Introducing “A Doll’s House” by Henrik Ibsen

Today we will be starting our first of three units for the final part of the IBO Language and Literature course. Part 3 is called ‘Literature: texts and contexts’; here is an outline and summary of the learning outcomes taken from the 2013 IBO Language and Literature guide:

Meaning in a text is shaped by culture and by the contexts of the circumstances of its production. It is also shaped by what the reader brings to it. Literary texts are not created in a vacuum but are influenced by social context, cultural heritage and historical change. Through the close reading of literary texts, students are able to consider the relationship between literature and issues at large, such as gender, power and identity. Students should be encouraged to consider how texts build upon and transform the inherited literary and cultural traditions. The compulsory study of translated texts encourages students to reflect on their own cultural assumptions through an examination of work produced in other languages and cultures. The study of literature—texts and contexts means that students will be able to meet the following learning outcomes.

1. Consider the changing historical, cultural and social contexts in which particular texts are written and received. Areas to be considered could include:

– the impact of different forms of publishing, for example, serialization
–  political pressure and censorship
–  dominant and minority social groups
–  the role of the individual and family in society
–  the impact of prevailing values and beliefs
–  protest and polemic.

2. Demonstrate how the formal elements of the text, genre and structure can not only be seen to influence meaning but can also be influenced by context. Aspects to be considered could include:

–  narrative technique
–  characterization
–  elements of style and structure
–  poetic language.

3. Understand the attitudes and values expressed by literary texts and their impact on readers. Students should be able to recognize that:

–  there can be very different readings of the same text
–  the context of reception, including the individual reader, influences the way a text is read
–  different values may be in contention within a text. 

Our first unit, entitled ‘Victorian Values and Me”, is an exploration of the historical context of Europe in the 19th century (often referred to as the Victorian Age due to the influence of Britain’s monarch at that time). Our unit question invites us to explore not only what literature produced in this period can tell us about historical contexts but also what it can tell us
about ourselves.

What has been your experience up until now?  Have you ever read a novel, play or movie set in the past?  In the comments below tell us what the story is, what it told you about the particular historical context and finally, what this showed about yourself!

14 thoughts on “Introducing “A Doll’s House” by Henrik Ibsen

  1. A film – Shutter Island: It taught me how the social condition of Schizophrenia is very damaging to an individual, and since the story takes place in the 1960s where lobotomy was a common practice, it shows the dangers of being diagnosed with it. It shows me how the malpractice of medecine can ruin lives, since lobotomy incapacitates emotional and linguistic ability. Now that modern medecine is being used to treat schizophrenics, it is much less physically harming. I learnt that even though the story takes place 60 years ago, there were many misconceptions in human sciences.

  2. I watched Tarzan when I was a child, and the story was about attitudes towards less civilised people in an African environment. I learned about the context in which this story was written, when colonialism was rife and there was a very negative attitude towards “non-European” persons. I was quite shocked after reading this since I was brought up in an environment that was more accepting and open.

  3. What the story is, what it told you about the particular historical context and what it showed about yourself.

    Game of Thrones is set in a mystical alternate earth like society and world that consists of the most powerful groups in the land (Westeros) at the time vying for power and their families place in history. The context of the story is based in a time where ones pride and reputation is very important especially to nobles, whom are ready to kill and die to defend their and their families honour. This story told me a few things about myself, most notably, was that if I were alive during this time period and in this type of culture which is loosely based off of my assumptions about the middle ages. This put my own culture into context for me, it showed me how peaceful and how unthreatened I am on a daily basis since the culture of my personal context of living is not vindictive of that type of daily violence.

  4. I have read and watched several novels, plays and movies that are from the past. For example, “1984” by George Orwell was a novel set in the past about what could happen in the future. However, that “future” was set in 1984 therefore it is now in the past. Orwell warns people about totalitarian societies through the novel. From this novel I learnt the huge negatives of totalitarian societies and the consequences of rebelling against a totalitarian government. From this, I learnt about myself that I would never want to live in a totalitarian society therefore George Orwell did a good job of warning society through this novel.

  5. I read a book called ‘The Things They Carried’ by Tim O Brien which in essence talked about the sort of emotions soldiers had to go through during the time of Vietnam War. However, the book mainly focuses on one character (the author himself) on his emotions during the time of war and his thoughts about the War. Thus, he explains his experience during the War. I personally was able to realise the significant impact war had on American soldiers not only physically but mentally. This obviously shows that I have never experienced or observed.

  6. When it comes to historical fiction and what is shows about our culture-I would highly recommend the 1632 series by Eric Flint (some books are also collaborations with other authors). It’s about a West Virginia coal mining town from 2000 that is supplanted into 1630 germany, right in the middle of the 100 year war. The ‘down-time’ parts are historically accurate, and it really shows what it was like in the 1630s while also giving you really interesting characters. It explains how things changed since the introduction of new technology, and it does not play out like the ‘uptimers’ are gods who can do no wrong, the people from the 1630s are equally smart. There isn’t any one thing that I took from it-mainly it made me wish I went back in time too. I guess it says I think living there would be more interesting?

