Can classic literature teach today’s readers about their world? Can a nearly 140-year-old play reveal truths about modern society? Has society dramatically changed since the late 19th Century, or are there universal ideas that remain constant? As seniors investigate Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House in Mr. Van Loon’s English classroom at Roberto Clemente Community Academy, they aim to answer these questions and more.
Ibsen’s play is the story of a woman who questions the traditional gender roles of being a housewife in 19th Century Europe. The play’s dramatic ending – the female protagonist decides to leave her family in search of her own identity – caused an uproar when it was first produced for the stage in 1879. In fact, Ibsen was pressured to rewrite a happy ending, something that he regretted.
In preparation for a deep discussion of A Doll’s House, Clemente seniors have begun research on feminism by applying a critical lens to familiar films. Students applied the three Bechdel Test questions to their favorite films:
The Bechdel Test
1. Does the film have at least two named women in it?
2. Do these women talk to each other?
3. Do they talk about something besides a man?
Students were surprised to learn that many of their favorite movies did not feature strong female characters. In fact, some of their favorites, like The Lion King, Jurassic World, and Star Wars, did not pass the Bechdel test. Students used these results for a further discussion of societal depictions of women; why are these films popular, and what does that say about how society views women?
Although seniors had a variety of opinions, the general consensus was that depictions of women in film and fiction lag behind their beliefs of gender equality.