How women drifted and emerged in the society are the most important consciousness created in the timeline of literature. Henrik Ibsen and Virginia Woolf focused on women and the manner of their social liberation as their main subjects in the selections A Doll’s House and A Room of One’s Own.
Issue on women’s rights, injustices, suppression of freedom, and the patriarchal society are timeless. It transcended from the period of Realism to the period of Modernism. Period of Realism is a literary movement focused on the social factors and the environmental agents that causes a socialization of the middle class and the lower class. On the other hand, period of Modernism concentrated on the surfacing of scientific discoveries and breakthroughs. At the same time when technological advancements sprung from the period of modernism, it brought a disruption to the conventional way of life as a result from the urbanization of territories and the uncertainty in the future.
Realist playwright Henrik Ibsen emphasized that women did not play any important role in the society. He pointed out that women ‘s personal development is dependent on husband or her father. Women are bound to their career stereotype as a house helper employed by the husband to cook meals, clean the house, take care of their children, and make the house a perfect place to live in.
Ibsen also pointed out how tyranny reigned and degraded women are during his time. The unpleasant treatment to woman is rooted in the history wherein men would do the hunting and the food gathering activities while the woman would stay at home and tend the backyard. The belief that women were inferior to men was deeply rooted in the Medieval Ages wherein women were pampered and treated like princesses and men were the providers. In effect, the tyrannical approach is part of the development of the conservative civilization.
Women are also considered as material possessions that can be manipulated by men whenever they wanted to, just like a doll. Nora Helmer, the protagonist, is compared to this nonliving material capable of making his husband happy. Ibsen used a doll as the imagery of a typical woman bounded by the standards in his time. The symbolism of a doll resembles that of a woman that is used to beautify the house, without any true identity besides what her husband wants her to be. A doll seeks approval to her master and does obey her master at all times. Men are in charge with providing the needs of his family. Since he is the provider, he is also entitled to decide in the household. The male supremacy, thus, emerges from his capacity to earn money.
Ibsen’s characterization of women is in conjunction with the views of modern essayist Virginia Woolf. She highlighted the beliefs, thoughts, and the problems faced by women in the essay A Room of One’s Own. Written in 1929, the essay became a rebirth of the women’s status in a patriarchal society. Her emphasis on the notion that rules can be broken in literature is parallel to the prevailing concept that men are far more superior than women in all aspects of life, particularly the personal and the career growth of women.
On the contrary to Ibsen’s woman (Nora) as someone who gained her education through life experiences, Woolf believed that in order to acquire education, a person must have money of her own. Men are privileged to enroll themselves in universities and other educational institutions since they were allowed to earn and save their own money without facing a series of interrogations. This opportunity limits women to gain knowledge and power. Education is the balancing force between the inequalities present in men and women.
Woolf’s liberal mind has attained the intellectual freedom it needed in order to be unbounded from the shackles of the conventional wisdom. Nora’s liberation focused more on a close relationship while Woolf’s intellectual freedom went beyond societal relationships of men and women.
Woolf focused on the career path of a woman writer who struggles to be recognized in the midst of a sexist society. She conceived the woman in her essay as someone who has no choice but to inherit and totally acquire the morality and the culture from her predecessors.
She used her writing as a sign of breaking the rules or the standards set by the culture. Though some may consider this liberation only in the field of literature, the freedom went beyond the common notion of men having a sole right to come up with a means of living.
Money as an important catalyst for change allowed Nora to see the real character of Torvald and Woolf to acquire her own privacy and time off to do what she wanted without any interrogation. Therefore, financial independence marred the superiority of men over women.
Ibsen developed his drama at a slow pace for the audiences to see how Nora responds to the situations happening in her life. The slow manner of unfolding of events let the character of Nora mature and act on her own will to liberate herself from the male-dominated household. The society in the Realism literary period will not accept her social liberation and marital break-up even if she made the right decision to leave her marriage with Torvald (Ibsen, 96). The society believed that opposing to the natural law of God (male-domination) is immoral. Therefore, in the period of Realism, society regarded it as misconduct and a sin.
Meanwhile, Woolf also adhered to a slow development of her essay in order to get the consciousness of the readers and explain to them the importance of having your own money. The symbolism of having a “room of one’s own” signifies that if you have money, you acquire the right for dominance, privacy, leisure, and power equal to men. Men are much aware that the sustenance of their egos is dependent on the belittlement of women. The purpose of a patriarchal society is to exclude women from any financial means and the physical and mental space (like a room of one’s own) they can obtain if they have money.
As the saying goes, history repeats itself. From Realism to Modernism, events that occurred in women are still linked together. It may happen in a different era, but the culture remained intact from one generation to the next. Though there may be some changes, literature proved that the distant events were happening again in the recent life experiences.