A similarity exists in both the author’s writing which is in disagreement to the dominant culture and the ‘standard’ societal ideas of their time. This is shown by the two modern works which I will be analyzing; Isabel Allende’s The House of Spirits and A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen which develop the conflict of gender roles in their works. Both authors use in my opinion an authentic female character(s) and that by the end despite the male domination are able to rebel against societal ‘norm’ only to be viewed as the protagonist of the play or novel.
Allende’s novel recounts the story of Estaban Trueba, his wife and children. With the story spanning three generations is off of political corruption, feminine oppression and the movement from old to new. Allende examines and reveals the internal conflict of turmoil, oppression and torture of the female characters in particular.
Women have generally been considered silent figures, submissive to the patriarchal powers that govern their society. Neither Allende nor Ibsen attempt to reproduce the culturally ordained silence; instead, both re inscribe female ‘silence’ as a means for female empowerment which leads to their eventual freedom. The period, in which the novel was written, women were confined by traditional gender roles, with most women performing the work traditionally designated for women: marriage and family, or, if employed outside the home, teaching. Isabel Allende strongly believes that empowerment leads to the strength and freedom of a woman; and these views were shared by Henrik Ibsen as this concept echoes throughout their works.
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From the early sections of the novel, both Nivea and Clara are involved in the suffragette movement and this was not granted to women until 1949. Their participation in the Suffragette group would have been considered socially unacceptable as the right of voting would only be given to the male members, establishing from the very start that Chile is a patriarchal society. Allende tries to establish that empowerment comes through force of conviction, and uses Nivea as an example to show this. We see that women such as Nivea who have acted against society’s norm by fighting for political rights go further than those women who accept their traditional role of subservience and remain staunch in their conservatism. They are shown to finish their days alone and mostly forgotten as is seen with Ferula and Nana.
The portrayal of Nivea and her funeral which was attended by many is in direct contrast with that of Nana and Ferula. It is quoted that with Nana “None of the many children she had raised with so much love attended her funeral.”(P 17). Nana is said to have: “…been born to cradle other people’s children, wear their hand-me-down clothing, eat their left over’s, live on borrowed happiness and grief, grow old beneath other people’s roofs die one day in her miserable little room in the far courtyard in a bed that did not belong to her, and be buried in a common grave in a public cemetery.”(P 57) Allende uses Nana to sadly reflect on the women who meekly accept their defined role in society of the time.
Allende does not only express empowerment through conviction but also through commercial enterprise as seen with Transito Soto. At the start of the novel Esteban lends her 50 pesos allowing her to seek out a career, but by the end of the novel the tide turns and the arrogant sexist Esteban comes to her to beg a favor. Again, by women taking chances and setting goals and dreams which society restricts them from having end up being successful. Allende shoots her views to the reader through her writing by using these female characters to represent Allende’s own brand of feminism.
Allende establishes early in her novel that when the family was warned of Clara’s nine-year silence and ‘psychokinetic’ skills, Trueba considers the “prolonged silence…a virtue” (88). Such a reading of muted female voice is constant in Latin American culture. However we see that the protagonists of the novel are all women who work in different and subtle ways to assert their rights breaking this silence in an assertive manner to get what they want and need in life. Still, . Clara, Blanca, and Alba remain the focus of the story, while Esteban, Pedro Tercero, and Miguel though the males and automatically assumed ‘superiors’ of society enter the story only because they are the men those women love or marry.
Though they are women and regarded as inferiors to society The House of the Spirits shows that this does not mean that men accomplish things and change things while women do not. On the contrary, the women in The House of the Spirits have a more long-lasting effect and create more drastic changes than any of the men do. This has been done by disapproved behavior such as Nivea and her movement or Transito and the prostitute business while the men lead revolutions that topple governments, those revolutions are themselves quickly toppled.
