I know the play caused drama over feminist ideas and all, but what about the social structure, such as in the end when Nora ignores Torvald's statement "You don’t understand the society you live in" and continues to leave him anyway?

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There is no evidence that A Doll's House dismisses social classes. The focus of the play is squarely on the middle class characters. The working class figures, such as the porter who brings in the Christmas tree, the Helmer's housemaid, and the nurse, are more or less window dressing. The play does not suggest that the differing social status of the servants and the bourgeoisie is anything but natural. So the question seems misplaced; what about the play suggests "a dismissal of social classes"?

Two points need to be noted here. First, social class does not equate to wealth. Nora and Kristine Linde both talk about times in their lives when they had little money. There is a chiasmic symmetry to their situations: Nora and Torvald were poor after their marriage, and both have had to work hard, but with Torvald's promotion imminent, they are no longer strapped financially. Mrs Linde, on the other hand, married for money, and was well-off during her marriage, but has fallen into poverty after becoming a widow. Despite their occasional hard times, there is no sense that Nora or Kristine have ever belonged to any social class other than the bourgeoisie. That is to say, they are both educated (they met at school); they have held, or hope to hold, jobs that require education (Nora has been a copyist, Mrs Linde asks for a job at Torvald's bank); and for all her talk of the times when she was in poverty, it is pretty clear that Nora has always had servants: the nurse has been part of her household since she was a little girl. Certainly the need for money and the lack of it is a major driver of the play's plot, but the play's theme is not that the unequal distribution of money within society is itself an evil that needs to be remedied. In fact, it takes financial circumstances as given and natural.

Second, when the question of class is raised at all, it is immediately assimilated into bourgeois ideology. The exchange between Nora and Anna, the nurse, is illuminating:

NORA: Nurse, I want you to tell me something I have often wondered about—how could you have the heart to put your own child out among strangers?

NURSE: I was obliged to, if I wanted to be little Nora’s nurse.

NORA: Yes, but how could you be willing to do it?

NURSE: What, when I was going to get such a good place by it? A poor girl who has got into trouble should be glad to. Besides, that wicked man didn’t do a single thing for me.

NORA: But I suppose your daughter has quite forgotten you.

NURSE: No, indeed she hasn’t. She wrote to me when she was confirmed, and when she was married.

NORA (putting her arms round her neck): Dear old Anne, you were a good mother to me when I was little.

NURSE: Little Nora, poor dear, had no other mother but me.

NORA: And if my little ones had no other mother, I am sure you would—What nonsense I am talking!

Ibsen, Henrik. A Doll's House. 1879. Act II. Accessed at Project Gutenberg 22 January 2024.

Anne, then, has given up her own daughter to become Nora's nurse. She is an unwed mother, and her daughter's father does not provide financial support either. Rather than being angry about her own situation compared to Nora's, Anne is in fact grateful for having gotten "such a good place." It is clear that Nora loves Anne and is grateful to her. But it is also clear that she knows Anne will look after her children. At this point in the play, Nora is considering suicide rather than leaving her husband; nevertheless, it is assumed that Nora's children will always already have Anne.

Neither to Nora nor even to Anne does it occur that this situation is immoral and unjust. For Anne, getting pregnant and having a child out of wedlock forecloses the possibility of ever becoming her own person. Unlike Nora, when Anne gives up her own daughter, it is not in order to find herself. Within the universe of the play, the possibility of such self-actualization is restricted to the bourgeoise Nora. The difference in class between Anne and Nora is brought to the surface, but only within the framework of Nora's aspirations and fears. The interrogation of class itself as a social category is not at issue.

A Doll's House accepts without question that the bourgeoisie and the proletariat are essentially different. What the play does question is bourgeois values. In this regard, the distinction OP makes between "feminist ideas" and "social structure" is problematic. Embedded within the social structure is a normative idea of womanliness and womanhood, one that Ibsen does criticize through the play. It becomes clear to Nora that to be a woman within accepted social structures is to be less than human—to be a doll. As a doll, her motivations or even her ideals are irrelevant. Torvald makes clear that the dishonor that will befall the family when Nora's forgery is brought to light is more important to him than the fact that she undertook the forgery to save his life. Her idealistic belief that Torvald will protect her and take the blame for the forgery on his own shoulders is shattered. Everything she has taken for granted about their relationship is called into question. Since she has defined herself entirely in terms of her relationship to Torvald and their children, her own identity too becomes unclear to her. In her insistence on finding out who she is, she sets herself against the world:

HELMER: You don't understand the conditions of the world in which you live.

NORA: No, I don't. But now I am going to try. I am going to see if I can make out who is right, the world or I.


This moment is of course what "caused drama over feminist ideas and all," as you note, so there is no need to rehash its impact. One point, however, does bear mention. It is certainly possible that Nora, in her repudiation of her hitherto unthinking self and her sense that the world could be wrong, might question not just the role of women within the middle class, but also class structures generally. However, Nora is not there yet. She explicitly says:

NORA: I won't see the little ones. I know they are in better hands than mine.


That is, she knows that Anne will look after them. Nora's quest for her own self is predicated on the uncomplaining labor of the working class.

So: of course A Doll's House did not at all spark the remotest controversy over its dismissal of social classes. What dismissal? Far from dismissing class, it takes class for granted, in the way that we take for granted the air that we breathe.

Class dismissed.

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