Tuesday, October 18, 2016

"A Doll House" Mentality in Presidential Politics #SOL16

During my AP Literature and Composition class's study of Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House, Donald Trump's now infamous journey on Billy Bush's "Access Hollywood" bus has defined the news cycle. 

I could not pry my eyes and ears from the onslaught of talking heads and cable news programs loops replaying that conversation between Trump and B. Bush from 2005. It literally became my personal Groundhog Day repeated every evening when I returned home from work. 

Reading A Doll's House in the context of Trump's sexual abuse of women illuminates for me how far we have come as well as how far we have to go in our treatment of women. Ibsen's play resonates as remarkably relevant these days. 

For example, throughout Ibsen's drama, Torvald Helmer objectifies his wife Nora by referring to her with animal imagery: 

"Is that my little lark twittering out there?"
"Is it my little squirrel bustling about?"
"The same little featherhead..."
"my little skylark"
"My little songbird must never do that again."
"little singing bird"

Images of Nora as a child, a girl, an animal permeate the play to frame her as subordinate to her husband. 

Helmer lives the life of a man incapable of self-reflection. At one point he refers to the hypocrisy of Krogstad, one of his employees. Similarly, Trump has characterized his accusers as "liars" and pawns set to destroy him and deflect attention from the foibles of his opponent. Speaking to Nora, Helmer says,

Just think how a guilty man like that has to lie and play the hypocrite with everyone, how he has to wear a mask in the presence of those near and dear to him, even before his own wife and children. . . I assure you it would be quite impossible for me to work with him; I literally feel physically ill when I am in the company of such people.

Ironically, Hlemer doesn't know his own wife has a secret, one for which Helmer owes his life. It's this hypocrisy and this refusal to reflect on his own choices that speaks to me as a woman in the 21st Century. Once he realizes Nora has borrowed money from Krogstad, rather than thank his wife for her efforts to save his life, he unleashes a torrent of insults:

"Miserable creature--what have you done?. . . ."

"What a horrible awakening! All these eight years--she who was my joy and pride--a hypocrite, a liar--worse, worse--a criminal! The unutterable ugliness of it all! For shame! For shame! I ought to have suspected that something of the sort would happen. I ought to have foreseen it. . . No religion, no morality, no sense of duty------ How I am punished for having winked at what [your father] did! I did it for your sake, and this is how you repay me. . . ."

"Now you have destroyed all my happiness. You have ruined all my future...And I must sink to such miserable depths because of a thoughtless woman!"

Rather than owning his remarks and behavior, Donald Trump has insulted the women he sexually assaulted as too unattractive. His surrogates have added additional abuse by rationalizing his behavior. 

Make no mistake, Donald Trump described sexually assaulting women. He has recounted to Howard Stern walking in on young girls half naked as they prepared for the Miss Universe competition. 

For Donald Trump, women are his "joy" and his "pride." He blames women when his happiness is challenged by his own ingratitude and by his own actions. He blames women for having ruined his future. One need only listen to his conspiracy theories about the media being out to get him, about the election being rigged to know this. 

And all this misery coming Trump's way is "because of a thoughtless woman." 

Come November 8, my hope is that Donald Trump will have one more Torvald Helmer moment. That moment at the end of A Doll's House has reverberated throughout literature for more than a hundred years. It's the moment Nora leaves her husband and the audience hears the slamming of the door as she exits. 

May Donald Trump hear the slamming of the electoral door as women respond: "I believe that before all else I am a reasonable human being..." And as reasonable human beings, we will no longer sacrifice our honor for men like Donald Trump and Torvald Helmer, men who sacrifice so little for the women in their lives but expect women to sacrifice all. 

As Nora tells Helmer when speaking about sacrificing honor: "It is a thing hundreds of thousands of women have done." 

*Side Note: I began the unit by having students view a fabulous video inspired by A Doll's House. We discussed the ways Nora unmasks herself in the play. 


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