Frank Kafka’s novel The Metamorphosis and Henrik Ibsen’s play A Doll’s House both explore the theme of women’s independence, which is highlighted through the contrast of female and male power. Grete, the sister of Gregor, who turns into an insect, and Nora, spouse of the ‘machista’ Torvald Helmer, are primarily dependent on their male providers for the family. From initial weakness to facing challenges to experiencing a breakthrough of independence, Grete and Nora embody female growth.
In the beginning of both works, the two women are fully dependent on the financial supporter of the household, given that neither has jobs. Nor Grete nor Nora contributes to the financial status of their abodes. The day that Gregor’s ability to work is impeded by his metamorphosis, Grete stays in her room crying, “because he was in danger of losing his job…” (Kafka 76). The narrator’s simple suggestion show’s that Grete’s interest in Gregor is financial, now that he might not be able to support the family. Her dependence is unveiled in her unconscious thought of losing her older brother, the leader of the house, and the possibility of taking that role.
Her cry is a combination of frustration and confusion. In a similar manner, Nora is very dependent on her husband, Torvald. “You might five me money, Torvald. Only just as much as you can afford…” (Ibsen 14). Nora, on the other hand, is different from Grete because she is a grown woman, and could plausibly have a job, yet she takes advantage of her femininity to manipulate Torvald. She is conscious of her beauty and the fact that Torvald will do anything for his “little squirrel,” she talks sweetly to him to convince him.
Nora is purely dependent at this point, and takes advantage of her situation to receive even more from Torvald. Grete and Nora have not developed into independent women in any way at this point in the works, though both women are at different stages of consciousness with regard to their dependency on the “man of the house,” as Grete’s dependency is innocent, while Nora’s is manipulative. Either way, they both are fully supported by Gregor and Torvald.
As the two works progress, Grete and Nora’s personalities start developing and show rays of growth, as they are faced with new challenges. Through simple dialogue and the actions of the two women, their psychological traits are revealed little by little and independence becomes a clear goal for both. Grete, not still the young sibling that relied on her older brother anymore, tak3es charge and care of her surrounding, as the narrator describes, “Gregor’s sister, of course, went in first to see that everything was in order” (Kafka 101). The matter of fact tone of the words “of course,” reveal Grete’s journey to independence.
With this declaration, the author is creating a new situation, which is where Grete has taken over Gregor’s job in the house. In A Doll’s House, Nora has started to show signs of independence through her manipulation of Torvald. “You must let Hrogstad keep his post in the Bank” (Ibsen 40). On the surface, Nora’s request seems simple and bland, yet her manipulation lies in her urge to keep her forgery of her father’s signature a secret, which would not be possible had Krogstad left the Bank. Nora’s rays of independence are visible through the manipulation of her husband for her own personal reasons. On a superficial level, the women in both works seem just as dependent as before, yet their actions and thoughts insinuate a still-invisible independent future.
By the end of both works, a breakthrough as independent women has become recognizable in Grete and Nora. At this point, there are more than just rays of growth and hints f independence; Grete and Nora break their barriers of repression and set themselves free. Grete is able to use her talent as a violin player to portray her absolute independence. “Gregor’s sister began to play; the father and mother, from either side, intently watched the movements of her hands” (Kafka 120). Grete, at this point, has managed to attract her parents and the three men living in the house. As she plays her music, she maintains an audience that watches “intently,” as the author describes it. For the first now, Grete is the center of the household, with all eyes focused on her. This occurrence marks Grete’s metamorphosis, as she evolves into the family leader.
Nora’s independence, unlike Grete’s, is presented in a negative context, which is through her selfish personality. Her selfishness is present while she manipulates Torvald again and again. “Torvald, you will repent not having let me stay,” (Ibsen 58). Since the reader knows that Nora is only interested in saving herself from Torvald finding the forged letter, the author has made the lector aware of Nora’s independent thinking. Nora has also reduced her level of interest to just herself, as she states that she is “Never to see him again. Never! Never! Never to see my children again either-” (Ibsen 63). The repetition of “never” emphasizes desire to be absent, and distances Nora from her previous life. Nora wants to escape her plastic bubble; she wants to be more than just a trophy. Although both women are not physically distanced from their respective families, both have set their independent grounds, and have been recognized publicly.
After both women have established their mental independence, they are situated to be alone, which consequently occurs. At the end of the novel, after Grete is already conscious of her state of independence, Kafka ensures her parent’s awareness, as “They became aware of their daughter’s increasing vivacity…” (Kafka 132). While this directly recognizes Grete’s independence, the use of “increasing vivacity” suggests future growth.
Although Nora is older than Grete, she is in the same initial state, as she is also new to independence. Nora decides to leave her husband, Torvald, as well as her children. Nora’s concentration at this point is on her independence, as she has planned nothing. When asked about the future, she responds, “How can I tell? I have no idea what is going to become of me” (Ibsen 71). This sarcastic rebuttal only emphasizes her desire to be an individual.
The use of the exclamation mark leaves all issues in the open, as she will live day by day. When issues are publicly recognized, they become official, which is the case for Grete and Nora’s independence. In Metamorphosis and A Doll’s House, two women experience social breakthroughs and succeed in becoming independent in societies with many impeding obstacles. Grete and Nora could be thought of as emerging butterflies that were still in their cocoons. At the end of both works, evolution has reached a point where both women flourished, and became individuals.