The characters in all of the literary works discussed here experience the elation of rising above whatever ails them on earth, but then being forced to fall back down to the harsh reality that they can never seem to fully escape. Additionally, in each of the works discussed here, ignorant bliss is portrayed is preferable to stark clarity. The primary difference between the poems and Keyes' novel, however, is that for Charlie, both ignorance and acumen are mixed blessings. For the poets, ignorant bliss is the prize waiting at the peak of their ascendance. For Henrik Ibsen, an entirely different journey life's ups and downs prevails.
Since the beginning of time, we have lived in a society in which women have been judged through the eyes of men. Commonly referred to as "the weaker sex," women have been told that they are different from men yet have been held to the same standards as men in terms of the morality of their choices. Considering this, it is no wonder that the character of Nora in Henrik Ibsen's "A Doll House" is "altogether bewildered" regarding the difference between right and wrong by the time she finally ascends her low station in life, and slams the door on her sheltered existence.
Granted, Nora has gained the strength to venture out on her own and leave her controlling husband Torvald Helmar. However it seems as if she believes in her heart that the she is making the right decision for herself, but not the right decision from a moral standpoint. This is what Ibsen is referring to when he considers her moral dilemma to be ongoing even after she has made her decision to leave. If she were not confused, she would have reconciled her decision with her sense of morality and the two would be congruent in her heart and mind, rather than divergent.
Throughout the play, Ibsen delves into the middle class lack of morality that plagued his continent by essentially portraying people as manipulative and unscrupulous beings. Although the play's feminist qualities have been notated as the author's central message, Ibsen's a Doll House is laden with negative stereotypes that disparage not only the female position in society, but the male one as well. For example, when Nora confesses her fraudulent activities, Torvald Helmer's only concern seems be how the forgery will be perceived. This makes both characters appear '"morally challenged' yet the character of Nora, in accordance with most female literary roles, is designed to evoke pity rather than disdain. Torvald relentlessly demeans and belittles Nora, making her feel as fragile as a doll in a dollhouse. When she does manage to assert herself, she gets backhanded with comments from her husband such as "And you actually have the nerve to drag that up again? (Ibsen, p. 77)."
Ultimately, being treated as insignificant by the two most important men in her life; her father and her husband, drives Nora to view herself as inherently delicate and frail until she becomes determined to rise above her appointed status in life. It is clear...
While the final scene in which Nora closes the door (both literally and metaphorically) on her dollhouse existence is highly significant, there are implications that this decision has been made too late and that the damage to her psyche has already been done. This seems to indicate a lack of faith in the human spirit, implying that people who have been oppressed for long periods of time can never wholly experience a genuine fruition of their goals towards equality.
The manner in which women and men have historically battled each other for power, in both literature and life, provides a perfect impetus for Nora's ascent to self-worth and her descent from the pedestal upon which women of her time were placed. Ibsen portrayed Nora as someone destined to fall and break, which is a view often held towards women who try to ascend their lowly status.
The following heated exchange between Nora and her husbands demonstrates the core of each of their personalities. Helmer is quick to blame a man's influence on Nora's transgressions, implying that as a woman, she couldn't possibly be capable of thinking for herself and making her own decisions. Nora's calm and emotionless reply to her husband's heated outburst illustrates her strength, although it may come across as coldness:
Helmer: Oh, what an awful awakening! In all these eight years-she who was my pride and joy -- a hypocrite, a liar-worse, worse -- a criminal! How infinitely disgusting it all is! The shame! (NORA says nothing and goes on looking straight at him. He stops in front of her) I should have suspected something of the kind. I should have known. All your father's flimsy values - be still! All your father's flimsy values have come out in you. No religion, no morals, no sense of duty! Oh, how I have been punished for letting him off! I did it for your sake. And now you reward me like this.
Nora: Yes. Like this (Ibsen, p. 105).
Ibsen's use of the theme of ascent and descent differs somewhat from that of the other authors discussed here in that it rooted less in a desire for a fantasy-based existence, and more in the desire to make ascendance for women in the social and political realm, a reality. Nonetheless, all of the works discussed here -- the Keyes novel, the Thomas and Berryman poems and the Ibsen play -- evoke a common theme of rising above and crashing back down that forces the reader to ponder the capriciousness of gravity.
Berryman, John, "The Curse" http://www.eliteskills.com/c/11530
Berryman, John, "The Traveller" http://www.americanpoems.com/poets/john-berryman/4278
Ibsen, Henrik, Four Major Plays: A Doll House, the Wild Duck, Hedda Gabler, the Master Builder, Signet Book; Reissue edition, 1989
Keyes, Daniel, "Flowers for Algernon" Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1995
Thomas, Dylan, "I Fellowed Sleep" http://www.internal.org/view_poem.phtml?poemID=275
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