Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House and Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary both portray significant female characters. Both of these works show women striving for happiness and freedom. These works reveal the problems some women have in trying to become equal with their male counterpart. Nora’s happiness is seen through her time with her children while Emma’s happiness is never seen as she experiences stressful relationships. The roles of the women include secrecy, money, children, friendships and love lives.Nora Helmer from A Doll’s House and Emma Bovary from Madame Bovary are very secretive with their lives.
Nora’s secrets range from the hiding of the macaroons (59) to the loan for the sake of Torvald’s health (54). This shows perhaps fear Nora may have with her husband. Nora best shows her secrecy with the clothes she wore for the masquerade party. Emma’s secretive ways stem from her marriage to Charles. Emma hides her affairs with Leon and Rodolphe from an unsuspecting Charles. The affairs show what Emma would do for appreciation.
Dramatic irony is expressed with the fact that Charles fails to realize of Emma’s affairs until after her death.Money is an important issue of both stories. In A Doll’s House, Torvald is seen giving Nora money from time to time. Nora uses this money for her children rather than herself showing that she doesn’t think just of herself. Nora also has the loan she received to take the trip with Torvald. These things show that Nora really cares for her family and that she wants to make them happy. Emma spends money for her own being in Madame Bovary. This shows that she only cares herself and no one else.
The holes in Berthe’s stockings (272) show that Emma doesn’t even care for her own child. Lhereux is also seen provoking Emma to purchase things she doesn’t really need.Children are another important issue in the women’s lives. Nora shows that she really cares for her children unlike Emma. Nora buys Christmas gifts for her children and plays hide-and-seek with them (61). Nora tells her children “the strange man [Krogstad] won’t hurt Mama” (62).
Emma is seen as a character foil of Nora with the fact that she does not care for her child. Her hatred for her daughter first emerges when she hoped to have son. Having a son would anticipate “revenge for all her earlier helplessness” (101). Emma felt that a woman is held back and helpless.
At the sight of her newborn, Emma faints as wish for a son doesn’t come true (101). Emma doesn’t really care when she shoves Berthe into a chest of drawers and causes her to cry (124). Berthe Bovary is even thought of as “ugly” by her mother (124).
The love Emma shows for her daughter reveals her mendacity, not real affection.Friendship is a theme expressed in both works as well. Nora has a few friends while Emma’s actions is a rationale for her not having friends.
Nora’s friends include Dr. Rank and Mrs. Linde. Nora, who contrasts from the two for not having an occupation, is able to sustain a friendship. Emma has her dismissal of women with the reasons coming from the differences she sees.
Emma also doesn’t have male friends with the fact that neither Leon nor Rodolphe really care about her while she believes they do. Women such as Madame Tuvache dislike women like Emma after witnessing her not being faithful to her husband. Tuvache even once claimed that Emma is “compromising herself” (104).The relationships with fathers had an impact on Nora and Emma’s lives.
Both women were unhappy in their relationships with their fathers. Nora’s relationship with her father was best portrayed with her being a “doll” in his “doll house” (109). Emma’s relationship with her father was not a good relationship either. Being able to leave her father was at some sense, happy for Emma until her marriage.Work is seen as an issue with the women as well. Both women’s “work” came in the form of being a housewife. Nora’s role as a housewife seemed at times more satisfying than a role in manual labor. Emma’s role of a housewife was different as she paid more attention to only herself than her own family.
Both women also had maids in helping to keep the household running.The love lives of Nora and Emma determine the motives each character possessed. Nora seems truly happy with her marriage at first but it soon changes. At first Nora refers to herself as Torvald’s “little squirrel” (77) and shows no frustration with the marriage. Nora also realizes that her and Torvald have been having an unsuccessful marriage by not having serious talks (108-9).
The feelings of remaining a “doll-child” played an important role in Nora’s decision (109-10). Nora hopes of the “miracle” (89-90, 93) never come and it results in her leaving her family. After Emma’s marriage with Charles, Emma realized that she did not really love Charles to begin with. The wedding bouquet (53, 83-4) that Emma later destroys shows the disappointment in her marriage.
To satisfy her needs, Emma engages in affairs with Leon. After Leon’s departure, sorrow turns to happiness with a new affair with Rodolphe. Emma, who couldn’t accept Charles and his personality, failed to realize how he really felt about her. Emma’s death was an impact on Charles’ later demise.Happiness and freedom are the most important themes in both women’s lives.
Nora’s happiness lies within her “miracle” of a better marriage. Nora always seems to be happy when she really is frustrated and unhappy. Emma never experiences happiness as her attempts fail and result in her death.Nora from A Doll’s House and Emma from Madame Bovary are very strong female characters portrayed in literature. Striving for happiness and freedom came at a costly price, with death as Emma’s fate.
The feminine struggle continues with the failed marriages and shows a strong message. The struggle reveals that not being equal can cause damage to the lives of people and their surroundings.Works CitedFlaubert, Gustave. Madame Bovary. Trans. Mildred Marmur. New York: PenguinGroup, 1979.Ibsen, Henrik.
A Doll’s House. Four Major Plays. Trans.
Rolf Fjelde. New York: