Two female characters Nora from A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen and Elisa from The Chrysanthemums by John Steinbeck have many similar characteristics. Both are women who live with husbands who do not understand them and do not feel the things as women do.
Both characters are intelligent women who need to change their life, but being brutalized by husbands, they do not know how to improve the life. However, there is also a number of differences in the characters’ behavior. One woman stays in the same place with the same conditions and another does away towards the new happy life.
The story of John Steinbeck describes only one day of life of the character, while Henrik Ibsen uses three acts in order to provide the whole picture and to describe the rise of the conflict in details and its future culmination. One can notice that these two stories and their major female characters are similar, as they both face the similar circumstances; however, on the other hand, Nora and Elisa demonstrate different reactions on the circumstances that married life provides.
The play A Doll’s House describes the nature of the relationship between husband and wife. Ibsen as the founder of realist drama uses the ideas, events and characters which are typical in the usual life. According to Goldman, the main ideas of this play are “the Social Lie and Duty” (1914).
Ibsen provides the description of the social duty of woman in a home as the sacred institution. In the world ruled by men the place of women is at home. Some of people willingly accept this way; however, for other people such way of life can be a complicated challenge.
The female character, Nora, seems deeper and more intelligent than her husband Torvald. The woman has many ideas, dreams and hopes; she wants to have better life and feels that all this routine of married life with Torvald kills her personality. She sees that her husband is not that person that she imagined. He is narcissistic and does not care about Nora, children or home. Nora’s enthusiasm does not allow her to be a simple house wife, a doll of her husband.
Obviously, there are many women who can accept such way of life; however, Nora is not one of them. She is not a doll and she cannot live with someone who considers her as a doll, as a toy. Nora’s life seems complicated and painful. However, she struggles for her happiness. On the other hand, many people can say that in this situation Torvald is the real victim.
It may be complicated to comprehend how woman could leave her children; however, for Nora, such method seems only one and right solution. She wants to survive in this world and to start the life from the new page. Ibsen does not provide the ideas about Nora’s future and what she is going to do, where to go and how to life. Nevertheless, the author emphasizes an importance of the personal choice in spite of life of a doll.
A short story The Chrysanthemums describes a life of a strong and proud Elisa Allen. Although this woman has the outstanding principles, intellect, she is kind and well-behavior, her life is full of frustration and even sorrow. She cannot have a child and her husband loses his interest toward Elisa as a woman. Only one good thing she has is her garden where the woman can cultivate the chrysanthemums.
In this context, the flower is a symbol of every woman who feels frustrated and lonely. Devoting all the energy to the house and garden, Elisa is unable to find more interesting business that could draw her attention, to bring more color to her life. Although the flowers are beautiful and make the life brighter, they are not humans; they cannot provide the same feeling, emotions or help to develop the life. Elisa is ignored and lost in her own home.
The evident mood of this story is the total melancholy. The first sentence is a bright demonstration of this statement: “The high gray-flannel fog of winter closed off the Salinas Valley from the sky and from all the rest of the world” (Steinbeck). The city of the heroes is closed from all the world as well as Elisa is closed in her house. It is the story of the desperate house wife where a happy-end seems like an incredible miracle.
One can see the similarities between the image of Elisa and Nora, because both women are intelligent, passionate and unsatisfied by the life that they have to maintain. Both of the characters care about their home. Thus, Elisa’s home is “hard-swept and hard-polished” (Steinbeck), while Nora’s “room furnished comfortably and tastefully, but not extravagantly” (Ibsen).
Both of the stories take place in winter. In this context, the season can be considered as a symbolical expression of mood o the characters. However, if Elisa’s winter may last for a long time, Nora tries to reach the spring of her existence. Perhaps, the life of Nora seems more interesting, because she has children, friends and one man is even in love with her.
At the same time, Elisa seems absolutely lonely and her only friends are flowers. She gets an opportunity express herself only in the conversation with the tinker. However, when this man disappears, Elisa feels even worse than before. Sweet indicates that after the meet with tinker, Elisa “becomes more and more feminine” (212). At the beginning, Nora and Torvald seem normal and happy family.
The author describes their every-days life in details. On the other hand, the beginning of The Chrysanthemums seems already melancholic and cold. It is possible to suppose that Elisa’s married life is full of problems. However, such fast way of determining the problem is caused by the characteristics of a genre of the short story, in spite of play, where the author has the space and time to describe the conflict slowly, preparing the readers for the culmination.
Nora and Elisa demonstrate different reaction on the crisis. While Elisa collapses and gives up, Nora leaves her family and believes in the better future and changes in her own life. Nora does not want to help her husband. She understands that if he did not want to change something in their life before, he will never do it. Therefore, being a clever and intelligent woman, she finds the solution and abandons her family before she will lose herself and lose her dreams. Such culmination seems unusual for 19th century.
Analysis of the cultural background demonstrates that women’s role in the West was simple and all house wives were mostly dependent on their family and especially on their husbands (Mayer 8). On the other hand, Elisa cannot find enough straights to make an important step. She loses her ability to reflect rationally. The ends of two stories are absolutely different. Elisa does not want to argue with her husband and turns up her collar, crying like an old woman.
One day of Elisa’s life can be compared with all her life. The reader can suppose that every day of Elisa is the same as the one described in the story. At the end of A Dolls’ House, Nora turns back on the family and goes away, choosing her own road in this world and making a step forward the new life.
Analyzing the stories A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen and Elisa from The Chrysanthemums by John Steinbeck, one can see the different reactions and responses to the problems and various challenges that married life provides.
Although the major characters of two stories have the similar circumstances, the culminations of their problems are different. One woman decides to leave her husband and children, while another continues suffering. It is obvious that both authors sympathize their female characters; however, they choose different solutions for them.
It is natural that people react in the different way as we all have different characteristics, emotional range, experience and communicational skills. Some people prefer to fight and to improve their life. They know when to stop and make a step. Nora is an example of such personality. Vice versa, Elisa shows an example of an opposite personality, a woman who cannot decide how to solve the problems and to develop her life.
Goldman, Emma. The Social Significance of the Modern Drama. Boston: Richard g. Barger, 1914. Web. 02 Apr. 2012
Ibsen, Henrik. A Doll’s House. Gutenberg.org. Web. 02 Apr. 2012
Mayer, Laura Reis. Henrik Ibsen: A Doll’s House: A Teacher’s Guide to the Signet Classics Edition. US: Penguin Books, 2008. Print.
Steinbeck, John. The Chrysanthemums. Web. 02 Apr. 2012.
Sweet, Charles A. Jr. “Mr. Elisa Allen and Steinbeck’s “The Chrysanthemums.” Modern Fiction Studies. Ed. William T. Stafford and Margaret Church. Vol. 20. West Lafayette: Purdue University, 1974. 210-214. Print.