unconscious that will allow him to mold and control her.
A Clear Anima Projection
After his tirade of accusation, he calmly says to Nora, “It must appear as if everything between us were as before… You will still remain in my house… but I shall not allow you to bring up the children; I dare not trust them to you… From this moment happiness is not the question; all that concerns us is to save the remains, the fragments, the appearance-” Suddenly the door bell rings; a letter for Nora has arrived, which Torvald insists on reading first. It is news from Krogstad who has returned her bond, saving Nora and Torvald from embarrassment. In no time Torvald forgives his wife for her inability to “understand how to act on your own responsibly” and insists that she lean on him who will advise and direct her in her womanly helplessness. He has broad wings to shelter his “frightened little singing-bird” and will protect her “like a hunted dove.” While Nora is getting dressed to leave him, although unknown to him, he tells her he has given her a new life-Galatea-and she has become both archetypal wife and child to him. “So you shall be for me after this, my little scared, helpless darling.”
Casting Off the Anima
Nora, in each moment that passes, quietly looks inward, examining the undiscovered new woman inside her and casting off the anima projection she had abided for eight years in her marriage. With her cold, set face, she makes Torvald sit down while she tells him for the first time that they have never had a serious conversation as husband and wife. She is weary of being her papa’s and now her husband’s doll-child who must have the same opinions as and perform tricks for the men in her life. Their marriage and home have been nothing but a doll’s house, and having been trained to be manipulated according to Torvald’s wishes, she is not fit to be a mother either. She must stand alone and try to educate herself, for the understanding of the self is as sacred a duty as wife and mother. Torvald challenges Nora’s expectation that he could possibly sacrifice his honor for her–even while he fantasizes the shedding of his lifeblood for her–by telling her no man would do that. Her insightful response is, “It is a thing hundreds of thousands of women have done.” The door closes behind her and she is gone. The play has ended with Torvald confused and befuddled. Nora has killed Torvald’s symbolic mistress, the anima projection that enslaved her, and now she is free to discover the person she is and can become.
The Cycle of the Anima
Perpetual in its motion, the projection of the anima, the images a man unconsciously collects of the ideal woman, is reinforced by the woman who agrees to mirror those behaviors and mold herself accordingly to fit the projection. In each story the female protagonist strives to conform to her husband’s ideal at the time, and she slowly begins to think the way he does. His way becomes her way; his preferences become hers. In two other works of anima women, Katherine Anne Porter’s short story “Maria Concepcion” and Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby, the marriages remain intact only because the wives assent to relinquishing themselves. In Ibsen’s play The Doll’s House, Nora must sacrifice her old life to be reborn as an authentic woman.
Please see the following works:
Jung, C.G. The Basic Writings of C.G. Jung. Trans. FR.F.C. Hull. Ed. Violet S. de Laszlo. Bollingen Series. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1990.
Ibsen, Henrik. A Doll’s House. Girard, Kansas: Haldeman-Julius Company,