Self-Deception of Nora in "A Doll’s House" by Henrik Ibsen and Oedipus in "Oedipus Rex" by Sophocles. A Comparison

Essay, 2009

6 Pages, Grade: 2,0



The self-deception of Nora in A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen and Oedipus in Oedipus Rex by Sophocles.

A Doll’s House is a play written by Norwegian author Henrik Ibsen and published in 1879. Ibsen was considered a pioneer as he was the first one at that time to criticize how society oppressed women and how they were controlled by their husbands, using this play. The play presents a struggle of Nora the protagonist with herself, her marriage and family. Nora is married to Torvald Helmer, a bank officer who is promoted to a higher position in the beginning of the play. The tragedy Oedipus Rex, written by Sophocles is part of a collection of Oedipus plays, the Oedipus cycle. In this play, Oedipus is confronted with many issues that he himself created. Oedipus killed his father, becomes king of Thebes and without knowing marries his mother. The way the protagonists Nora and Oedipus are presented shows many similarities, such as their characterization. In the plays A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen and Oedipus Rex by Sophocles, both protagonists deceive themselves and others. In both cases the deception plays significant roles in the characterization of both figures. The self-deception and deception of others utilizes the theme of the willingness to ignore the truth in Oedipus Rex. The use of self-deception in A Doll’s House is used to convey the theme of secrecy. Through looking at the theme of self-deception, one sees how similar and different these texts are; however, overall, self-deception is what leads to both Oedipus and Nora leaving their families behind. In A Doll’s House, Nora’s deception and self-deception leads to leaving her family behind in order to finally gain freedom. In Oedipus Rex the self-deception leads to the downfall and sacrifice of Oedipus. Many differences between the uses of self-deception in both plays exist, as well.

In A Doll’s House the protagonist Nora Helmer deceives herself and others leading to significant traits that characterize her. She does everything to please her husband, which leads her to deception, as she does not want to please him all the time. In a conversation between Nora and her husband, she states, “Whatever you say, Torvald” (Ibsen 13). Nora does not want to argue with Torvald, and rather please him by not upsetting him. This characterizes her as cautious. She does this not because she wants to, but rather because it was the women’s role at that time. This shows that she is not a free character. After Torvald asks Nora if she bought and ate any macaroons, she denies and says, “I could never deceive you” (17). This ironic statement shows Nora’s dishonest and deceptive character, as she deceives Torvald. This is an example of dramatic irony, because the reader knows that Nora just ate macaroons, however she lies to Torvald. Nora hiding her actions, for example the eating of macaroons, is one example that Ibsen uses to convey the theme of secrecy. Her self-deception leads to secrecy. The fact that Nora hides macaroons can act as foreshadowing a greater secret that the reader would find out later in the play, such as the forged signature. As macaroons are not a significant thing to hide, there might be something bigger and worse that Nora has been hiding from Torvald.

In Oedipus Rex, Oedipus comes to Thebes, which is suffering a plague, which will be freed if the murderers of Laios, the king will be found. Ironically, Oedipus is the one killing his father. However, Oedipus tries to keep these things secret and deceives him and others to do so. As Iocaste reports to Oedipus that an oracle had foreseen that the son of Laios, Oedipus will kill his father, Oedipus is shocked, saying, “How strange a shadowy memory crossed my mind, Just now while you were speaking; it chilled my heart” (Sophocles 39). This personification foreshadows that Oedipus will turn out to be the murderer of Laios. After Teiresias tells Oedipus that he is the murderer, Oedipus blames it on Teirisias saying, “You planned it, you had it done, you all but killed him with your own hands: if you had eyes, I’d say the crime was yours, and yours alone” (19). Showing Oedipus’s ignorant character, he blames the murder on someone else; because he fears that it is him. Oedipus deceives himself by not listening to Teirisias and denying what he has tried to warn Oedipus of. After hearing all prophecies, Oedipus admits that he is the one killing his father:”It was true! All the prophecies” (64)! Since this is towards the end of the play, it shows that Oedipus deceived himself throughout the play to ignore the truth. This leads to the theme of the willingness to ignore the truth. This results in Oedipus leading his family behind. Unlike Nora, Oedipus leaves by force, showing that neither one of them want to leave, but in a way have to.

