Did the Final Actions of the Female Protagonists in A Doll's House and Medea Demonstrate An Act of Self-Initiative or the Consequences of Domestic Discord
During the closing scenes of both Ibsen's A Doll's House and Euripides's Medea, the female protagonists, Nora and Medea respectively, take drastic courses of action. The question might be asked, do the final actions of these female protagonists display an act of self-initiative, or are their actions the consequences of domestic discord? To fully comprehend the obstacles faced by these women and the driving forces behind their decisions, the topic may be addressed in a Socratic dialogue. Two people participate: an Eleatic and an Athenian. The Eleatic, who asserts absolute being, argues that the final actions constituted self-initiative. The Athenian, on the other hand, a relativist, believes them to result from domestic discord.
: If you were to consider the perseverance
and determination exhibited by Medea
in pursuing her scheme to completion, you
would agree that it all was an act of self-initiative, not the pressures and
consequences of domestic discord.
: Simply the fact of her thoroughness
in realizing her plans does not stipulate self-initiative
It merely shows that she had the courage
to carry out her plans.
However, the factors that caused her to assume such a drastic
of action directly resulted from domestic discord
She would not have gone to such extremes if she had not felt jilted
Her anger at being betrayed
led to her actions.
: Is this anger, and the actions resulting
from it not self-determination, for she chose to pursue such a course at all
This can be clearly seen when she says: "...but my pain's a
fair price to take away your smile
." (p. 591).
She clearly professes her determination to pursue her revenge, no
matter what dark course
it may take, and regardless of the cost to her and
the consequences to others.
of leaving Jason
, or pleading for justice, she constructs a meticulous scheme
that only self-initiative could produce, and not the indirect, and thus weaker
results of a domestic dispute.
that she has been abandoned only makes her aware of her predicament; her subsequent
actions are all self-initiated
: We must not confuse perseverance
While she was mostly unwavering
in her actions, she was driven
by the rage
resulting from the discord
within the family.
She had no other course to take, considering
she was in a foreign land with foreign and even alien
The king was prejudiced against her, making
it impossible to pursue any sort of legal or logical action.
, another aspect of the family,
were also a hindrance in that she had to protect them, and whatever actions
she took would result in punishment for her offspring as well as for herself.
society she lived in, which was
run by men, did not allow her to obtain any measure of retaliation.
The only option available to her, due to the
fact that Jason
and the family had created these unique circumstances, was
direct and violent
captures this lack of choice when is says
is men's device now,
Men's oaths are god
Legend will now reverse our reputation,
A time comes when the female sex
To specify self-initiative
as the cause ignores the fact that the conflict within her family left her with
no other option, so any initiative was taken out of necessity, not by choice,
as implied by the phrase "self-initiative."
In other words, we say she took the initiative simply because she completed
her plans, but in fact, it was not self-induced, it was a reaction
: The factors of Medea
's, and also
's, family problems does cause some action on their part, as does every
environment on every organism.
To isolate this as the driving force
is completely absurd
If we were to
's case for a moment, the factor of self-determination would
again be presented.
was content in her existence as Torvald
quiet and happy wife.
She was a kind and smiling face for him to
come home to after a tiring day at work
Again, there is a stimulus presented by the environment: the blackmail
attempt by Krogstad
The family discord
resulting from this, as in Medea
's case, serves to awaken Nora
to the true
state of affairs
in the household.
she is aware of her position, she resolves, for the first time in their relationship,
to talk about a serious matter.
were no forces
pressuring her to bring these feelings up; she choose to do
She makes plain her self-initiative
when she says:
"No, that's just it. You don't understand me; and I have
understood you either -- until tonight.
No, don't in-
Just listen to what I have to say.
be a final settlement, Torvald." (p. 711)
She is unsatisfied with
her role in the family, and once it has been brought to her attention through
, she clearly takes matters into her own hands.
: You are missing the point, and you
must take that quote in context
When isolated, it may appear to justify and
support the self-determination point of view, but in truth it disproves it.
If we consider the whole sequence of events at
the conclusion of the play, when Nora
speaks with Torvald
and then leaves,
we will see that all directly results from discord
in the family.
She has spent more than eight years with Torvald
suppressing her feelings, desires, beliefs
and opinions to match his.
She unwittingly played along with his game
, assuming her role as a
, always smiling and always pretty, but with nothing of substance
Once she realizes that she has
had an empty and unrewarding existence she leaves the house.
However, this realization only occurred in the heat of family discord
When she says:
"It doesn't occur to you, does it, that though
for eight years, this is the first time that we
two -- man and wife -- have sat down for a serious
we realize that she has been affected by the lack of communication and shared
in her relationship.
, and its consequences, caused her to reevaluate her circumstances,
and decide to leave Torvald
not simply decide to get up and leave.
caused by Krogstad
's blackmail attempt jolted her out of her
, and caused her to take that course of action.
These circumstances, although unnoticed, accumulated over eight years.
Since she was unaware of them, they cannot possibly result from self-initiative,
and the actions resulting from them also have no connection to self-initiative.
However, even though her circumstances were unnoticed, they still
represented family discord
, and once they were realized, they led to her actions.
The connections and logic are obvious
, would you not agree?
: I must agree that, when considering
your points, the actions of both Nora
appear to be consequences
of family discord
However, it is hard to believe that, despite the validity
would choose to kill her offspring as a result of discord in
: Your point is well taken, however
we must consider that Euripides
intended to evoke pity and fear in the mind
of his audience. The enormity of her actions is indeed overwhelming,
especially when we have the time to sit back and contemplate their repercussions.
was acting under a considerable amount of pressure
in her family
left her with no other choice and if we emotionally separate ourselves from
the issue, and consider the whole situation logically
, we will understand
that, however heinous the act, it was her only choice.
Combined with the fact that the gods
, the final
in any dispute, supported her actions, proves that she was wrongly treated by
, and subject to the strain
of a dysfunctional family.
fueled her actions.
The parallel to Nora
's case is obvious as
She can no longer live
conditions that require her to subjugate her will
to her husband's, no matter
how much she loves him.
She must have
the chance to develop and nurture a personality of her own, and this desire
creates more discord
in the family, the consequences of which is her departure
: It is clear to me that, in conclusion
to this argument, the final actions of the female protagonists in "A Doll's
" and "Medea
" displayed the direct and definite consequences
of domestic discord
These pressures resulting in a mixture of circumstances
caused them to take the drastic course of action that they took in the end of
Both women were subjected
to trying circumstances and they made decisions with which we might not morally
agree, but we must respect and realize that they were not intentionally cruel
reactions, but a response to stimuli forced
upon them by others.
Translated by Moses
Hadas and John
York: Bantam Books, Inc., 1966.
by Eva Le Gallienne.
New York: The Modern Library, 1982.