Rosalyn Yalow

“The failure of women to have reached positions of leadership has been due in large part to social and professional discrimination” – A quote from Rosalyn Yalow[1]. Social discrimination against women has been a perpetual phenomenon from time immemorial. Girls were thought of as ‘assets' and society was defined by its restrictive temperament. Nowadays, we have come to respect women for who they are - largely due to the literary works by various writers. Analyzing A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen and Antigone by Sophocles, I found out that writers had astutely chosen a potent mix of time, place and action to represent the shallowness of society during their respective eras.

Time as measured as a linear progression of events through a play is critical in both of the plays. Respective societies have been condensed and mirrored to the readers through a very short period of time. A Doll's House takes place within 70 hours, and in Antigone, we come across only 275 instances of dialogue. A reader may ask, why have the writers written such short ‘stories'? This is a literary technique in which the readers are seduced into thinking that, during the era, there was no scope for social life – reflecting the shallowness of society during the era. One could not ‘enjoy' life because one's span of social life in real time scale was limited; and due to the restrictions on women, there was a lack of social life itself. In the prologue to Antigone, we are introduced to some restrictions, as Ismene highlights:

“We must remember that we were born women, not to fight against men; and that since we are ruled by stronger hands, we must listen in this matter, and in others still more painful.”[2]

This gives an image similar to dancing dollies being ‘played' by men.[3] Ismene is forced to stick to the barrier, and remains a ‘doll'. Antigone on the other hand shatters the stereotypical image, and fights for her rights. In A Doll's House, Nora is a prisoner of her own house. She hardly goes out to socialize. Dr Rank is the one who keeps Nora alive in ‘Helmer's house' by coming in everyday and talking with her. This is significant in the sense that it clearly highlights to readers the fact that socializing was not possible for women, and life therefore for women could be very boring.

The choice of place for most of the action of the plays reflects the closed natures of society towards women. An example of this is a phrase by Antigone: “that is why I brought you outside the palace gates”.[4] One of the rules for women was not to step outside the palace gates – and in this case, Antigone has done the opposite. The first scene is set in an open environment – a prime example of foreshadowing. The image of freedom, though, is hidden - as visiting people outside the house is very common today. We can sense freedom – and this through the character of Antigone. However, as the play progresses, the setting becomes the four walls of a claustrophobic room in a guarded palace, which brings us back to reality - the captivity of women. Furthermore, towards the ending of Antigone, Eurydice, comes out of the house saying “I heard your words as I was coming out to offer prayers…. I was just undoing the bolts to open the door, when the announcement of some family disaster struck my ears.”[5] Obviously, when there is a major ‘family disaster', one would be in shock, as is Eurydice. We see that at first she explains what she is doing outside and why she is not in her house. The only reason women were allowed to set foot outside would have been to pray. That is why even under such circumstances, when she is in absolute shock and pain, she has to explain what she was doing outside.

A Doll's House, as the title suggests takes place in Helmer's apartment. The fact that it's a `house` and not ‘home' shows that it's in a confined space where the ‘doll' sits and does all the housework – she never has the sense of being at home, being in a family. She feels like a porcelain doll, a mechanical object in the house and she feels trapped. If the title was ‘A Doll's Home', the interpretation would have been the opposite. We, as readers, could feel that the “dolly”[6] feels comfortable, she is welcomed, and that she has power. The title in this case clearly conjures up images of the barriers set for women during the era. Furthermore, Nora hardly goes out, except to go “upstairs”[7] where the dancing parties were held, and that too because Helmer had to be there. This again proves the restricting nature of society. Nora is just like a statue in her own house. She says, “I'm your dolly-wife, just as I used to be Daddy's dolly baby. And my dolls were the children.” [8]She thinks of herself as a ‘dolly' saying that Helmer “played”[9] with her, and that she “played with them [children]”[10]. A doll's actions are controlled by the player and in this case, she is controlled by the dominant figure, Helmer. She represents women's society during the era. Their lives were always governed by the wishes of men. It is also astonishing that the whole book's setting is in the one room – which Helmer owns.

In the middle of the play, we get a sense that we could shift into a new setting – the house of Krogstad. That happens when Linda is about to go to Krogstad's home ‘to sort out things'. However, Ibsen, in an effort to keep the setting in focus, deliberately sends Krogstad out and then later makes him come to Helmer's house. This continues to make the setting focused on the one room of the house. Again, this narrative technique magnifies the captive nature of women during that era. In the same manner, in Antigone, the death and the burial is described within the palace by the messenger. Sentry: “Someone has just buried the body and left; he sprinkled dry dust on the flesh, and gave it proper rites.” [11]

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, action is defined to be “the thing represented as done in a drama; the event or series of events, real or imaginary forming the subject of a fable, poem or other composition.”[12] Both the plays rigidly follow a linear progression of events that forms the main plot. They don't divert into any subplots. The focal point is the main plot. An example being Antigone's task of burying Polyneices. The plot shows that she performs the task, but she faces consequences. Throughout the book, the plot revolves around the consequences Antigone has to go through. However, any subplots, like the love between Helmer and Antigone is not given much focus (reference to Antigone - conversation between Haemon and Creon – the only part where the readers can see their love[13]), which is significant in showing the restricting nature of society because during the era, love was very repressed and controlled, and love between different social classes was deemed to be incorrect.

