Deeper into Jeopardy! XXX: Henrik Ibsen – $2000

Jeopardy! category: HENRIK IBSEN (31-10-2014)

$2000 clue: The 1879 play “A Doll’s House” was a sensation as this female character challenged the traditional roles of wife & mother

Correct response

The gist: Ibsen didn’t consider himself to have written the play for women’s rights or to directly challenge the role of women in his society. Instead, he insisted that he wrote the character of Nora, a devoted wife and mother whose life and worldview gradually unravels, simply as a “description of humanity.” Nonetheless, the shocking (for the time) blossoming of Nora’s independent-mindedness brought Ibsen, already known as a freethinking artist and gadfly, increased attention from liberal-minded women’s groups, especially in Norway. The play opens on Nora being playfully chastised by her husband Torvald for spending more than usual on Christmas gifts. With Torvald due for a promotion, she feels they can afford it. She tries to help some friends in need of work, until an employee of her husband, Krogstad, threatens to blackmail her unless she convinces Torvald not to fire him – Krogstad has discovered that she forged a signature to get a loan that allowed the family to spend some time in Italy where the climate helped her husband’s ailing health. But Torvald refuses to listen to her wife on the issue, considering Krogstad unworthy of a second thought, and goes through with the firing.

Things escalate when Krogstad abandons his plan of blackmailing Nora and decides to frame Torvald for the crime himself unless Nora can get him rehired. Torvald, predictably, continues to refuse, and Nora falls into despair – she considers killing herself to prevent her husband from learning what she did, and to keep him from undertaking the gallant act of self-sacrifice to protect her that she assumes her husband, infinitely chivalrous in her eyes, would do, when he learns that she did it to save his life. Unfortunately, Krogstad goes through with his plan, and Torvald furiously tells Nora that their marriage from then on is only for appearances – not quite the reaction Nora expected. As this scene continues, Nora gradually sees her husband for what he really is, someone who has treated her like “a doll” their entire relationship, as her father had before him. The final straw is drawn when Torvald forgives her, and informs her – “mansplains” seems like it would fit very well here – that when a husband forgives his wife, the wife loves her only more because it reminds her that she is totally dependent on him. Nora responds that she can no longer live with him, and her primary duty is to herself, since she will never be able to be a good husband or mother without being able to stand up for herself. She gives her wedding ring and key to a completely baffled Torvald, who is unable to understand how any woman, let alone his wife, could say such things, and she closes the door to the house as her husband sobs inside. Whether they are ever reunited is, like so many of Ibsen’s works, left open to interpretation.

The play was torn apart by many of Ibsen’s contemporaries – in Germany, an acting company refused to perform it unless an alternate ending, in which Nora returns to give Torvald a second chance, was written in. Ibsen, predictably, sincerely regretted his decision to do so. But some writers took a liking to the frankness with which he displayed the human condition – George Bernard Shaw, for example, was reportedly a major fan.

The original manuscript’s cover page, 1879

The clue: A common strategy to make a literature clue tough enough for the $2000 slot is to ask for a specific character rather than the title of the play, as this clue does. You’d definitely need to have some familiarity with the play to know the name of its protagonist, and no other hints are given by the writers. Nonetheless, I’m impressed that contestant Ryan got this one, as well as the $1600 and $800 clues – despite incorrectly giving “Sweden” for the $400 clue as the playwright’s birthplace.

In Jeopardy!: “Nora,” as a character from the play, is mentioned in 11 regular clues and a bit obliquely in one FJ! clue in the J!Archive. The correct response to seven of the regular clues is “A Doll’s House,” Nora herself in three, and Ibsen in the remaining one. As for the FJ! clue, it asks what Nora says she’s been like to her husband and father – the correct response being “a doll.” Knowing Nora’s name should go along with knowing a bit about the play, so after reading this I think you’ll fine, especially since I couldn’t find any clues that mention any other of its characters without mentioning Nora as well.

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