  7. I read the play Antigone in both swedish and english. It is set in the ancient Greece. It is a greek myth and starts of with two brothers killing each other in a swords fight. The king, Kreon, decides that only one of the brothers should get buried and this upsets their sister Antigone. Even though it is against the law she buries her other brother as well, and for this Kreon sentences her to death. It is a play about morals and it shows how Greece was a republic and how the king of the city made all the decisions without listening to the citizens. Sweden also has a king, and reading this play made me appreciate our king and how he actually listens to the citizens of the country and how he isn’t the only person who decides laws etc .

  8. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson is a story based during the 19th century when Pirates were common. In this story a young character named Jim Hawkins goes on an adventure to find a the treasure marked on a map that was given to him by an old buccaneer called Billy Bones, who is a long time lodger at Benbow Inn. During the voyage he realises that most of the crew members on his ship are blood-thirsty island.

    This novel told me about the violent historical context of Britain in the 19th century. Nowadays society is more civilised and there are less pirates.

  9. Title: The Help

    Summary: The Help by Kathryn Stockett, tells the story of black maids working in white Southern homes during the 1960’s in Jackson, Mississippi.

    Particular Historical Context: This told me about the racial problems apparent at the time, the difference in thought between the whites themselves and the blacks themselves, and it emphasised on the courage and strength needed to stand up and speak your mind at the time.

    Myself: Before reading this book I knew that there were racial problems in those days, but I think it made me realise that there were some people that were fighting for the blacks and trying to give them a voice. When learning this in school we tend to forget about what people were trying to do in order to help others, and we tend to focus on the negative aspects.

  10. Two years ago I read “Wuthering Heights” by Emily Brontë. It told the story of failed love between two characters. It was, I must admit, one of the least entertaining book that I have read. Despite this “Wuthering Heights” illustrated well the life in the Yorkshire Moors in the 1840’s. I could tell that life then was considerably darker than now, and that life was more difficult. There was also stricter racial and social hierarchy in place, and the family you were born in determines who you are. Reading this, I could say that I live a cushier, somewhat more mellowed life. It could also be said that I live a life where I take many things for granted.

  11. West Side Story

    A 1950’s Romeo and Juliet musical that is centered around two gangs that conflict with each other in New York. The Sharks are a puerto rican teenage gang and the Jets are a polish-american gang. A girl from the Sharks and a boy from the Jets fall in love, causing conflict.

    Context
    – The clothing was very mid 20th century, the puerto rican girls wearing traditional dresses and the boys from both gangs having very slick hair, tucked in clothing.
    – There was immigration of puerto ricans into the US, and many americans rejected the new formation of puerto rican ‘ghettos’, which is reflected in the play.

    Myself:
    I personally liked the musical because it showed both groups on equal ground, for someone who likes to pick sides on a matter it was difficult to really pinpoint which side was antagonistic or protagonistic.

  12. I have watched Schindler’s List by Steven Spielberg (released in 1993) several times. The historical drama plays in the 1940s and depicts the Jewish Ghettos during WWII. A German ethnic, also a Nazi member, convinces the Wehrmacht (german forces) to establish a factory and produce pottery of some sort. He therefore manages to save several Jews. What struck me the most about the movie was the symbolic small girl, wearing a red coat (the only colour throughout the entire movie). In the movie you can see the girl walk contently through the crowds and hide from the Nazi officers, who are recruiting the Jews to take them to the concentration camps. Her innocence and peaceful behaviour was a big contrast to the rest of the figures in the movie (officers murdering Jews). The movie therefore managed to implement an imagery of how the liquidations proceeded, which is an important phenomenon in WWII. I realised that I am incapable to fully imagine what it was like, simply because I have not been exposed to a full-scale war, propaganda and such acute religious discrimination.

  13. One of the most memorable novels I have read is “Pride and Prejudice”. Set in 19th century England, the story deals with Elizabeth Bennet and her way of dealing with the issues of manners, marriage, education and love. Elizabeth meets Mr.Darcy, a rich, young and intelligent man at a party and soon finds herself questioning what kind of person he is. Correlating with the book title “Prejudice”, Elizabeth’s tendency to judge people meets with Mr.Darcy’s “pride”. The two admit to their interests in a love relationship when Elizabeth gives up her prejudice when Mr.Darcy gives up his pride. The story of this book made me realize a lot about my own ideals. The traditional values of choosing a life partner based on the men’s wealth seemed very silly and also Elizabeth’s mother’s obsession of sending her daughters to a wealthy marriage partner seemed stupid. I thought that this led to the sole emphasis on beauty of women at this period in time and seemed to be quite sad to think that women can “succeed” by marrying properly. I also found myself enjoying and liking Elizabeth’s character as she may be viewed as someone who has an inflexible mind but to me, she seemed like an intelligent young lady who was knowledgeable to make the right decisions.

  14. Wonderful comments everybody! It was interesting hearing about all the stories, and the very valid connections you made to the unit question. Thank you very much 🙂

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