Throughout history, “the role of a woman has been that of a submissive and attentive wife, Her role mainly comprised of living for her husband and her children.” (Rasha.Adderpit 2002). Both Durrenmatt (The Visit) and Ibsen(A Doll’s House) reflect this issue in their writings: In Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, Ibsen examines “the consequences of stereotypical role of couples in marriage and presents how the woman regains her strength and self-respect.” (http://sunsite.berkeley.edu). While Friedrich Durrennmat’s The Visit, exhibits how a woman utilizes the power of marriage to seek revenge on her ex-lover and town people as a whole. I decided to investigate the different institutions of marriage as they are depicted in both plays, through the question: How do Durrenmatt (The Visit) and Ibsen(A Doll’s House)use the institution of marriage to comment on their respective societies.
It is vital for us to discuss the temporal settings. As we know, the two female characters live in two completely different times. Nora lives in Victorian times (19th century) where “nothing was considered more holy than the covenant of marriage” (Wikipedia A_Doll’s_House) while Clara lives in a modern age (1950-1960) , a time that contains much corruption of justice and everything is based on wealth and authority. Commonly, both of the characters live in male-dominant and money-oriented societies where a woman is relatively powerless and cannot ‘cannot make important decisions’ However, Clara and Nora have different values and attitudes concerning marriage.
Nora appears to be a weaker figure as she, to some extent, has lost her identity in her marriage. It is true to say that her purpose is to be a caring and traditional wife and she always displays kindness and concern for her husband and children. A good example can be the time when she forged her father’s name and borrowed 800 Cronen in order take her husband to Italy. She is eager to serve her family without any thought. “Last winter I was so lucky–I got a heap of copying to do. I shut myself up every evening and wrote far into the night. Oh, sometimes I was so tired, so tired. And yet it was splendid to work in that way and earn money. I almost felt as if I was a man.” (Ibsen, 2002, page 22).
Even through Nora is trying to do something society expects, we still can say that Nora plays a weak role in her relationship with Helmer and their marriage can be dramatically seen as a barrier imprisoning her life. The root cause of this problem is “her instinctive feeling on the one hand and her belief in authority on the other hand thus bringing her into complete confusion” (Ferguson ,1996). She feels that she lived with a ” stranger”, -( her husband Helmer,) “You don’t understand me, And I’ve never understood you-until just now” (Ibsen, 2002 page 80). “For eight years I’ve lived with a stranger. Born him three children, I can’t bear it. I’d like to tear myself to pieces.” (Ibsen, 2002 page 85). Moreover, In the end, we can also explore the fact that Nora is unable to deal with marriage as her purpose of marriage is alerted to real happiness that contradicts the expectations of women from 19th Century Europe.. ” but I am going find out, which of us is right, society or me.” (Ibsen, 2002 page 84).
Clara , however, is different from Nora. In the play “The Visit”, we can perceive her as an old, “unkillable” woman, eager to have money and authority. In the entire story, it is easy for us to find that unlike Nora in A Doll’s House, Clara has never been trapped into marriage. In contrast, there is evidence to the effect that Clara’s truthful relationship in marriages seems to be less important in comparison to Nora. She controls her marriages as a man and most of her husbands are treated as consumer goods. Furthermore, she does not have a stable marriage as Nora does. All her marriages and divorces are so sudden, “it’s my second shortest marriage. Only the one with Lord Ishmael was trifle quicker.” (Durrenmatt, 1973, page 64) This suggests that she does not really care about marriage itself but about the authority she can obtain. “My fourth, impoverished. His share belongs to me” (Durrenmatt, 1973, page 52)
In addition, reading through the play we can also explore that unlike Nora, there is no positive and clear purpose in Clara’s marriages. But she has stronger feeling to rebel against the societies’ view “The world made me a prostitute and I will turn the world into brothel.” (Friedrich, 1973, page 67) we also find that Clara has not lost her identity as Nora beacuse she never had one, and she can also be seen as vicitm of justice itself (Crokett ,1998,page 93). She was driven out of town with shame and she has been a prostitute, so she understands that her status is only higher than an animal and the only way to raise her status is to satisfy a wealthy man’s lust. She believes that there is no romantic love in this dehumanized world and her sexual relationship with men can raise her status in society and give her a better life. This is the reason why she gets married to Mr. Zachanassan, who dramatically changes her personal status and makes her become more powerful. As Clara describes “And millions more in cash. It was worth marriage. A greater teacher, and a dancer; a real evil. I’ve copied him completely.” (Friedrich, 1973 page 42) What’s more, we can see that the she does not care about a normal person’s life and feelings, as long as she can take revenge on the whole town people.
It is also important for us to observe other female characters such as Mrs. Linde in A Doll’s House and Mrs. Ill in The Visit. To start with, through these two character’s conversations and attitude toward life, we can find that they actually serve completely opposite roles in comparison with Nora and Clara. Mrs. Linde, for instance, is Nora’s friend who has working experience and takes responsibility for her family. “I had to turn my hand to anything I could find-first a small shop, then a small school, and so on. The last three years have seemed like one long working-day, with no rest.” (Ibsen 2002, page 20)
Meanwhile, even though, she has suffered poverty and was widowed when she was young, Mrs Linde can still manage to survive crises based on her truthful relationship with other people The ability for her to rebuild her relationship with Krogstad is a good case “I need someone to mother, your children need mother; you and I need each other. I trust you, Nils, the man you really are .” ( Ibsen ,2002 ,page 67) She wants Nora and Helmer to understand each other. “Helmer must know all about it. This unhappy secret must be disclosed; they must have a complete understanding between them, which is impossible with all this concealment and falsehood going on.” ( Ibsen ,2002 ,page 35)
In The Visit, through Mrs. Ill conversation with others, we understand that she is a person with a realistic personality. Unlike Clara, Mrs. Ill does not want to corrupt society; she loves her family ” there are no secrets in our family. What we always say is, anything God knows, our children ought to know”, (Durrenmatt, 1973 page 72). She is also aware of the fact that sometimes giving up somebody or something may lead to a later worthy life. “We would hang it in the bedroom. Over the bed. Alfred ‘ll be old one day. And you never know what might happen, it’s a comfort to have a souvenir.” (Durrenmatt, 1973 page 70) This might be the reason why she does not find a way to save her husband and buys things for other members of the family.
In conclusion, I think that both plays describe female attitudes to marriage consistent with the 19th and 20th century Europe. Despite some similarities, there are many differences as they illustrate the institution of marriage in their respective societies. By examing the marriges of Nora in A Doll’s House, I believe that the information Ibsen wants to convey is to critisise the institution of marriage in conventional societies. As we can see in the text, Nora can be a happy and cheerful woman who can greatly gain respect as she devotes herself to marriage. However, the “social conception of marriage insists that for the sake of conformity she needs be nothing else apart from plaything, a doll, a nonentity.” (http://sunsite.berkeley.edu). However, if we analyze the character of Clara In the Visit, we will see that Durrenmatt uses her to judge the utilization of the marriage institution. He wants to make Clara’s marriage an example to demonstrate how marriage can be abused by woman to gain social acceptance and power through wealth.