Example of a Reflective Paper
Though Hendrick Ibsen’s A Doll House and David Henry Hwang’s M. Butterfly were written more than one hundred years apart, both plays deal with the theme of the role of women and how they are defined in their respective world. Each play represents a woman who initially seems to be without a strong identity as she attempts to conform to her partner’s ideals of the perfect woman in an effort to be accepted and loved. However, at the same time, Ibsens’s Nora Helmet and Hwang’s Song Liling are resourceful, cunning, and manipulative. Though both plays seem to be about the emergence of each woman’s identify—Nora’s refusal to be only a dutiful housewife and devoted mother and Song’s refusal to be a woman at all—these two women are from the beginning stronger than their partners ever imagined them to be.
In A Doll House, Nora is treated as her husband’s doll. She criticized for eating sweets or asking her husband to take her ideas into consideration. Torvald’s concept of an ideal woman is a showpiece that can dress up, recite, and dance. As a mother she only plays with her children, since the nanny cares for them. As a housewife, she has no control over the household finances and is given an allowance by her husband.
Although Nora seems to conform to her husband’s expectations, she has the strength and courage to borrow money for a trip to Italy to save her husband’s life and does odd jobs in order to pay the debt that she has committed forgery to secure. She is proud of her secret of sacrificing for the family. Nora is constantly lying to please her husband. So although in one instance we see Nora as a woman trapped within her husband’s definition of her, the reader is also aware that Nora uses his expectations to achieve her own goals.
In a similar manner Song plays the need of Gallimard. To Gallimard, the perfect woman is one who is “beautiful” and “brave” but the most important one whom he can dominate and control. Song is Asian, which underlies the cultural prejudice that she is expected to be subservient, quiet, faithful, and obedient. By the end of the play, the reader is aware that Song is a man working as a spy to obtain important military information from Gillimard. In order to keep hidden this secret identity, Song acts as he believes men desire women to be. Like Nora, the “woman” Song appeals to her mate’s egotistical needs in order to fulfill her own personal goals.
When Nora and Song come to terms with themselves, their situations are no less problematic than when they falsely fulfilled the definition imposed on them. Nora leaves to pursue what many seem to some readers selfish desires. In Ibsen’s world, if a woman is not an obedient wife, mother, and nurturer, she defies definition. Similarity, Song’s cruelty toward Gallimard and her revelation that is not what he seems totally destroys Gillimard’s image of Song as a woman, but we must understand that under the weight of that destruction Song’s identity as a woman disappears, just as Nora does when she slams the door of the doll house she rejects. It seems that unless a man defines what a woman is in these two plays, the strong and resourceful woman must disappear rather than be allowed to redefine herself.
Source: The sample paper was written by Monica Casis in response to an assignment that required a comparison of two pieces of literature (plays) based on a common theme. The paper was taken from the book Sixth Edition: The Compact Bedford Introduction to Literature: Reading, Thinking, and Writing. Copyright 2003 by Bedford/St. Martins, pages 1559-1563.