Henrik Ibsen’s play A Doll’s House chronicles the attempts of one woman to find freedom in a patriarchal society. The feminist issues in A Doll’s House seem almost contemporary, although it was written more than a century ago. Like Allende Doll’s House challenges these patriarchal views and shows the audience a fresh perspective on a woman’s life. Many women could relate to Nora’s situation and like Nora, they felt trapped in a doll’s house by their husbands and their fathers; however, they believed that the rules of society prevented them from stepping out of the shadows of men. Through this play, Ibsen stresses the importance of women’s individuality and like Allende Ibsen uses his characters of the play help to support his strong opinions.
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Nora’s initial characteristics are that of a bubbly, child-like wife who is strictly dependent on her husband. This subordinate role from which Nora progresses emphasizes the need for change in society’s view of women. For Nora, her inferior, doll-like nature is a facade for a deeper passion for individuality that begins to surface during the play and eventually fully emerges in the ending. An example of this deep yearning for independence is shown when Nora tells her friend, Kristina Linde about earning her own money by doing copying. Nora explains, “It was tremendous fun sitting [in her room] working and earning money she says; “It was almost like being a man” (162) Such comments reveal Ibsen’s presentation of women to be positive; Nora enjoyed working because it empowered her, and whilst accepting the situations of the time, Ibsen portrays women as active, and struggling in an unequal system. The “sheltered, feeble wife proves to be a resourceful ‘masculine’ life-provider”, in literally saving Torvald’s life.
In many instances Nora deceives her husband, even though Nora seeks to be independent, she uses her role of obedience to her advantage and does this by deceiving Torvald into thinking that she can do little on her own, she ensures that he never suspects her of forging her father’s name to borrow 800 cronen from Krogstad in order to save Torvald’s life. When Krogstad threatens to expose the truth, Nora must use her craftiness to distract Torvald and sway him into letting Krogstad keep his job.
She soon comes to realize the she must take the path that is right for her and no one else. She discovers that Torvald is not the man she thought him to be and that he knows nothing of who she really is. In her sudden awareness, she says to Torvald, “you don’t understand me. And I’ve never understood you – until tonight”. They have lived as strangers to each other. Nora’s progression from a submissive housewife to an opinionated, independent woman represents the future progression of women in society.
Torvald’s role illustrates society’s inaccurate perception of women. He sees her only as a one-sided character with little or no opinions of her own. As Nora comments, “I came to have tastes as yours…or I pretended to”. Nora’s father also contributes to her oppression. “He used to tell [Nora] his opinion about everything, and so [she] had the same opinion”. Torvald only continues the behavior that she had come to expect from her father. These male figures in Nora’s life not only limit her beliefs and actions, but also limit her happiness. Like Allende Ibsen uses Torvald’s character, and discards the public view of man to expose a more realistic depiction of male superiority. Ibsen attempts in criminalizing the male protagonist; Torvald, his behavior becomes increasingly more erratic near the play’s end, affirming an idealistic self-importance, believing that she has become “wife and child to him”. Moreover, Torvald exhibits considerable emotional disparity which one may stereotypically associate with women; he becomes angry at Nora for her deceptive act, yet once he appears to be in the clear, he deems his outburst to be a “moment of anger”. Just as Torvald undergoes an apparent transformation, so does Nora; she proclaims that her leaving Torvald and the children is “necessary” for her, a notion that is typically assumed by males (to consider one’s interests first). To portray Nora as such may not be entirely positive, but it is certainly a contemporary, liberal representation.
Overall, we see that Nora is now free from her obligations, and rejects Torvald’s further assistance. Moreover, Nora the “doll” (one whose disposition never changes) now leaves her house, and is free to “seek a fuller life as a human being”, no longer a malleable doll under the control of her “master”. No women at the time would have dared to do what Nora has, and just like the characters in Allende’s novel it is only by ‘daring’ or committing actions socially unacceptable like Nora did or even as Nivea displayed that these women can truly feel empowered which leads to their freedom or gain of what they needed. Again Allende and Ibsen reverberates their thoughts through the characters and portray the males as the antagonists of the play which leads to the audience or readers to understand and sympathize with their views that their needs to be a change in the way society views women.
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