Students dive into the novel A Doll's House, exploring this social critique of middle-class Victorian society including issues of gender roles, freedom, and appearance versus reality. Students also investigate the genre of dramatic realism.
Originally written and performed in Norway in 1879, A Doll’s House, by Henrik Ibsen, shocked nineteenth-century audiences with its critique of the treatment of women in Victorian society. Ibsen’s play has gone on to withstand the test of time, continuing to be one of the most widely performed plays in the world.
In this unit, students will delve into Ibsen’s social critique of his era by exploring the norms and values of middle-class Victorian society. Issues of gender roles and freedom will be a particular focus. The social norms of Victorian society that kept women in the sphere of domesticity are questioned by Ibsen through his portrayal of Nora and the other characters of the play. In addition, he focuses on developing the theme of appearances versus reality in Victorian society through the microcosm of Helmer and Nora’s lives. Students will read this text with these related and interwoven themes in mind, analyzing how Ibsen uses one to develop the other.
In addition to analyzing A Doll’s House as social commentary, students will investigate the genre of dramatic realism that many credit Ibsen with creating through this and others of his plays. Through his use of the format of “the well-made play” common in the nineteenth century and his rejection of the use of verse form, Ibsen created a new genre that has come to be known as realistic drama. In fact, it is the genre that is most common in the plays, television shows, and movies of our own time.
This unit plan is compact and dense, relying on students doing at least some of the reading outside of school. Teachers should use their judgment and adjust the pacing to move more slowly if necessary.
This unit has three Supplementary AP Projects related to the theme of freedom and civil disobedience. In the first two projects, students will read multiple short documents and write a synthesis essay (similar to FRQ 1). Then, students will compose responses to the FRQ 3 essay prompt from the 2016 AP English Language and Composition Exam. The emphasis of this third project is students analyzing a variety of sources to develop an informed opinion on the topic of disobedience. To learn more about including these Supplemental AP Projects in this English 12 unit, please see our Guide to Supplemental AP Language and Composition Projects.
Play: A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen (Dover Publications, 1992)
Video: “The Victorians: Home Sweet Home” (BBC)
Article: “Gender Roles in the 19th Century” by Kathryn Hughes (British Library)
Article: “Victorian Sexualities” by Holly Furneaux (British Library)
Article: “Henrik Ibsen Biography” by Biography.com Editors (A&E Television Networks)
Book: Inside the Victorian Home: A Portrait of Domestic Life in Victorian England by Judith Flanders (W.W. Norton, reprint edition, 2005)
See Text Selection Rationale
The writing in this unit is designed to give students practice with the type of writing and thinking they might be expected to do on the AP English Language and Composition Exam for Free Response Question 3. Students will craft an argument and use some aspect of A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen as evidence to support their own unique argument.
setting, characterization, realism, dramatic irony, analogy, allegory, realism, Romanticism, conflict, theme, motif, juxtaposition, “well-made play” formula, spiritual awakening, double entendre, trope (Inside the Victorian Home, p. 215)
ami- (amicably), venge- (vengeance)
Note: hypocrisy (iii), sentimental (iii), romanticism (iii), naivete (iii)
Act 1: extravagantly (1, 3), economize (2), incredulously (7), obliged (9), contemptuously (11), imprudent (11), zealously (15), unassailable (20), dissimulation (27), deprave (28)
Act 2: disheveled (29), tactless (32, 34), prevaricate (32), rogue (33), obstinacy (34), scurrilous (34), incubus (35), vengeance (36), inexorable (38), amicably (43), expedient (43), folly (44)
Act 3: jilt (52), prudently (52), capricious (56), apparition (56), unscrupulous (62), consternation (64), heedless (70), wedlock (72)
Other: Domesticity (Inside the Victorian Home)
“as a matter of course…” (5), plucky (6), appointment (20), rubbish (29), tarantella (31), consumption (31), “Capri – maiden” (56)
This assessment accompanies Unit 2 and should be given on the suggested assessment day or after completing the unit.
A Doll's House — Note (p. iii), Act 1 pp. 1-6
“Gender Roles in the 19th Century”
Analyze and interpret the relationship between Helmer and Nora in the opening scene of the play.
A Doll's House — pp. 6-18
Analyze how Ibsen further characterizes Nora.
Track the development of the motif of disease.
A Doll's House — pp. 18-28
Analyze how Ibsen uses dramatic irony to develop the conflict of the play.
Inside the Victorian Home — Chapter 6
Create and defend an argument on Ibsen’s stance on women based on Act 1 of the play.
A Doll's House — pp. 29-42
Analyze and explain how Ibsen develops the central conflict in the opening scene of Act 2.
A Doll's House — pp. 42-50
Analyze and explain the symbolic significance of the tarantella dance.
Analyze the power dynamics between female and male characters in this scene. Explain how their roles reflect the roles available to women in Victorian society.
A Doll's House — pp. 51-63
Analyze the climax of the play and explain how it creates theme and develops Nora’s character.
A Doll's House — pp. 63-72
Create and defend an argument about Nora’s decision at the end of the play.
“Henrik Ibsen Biography”
Analyze Ibsen’s impact as a playwright.
Debate and defend your answer to the unit test question.