Nora, other than Oedipus has done things she is completely aware of. Henrik Ibsen’s use of Nora deceiving others characterizes her as unreasonable. Nora forges her father’s signature to help her husband. Forging a signature is something considered to be morally wrong. Nora however does not want to admit that she has done something morally wrong. After Krogstadt says, “The law doesn’t care about motives”, Nora states, ”Then the law is stupid” (46)! Keeping it secret that Nora forged her father’s signature to get money to save her husband’s life is an example of deceiving Torvald, which utilizes the theme of secrecy. She believes it is alright to keep these things secret from her husband. Nora believes that what she did was right, and ignores the law. The quotation, ”And you—you’ve never told your husband? Good heavens, no! How could I? He has such strict rules about these sorts of things” (28) shows that Nora is dishonest to her husband, which limits her freedom. Again she deceives herself by believing that there is nothing wrong with keeping such secrets to her husband. In that way, Nora will never be free. Another example of Nora deceiving herself is, ”Oh Kristine, just think…nothing to worry about anymore, no more! I can laugh and play with the children. I can buy all the new modern things for the house—which Torvald loves” (30). Nora deceives herself to believe that she will be free after paying the debts to Krogstadt; however there is still the forged signature. Also, she is not free because of her husband, who treats her like a doll. These examples show that Nora can only gain freedom by running away from her problems that were caused due to her deceiving character.

In Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex dramatic irony is created through the self-deception, as well. Oedipus initially believes that the prophecies are wrong, while the reader knows that he did kill his father. In this case, Oedipus ignores the truth by deceiving himself, again leading to the theme of the willingness to ignore the truth.

The similarity of the use of self-deception in both plays is the ending it causes. In Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, it leads Nora to leave her husband and children behind to look for a better life in freedom. Nora is not herself in the play; she plays a different character that tries to please her husband as much as possible, but in fact does not want to. This is shown by her saying, ”I have been your doll-wife, just as at home I was Papa’s doll-child (111). She has been treated wrongly and finds no other way to gain freedom but leave. Even though Torvald forgives Nora because of what she has done, she cannot take it anymore and has to leave. She realizes it was wrong to deceive her and others and to lie. She regrets not being honest to Torvald. Another example showing that she needs freedom is, ”I must be myself if I’m going to understand myself and the world around me. That is why I can’t stay with you any longer” (112). In Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, the self-deception of Oedipus leads him to exile; he wants Creon to send him away from Thebes. Realizing what Oedipus has done leaves him no other choice but leave. It is his own fault, like Creon says, ”You served your own destruction” (80). In both plays, the person leaves their children behind, showing how desperate they are to leave. They do not want to leave their families behind but find no other choice.

The authors Henrik Ibsen of A Doll’s House and Sophocles of Oedipus Rex both use self-deception in their protagonists in order to convey its theme and others and to communicate a message. What they are trying to convey throughout their plays is what deception can lead oneself to doing. Oedipus sacrifices himself to get rid of his problems. Nora leaves her family with two children behind to find herself in freedom. This leads to themes and universality as people in similar situations can put themselves in the position of these characters. It can however be argued that people are in similar situations like Oedipus. In both plays, the protagonists desert their families showing what deception can lead oneself to doing.


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Self-Deception of Nora in "A Doll’s House" by Henrik Ibsen and Oedipus in "Oedipus Rex" by Sophocles. A Comparison
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self-deception, nora, doll’s, house, henrik, ibsen, oedipus, sophocles, comparison
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Anonymous, 2009, Self-Deception of Nora in "A Doll’s House" by Henrik Ibsen and Oedipus in "Oedipus Rex" by Sophocles. A Comparison, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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Title: Self-Deception of Nora in "A Doll’s House" by Henrik Ibsen and Oedipus in "Oedipus Rex" by Sophocles. A Comparison

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