In order to be truly aware of one’s marginalized status in society there needs to not only be an awareness of the oppression itself, but also an understanding of its causes and repercussions. Nora Helmer, the protagonist in the play A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen, is oppressed by her husband, Torvald Helmer, and the male-dominated society in which she lives. Conversely, Benjamin, a character in the novella Animal Farm by George Orwell, is oppressed by his government and its totalitarian leader Napoleon. Comparatively, Nora’s omniscient awareness of her oppression in her patriarchal society is greater than that of Benjamin’s awareness of his oppressive state due to his indifference to society, and this is evident through their opinions on their role in society, choice of diction, and emotional reactions to their oppressors.
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An individual’s role in society is often reflective of their status and treatment in that society; individuals, who are oppressed, such as Nora and Benjamin, do not appreciate their forced roles in society. Their voices and opinions on this oppression reflect how truly aware they are of their marginalized status. Benjamin’s voice of indifference to his government and the overall well-being of the farm shows that he is aware of his oppression. He knows that no matter what form the political structure of the farm takes, the bourgeoisie government will continue to oppress him and other the proletariats. This demonstrates why he “seemed quite unchanged since the rebellion” against the farmers (Orwell 12). He believes it would make no difference to protest and continues to accept his designated role. In contrast, Nora is not only aware of her marginalized role in society, but also has enough knowledge to stand against it. In Nora’s society, she is expected to sacrifice her own wishes in order fulfil her “duty to [her] husband and children” (Ibsen 310). This generic taken for granted that women are solely caregivers and wives is perpetuated in her patriarchal society and deprives her of an identity as an individual. Nora fights against this as she stands firmly behind the belief that her “duty to [herself]” is just as “sacred” (Ibsen 314). She understands that her need to express and serve herself before others is not only acceptable, but a “basic personal freedom that is necessary” for any human being regardless of gender (Markussen 3). By rejecting her stereotypical feminine identity as a mother and demanding personal freedom to be herself, she exemplifies the basic rights and freedoms that every woman should have in any society. Even in contemporary society, women still struggle between choosing to raise their children and pursuing their passions. This shows that Nora is not only aware of her oppression, but can identify its repercussions, as opposed to Benjamin, who just ignores it.
Diction is a very powerful tool used by characters to convey their ideas and emotions in a passionate way, and it is undoubtedly important to consider when comparing Nora’s and Benjamin’s awareness of their marginalized status. Benjamin is constantly sarcastic and has a very pessimistic outlook on life and the government. This is because he is aware of the oppression he is experiencing and watches other low-class animals being brainwashed into accepting their oppression. During the construction of the windmill, the animals were assured by Napoleon that the windmill would be very beneficial to the farm, and thus the animals dedicated more effort and time towards its completion. Benjamin remained indifferent and believed that “life would go on as it always has gone on [and] that is badly” (Orwell 20). This sarcastic remark demonstrates his understanding that the windmill will only benefit the bourgeoisie like Napoleon, and life will continue on just as badly for the lower-class animals. It also demonstrates a very shallow understanding of his situation as he cannot describe how or why the animal’s lives will continue on just as badly nor does he care enough to do anything about it. His diction reiterates his negligence, and this careless attitude does not allow him to discover more about his marginalized status, which is why he is not fully aware of his marginalization. On the other hand, Nora’s choice of diction accurately portrays her marginalized status and shows her comprehensive awareness of her oppression. Nora believes she lives in a “dollhouse” and that she is a “doll” as Torvald plays with her like she would “play with one of [her] dolls” (Ibsen 14). Her choice of the word doll portrays herself as being objectified into a doll which Torvald can use however he pleases. Similar to the way a doll cannot leave the doll house, Nora illustrates this vivid imagery to show how “women are often being trapped by the world that controls them” (Ford 1). Nora realizes she is trapped in a house where her every action is controlled by her husband, simply because of the patriarchal constructs that women are objects solely for a man’s pleasure and must obey all of their commands. Nora’s choice of diction and symbolism exhibits a much deeper and well developed awareness of her oppression compared to Benjamin’s sarcastic remarks.
Nora and Benjamin both have emotional confrontations with their oppressors, but only Nora is conscious enough of her oppression to stand against it and put an end to it. Benjamin’s continuous indifference to his government does show his awareness but also proves to work against him. While Benjamin’s friend, Boxer, is being sent off in a van to be killed, all he can do is scream to his fellow animals about reading the animal disposal advertisement “written on the side of the van” (Orwell 26). Although he knows that his friend is being sent off to die, all the other animals are too brainwashed to think of such a thing. Napoleon has forced them to be illiterate by overworking them and so they cannot read what is on the van. Benjamin cannot do anything to save his friend and is forced to watch idly as Boxer is being sent off to die. This proves his awareness is meaningless as he is not conscious enough to foresee this happening and prevent it from happening. Instead of being forced to watch idly, Nora proves that she knows enough about her marginalization to fight against it in a productive manner. Nora has been subjected to many things over the span of her marriage to Torvald; however, she finally reaches a breaking point being on the receiving end of a tirade from Torvald for forging a loan to save his life. She expected him to at the least thank her, but his harsh response made her realize that she “has been living with strange man” and that thought drove her so crazy it made her want to “tear [herself] into little pieces” (Ibsen 70), Torvald is no longer the kind and loving man she married, and through his constant sexualisation and objectification of Nora, he became the embodiment of her oppression. She sees that their relationship is representative of how men continue to oppress women in society, and because of this Nora decides to leave. Nora’s exit to the “outside world is an act of liberation” (Forward 11). By leaving, she proves her omniscient awareness of her marginalized status as she is able to free herself from the shackles of her patriarchal society. This represents how all women, no matter what they face, can liberate themselves from their oppression. Therefore, Nora’s awareness is much greater, as she is able to use fight against her oppressive husband and end her oppression, while Benjamin fails to do anything about his.
In conclusion, both characters are conscious of their oppression in society, but Nora’s omniscient awareness of her oppression is much greater than Benjamin’s awareness as she is consistently able to use it in an accurate and positive manner. She is able to effectively demonstrate her awareness by expressing her opinions on her oppression, accurately illustrating her marginalized role in society, and, most importantly, freeing herself from her oppression. While Benjamin is also able to express his opinions and show his marginalized role in society, he lacks Nora’s depth and accuracy, a reflection of his lack of awareness in general. This is why Benjamin cannot free himself from his oppressive society. Nora’s capacity to free herself from oppression makes her the epitome of what all women and other oppressed individuals can accomplish when they are truly aware of their marginalized role in society.
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