Phenomenological Approach to Case Study: A Doll's House - Synthesis Essay Essay Sample

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The main problems analyzed in Edmund Husserl’s article Objectivity and the World of Experience are the following: a) the problem of the historical possibility of objective science; b) the problem of the possibility of objective scientific knowledge. Considering the perceived world as a Heraclitean flux of ever-changing data of sensible things (1970, p.343), Husserl posits that everything we might think we know about the world we live in is only relative compared to the total amount of information generally known about this world. Thus, acquiring any kind of knowledge becomes the continually possible process of correction (p.343) of what we already know and, therefore, knowing anything in perfection becomes theoretically impossible. Husserl suggests the method the science can use to overcome this paradox. The method of idealization consists in ascribing to any object, in reality, an ideal of knowledge about it which can and should be perfected infinitely (p.347).

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Another Husserl article The Life-World and the World of Science deals with the comparison of two modes of living that of ordinary people and the other of scientists. According to the article all people who are not involved in scientific research live in their own thematic worlds the horizons of which are marked by these people’s ultimate goal or areas of interest. The goal or interests are termed as people’s vocation and make people indifferent to anything else but events or knowledge connected to this vocation of theirs (Husserl, 1970, p.379). Compared to such rather separate life-worlds, the worlds of science are hierarchically and systematically organized and service premises, building stones to one another. This world of science, being also a life-world in the sense that individual scientists have their personal ultimate ends, is growing in infinitum (p.380).

Alfred Schultz's research investigates the notion of multiple realities: the reality of daily life, of dreams, of science, and of personal opinion. According to his article Realities from Daily Life to Theoretical Contemplation (1996) every person at any age has an accumulated stock of experiences that serve this person as a scheme of references (p.26). One of the main concepts of this approach is people's natural attitude to life, i.e. practical interest in the world. Maintaining this natural attitude people normally take their assumptions about the world that surrounds them for granted and only something extraordinary in the normal course of events can make them question these assumptions. Rather than suspending their belief in the reality of the world or placing the world between brackets (as in phenomenological epoche), people with natural attitudes tend to put between the brackets the doubt that the world and its objects might be otherwise than they appear to be (p.27). Schulz calls this phenomenon the epoche of the natural attitude. Another important concept in Schultz's theory is the notion of specific shock (p. 37) that is a pre-requisite for people with a natural attitude to reality in order for them to abandon their attitudes toward this reality and put it in question (p.37). The reality of daily life is characterized by people's full-awakeness that is considered to be the highest degree of tension of consciousness (p.41) and is opposed to the world of dreams that happens in the complete relaxation of deep sleep. Working, being an important concept in the world of daily life, can be defined as a conscious attempt to realize some underlying project (p.29) while any kinds of actions made by the dreamer are without purpose or project (p.42). In the world of dreams, the world of daily life is preserved as an object in the form of recollections and retentions while the attention to life, the main component of the world of daily life, is directed toward the self in the past tense (p.42). According to Shultz (1996), one cannot speak and think in the dream world, on the contrary, if the person is speaking and thinking it means they use the implements of the world of working and they are subject to principles of consistency and compatibility (p.43). The implements of the world of theoretical contemplation, on the other hand, are not the attempts to master the given world but actions aimed to observe and possibly understand it (p.44).

Elaborating on the theory of multiple realities, Peter Berger and Thomas Luckman introduced the concepts of problematic and unproblematic aspects of reality (1966). The reality is perceived as unproblematic as long as the routines of everyday life continue without interruption(p.38). Another important concept the scientists apply is the notion of common language grounded in everyday life that is used to objectify any experiences from all the realities. It is the language that makes sure that the reality of everyday life maintains its paramount status, even when the leaps between realities take place. (p.39-40). Analyzing social interactions in everyday life, the authors come to the unexpected conclusion that face-to-face communication allows any person to know the other person better than themselves because this other person availability is continuous and reflective, while their own personality is not so available and to be analyzed it requires stopping and directing their attention upon themselves (p.44).