In A Doll's House, the play also revolves around the need for Nora to be saved from Krogstad, without Helmer's knowledge. Any side plots, like Mrs. Linde and Krogstad's history, has not been given much attention or importance by the author. This makes the two plays similar in showing the confinement of women during the era. Moreover, we don't also see much action between the children and Nora nor between Krogstad and Linde. This clearly proves that the action of the play is very limited. Sub-plots are not given attention at all.

Both Antigone and A Doll's House have tragic endings. Nora leaves Helmer, and Antigone dies. Although the endings are depressing, they sturdily echo the victory of women to their right to freedom. The choice of time, place and action is a tool of the writers to accentuate this independence of the female characters. We as readers appreciate their brave act in expressing their right, and have a completely different attitude towards women today. Rosalyn Yalow's quote about the failure of women to reach positions of leadership due to discrimination still holds true at present – though the emancipation of women today was quite unthinkable in the texts under study.

Bibliography

In this essay, I have used several resources from the internet:

1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosalyn_Sussman_Yalow

Date Visited: 5/12/2010

2. http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/r/rosalynsy166938.html

Date Visited:5/12/2010

List of Reading Books:

Antigone by Sophocles

- Translation and commentary by David Franklin and John Harrison

- Printed at Cambridge University Press CB2 2RU, UK

- First published in 2003

- 5th Printing 2006

A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen

- Translated by Kenneth McLeish

- Edited by Mary Rafferty

- Printed at Cambridge University Press CB2 2RU, UK

- First published in 1995

- 12th Printing 2006

Reference from:

- The Oxford English Dictionary

- Clarendon Press – Oxford

- Second Edition

- Volume I and Volume XVIII

- First published in 1884-1928 in parts; reissued in 1933

- 2nd Edition: 1989.

- Reprinted: 1991.

- Oxford University Press 1933, 1989

Page | 6

[1] Co-Winner of Nobel Prize 1977 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosalyn_Sussman_Yalow

Quote from http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/r/rosalynsy166938.html

[2] Sophocles Antigone, Cambridge University Press Translation by David Franklin and John Harrison, Cambridge: UK, University Press 2003, p7 Line 54.

[3] Reference to A Doll's House, when Nora says “I'm your dolly-wife, just as I used to be Daddy's dolly baby. And my dolls were the children.” Henrik Ibsen, translated by Kenneth McLeish, A Doll's House. Cambridge: UK, University Press 1995, p82 Line 522.

[4] Sophocles Antigone, Cambridge University Press Translation by David Franklin and John Harrison: Cambridge: UK, University Press 2003, p3 Line 15.

[5] Sophocles Antigone, Cambridge University Press Translation by David Franklin and John Harrison, Cambridge: UK, University Press 2003, p91 Line 1141-1144.

[6] A Doll's House,by Henrik Ibsen, translated by Kenneth McLeish, A Doll's House. Cambridge: UK, University Press 1995, p82 Line 522.

[7] A Doll's House,by Henrik Ibsen, translated by Kenneth McLeish, A Doll's House. Cambridge: UK, University Press 1995, p43 Line 53.

[8] A Doll's House,by Henrik Ibsen, translated by Kenneth McLeish, A Doll's House. Cambridge: UK, University Press 1995, p82 Line 522.

[9] A Doll's House,by Henrik Ibsen, translated by Kenneth McLeish, A Doll's House. Cambridge: UK, University Press 1995, p82 Line 524.

[10] A Doll's House,by Henrik Ibsen, translated by Kenneth McLeish, A Doll's House. Cambridge: UK, University Press 1995, p82 Line 525.

[11] Sophocles Antigone, Cambridge University Press Translation by David Franklin and John Harrison, Cambridge: UK, University Press 2003, p21 Line 229.

[12] The Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition, Volume XVIII. First published in 1884-1928 in parts; reissued in 1933. Reprinted in 1992. Oxford University Press 1933,1989, No. 4 Page 127.

[13] Sophocles Antigone, Cambridge University Press Translation by David Franklin and John Harrison. Cambridge: UK, University Press 2003, Line 700 page 55

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