A Doll’s House Critical Analysis

The concepts of phenomenology can be successfully applied to analyze Henrik Ibsens play A Dolls House. Thus, Nora’s epoche is her placing the doubt in her husband within brackets and taking for granted the assumption that she lives in an ideal world in which she is happily married to the man who would stand up to shield her with his broad wings (Ibsen, 111) whatever happens. She does not stop and think (Schultz, 1996, p.27) or cast doubt (p.27) upon her senses that, as she believes, tell her how the things in her family are. Her attention to life is directed solely to keep her husband unaware of the crime that she committed out of love for him. Using Edmund Husserls (1970) terminology, Nora’s ultimate horizon of her life-world is her aspiration to pay off the loan she took to afford the life-saving trip for her husband without the husband knowing. This aspiration being her vocation makes her indifferent to anything else (p.379), so she does not notice or pay much attention to the fact that her husband perceives her rather like a pet than a human being. She accepts her husband’s reproaches about her being unpractical and extravagant as part of her daily routine. These reproaches, the general play tone of her relationship with her husband along with the pet names that Torvald gives to her my silly squirrel or little lark does not arise as something problematic (Berger, Luckman, 1966) in her daily life routine as long as she is confident about one thing Torvald loves her so deeply and wonderfully and he would not hesitate a moment to give his very life for her sake (Ibsen, p.67). Only after Nora experiences the specific shock (Schultz, 1996, p.37) of seeing her husband’s reaction to what she has done, does she stop to think and ask herself questions about the real nature of her life and marriage. This shock makes her leap or transit between realities: Nora stops existing in the reality of everyday life that, in its turn, stops being unproblematic for her and transits into the reality of theoretical contemplation where she is going to engage herself with education and attempts to know herself and her surroundings. The shock or problematic turn in her relationship with her husband makes Nora revise her views about her sweet little life in her cozy dollhouse and grasp that all of her life has been nothing more than a playroom first with her father and then with Torvald and children. Nora symbolically changes her masquerade costume before the final conversation with Torvald: taking off her Capri costume can be interpreted as falling of the curtain (Berger, Luckman, 1966, p.39) marking the transition between realities. Nora steps into a new reality where she is no longer a skipping squirrel (Ibsen, p.3) or a little bird (p.106) but where she is an adult woman who is willing to take her life under her own control.

Nora makes a decision to leave her husband and children in order to educate herself (Ibsen, 1900, p.115), and her goal becomes the desire to observe and possibly understand the reality (Schultz, 1996, p.44). She suddenly becomes aware in her face-to-face interaction with Torvald that he is much better known to her than her own self which she never stops to reflect upon. Thus, her desire to leave him, her home and her children can be explained by the new aspiration to deliberately arrest the spontaneity of her experience and turn the attention upon herself (Berger, Luckman, 1966, p.44). She finally wants to understand what kind of a person she really is outside the context of a doll wife and a doll daughter that her husband and father put her in. Another thing she might subconsciously feel obliged to change about herself and the society in which she lives is the unfair distribution of the social stock of knowledge (p.59). In the beginning of the play when Krogstad comes to blackmail her, Nora is astonished to find out that many things of this world just go behind her back (p.59): she lives in the patriarchal society where women seldom educate themselves and do not even know that forging a signature is a crime. Nora is overwhelmed with the understanding that the world is much more complicated than she imagined it to be. In Husserl’s (1970) terms, Nora becomes aware that everything she thought she knew about the world is almost neglectable compared to the endless mass of knowledge in general (p.343). Therefore, in order to change that Nora has to leave her family for good as there are no mechanisms in that patriarchal society for a woman to combine the duties of a wife and mother with self-education and development. She decides to transit from the world of daily life to the world of theoretical contemplation and devotes her life to idealization- the process of continual correction of knowledge in infinitum (p.347).


Berger, P. Luckman, Th. (1966). The reality of everyday life - Chapter one: The foundations of knowledge in everyday life - Part one. The social construction of reality: A treatise in the sociology of knowledge - 1st ed., Anchor Books: New York, 33-61.

Husserl, Edmund (1970). Objectivity and the world of experience. The crisis of European sciences and transcendental phenomenology. Tr. David Carr, Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 343-351.

Husserl, Edmund (1970). The life-world and the world of science. The crisis of European sciences and transcendental phenomenology. Tr. David Carr, Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 379-383.

Ibsen, Henrik. A dolls house T. Fisher Unwin, London, 1900.

Schultz, Alfred (1996). Realities from daily life to theoretical contemplation. Collected Papers, ed. Helmut Wagner, George Psathus, Fred Kersten Dordrecht/Boston: Kluwar Academic Press, 25-50.

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