The play ‘The Dollhouse’ was written in 1879. In this work, Henrik Ibsen criticizes Victorian marriage and the secondary roles of women in society. The freedom and independence of the main character, Nora, is limited by her husband and father. Ibsen skillfully uses settings to reflect and unveil the feelings and thoughts of the main characters. The settings help Ibsen to create a unique atmosphere in the play and symbolically portray inner feelings, emotional experience, and changes in the main characters.
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The description of the house and Torvald’s apartments shapes the atmosphere of the play and reflects changes in family relations. Its description is put at the very beginning of the story, so it is possible to say that Ibsen underlines the significance of this symbol for the entire work and plot development attracting the attention of readers. The family house reflects the life of Nora and her husband Torvald. “Certainly Torvald does understand how to make a house dainty and attractive” (Ibsen). Throughout the play, the setting and symbol of a house reflect the inner physiological state of Nora and her life. It seems Nora is comforted by the world around her but despair continues to attack her. “Listen, Torvald. I have heard that when a wife deserts her husband’s house, as I am doing now, he is legally freed from all obligations towards her” (Ibsen). This setting plays a symbolic meaning shaping atmosphere of despair and family tragedy. The house symbolizes happy family life and close relations between the spouses. Using the setting of ‘the Dollhouse’, Ibsen underlines that Nora’s freedom is limited by this setting and the surrounding.
Using unique settings of the room and furniture, Ibsen misleads readers creating an atmosphere of wealth and happiness. All events take place in one room. The room represents rosy dreams and life hopes, a positive atmosphere, and friendly family relations. Although, because the social role of the wife is predetermined, Ibsen underlines that Nora feels miserable and depressed. This symbolic meaning helps readers to grasp the idea at once shaping the atmosphere of the play. Also, this setting contemplates nature, both the natural world around the narrator and her own inner nature. Another unique setting is Torvald’s study. Ibsen mentions only a door leading to this room. It is possible to say that this setting symbolizes men’s world and financial power outside women’s control. Ibsen comments in one of the remarks: “comes out of HELMER’S study. Before he shuts the door he calls to him” (Ibsen). In contrast to this setting, Ibsen includes the setting of the room where Nora dances. “[Nora] had danced her Tarantella, and it had been a tremendous success, as it deserved” (Ibsen). Both settings reflect two different worlds which separate the husband and wife. Specific detailed descriptions of these settings force readers to go beneath the surface and reinterpret the life and family roles of the spouses.
The setting of Christmas-time supports an atmosphere of mystery and life hopes. Torvald asks Nora: “Do you remember last Christmas? For a full three weeks beforehand you shut yourself up every evening, making ornaments for the Christmas Tree” (Ibsen). On the other hand, this remark depicts that the family has some financial problems and Nora has no money of her own depending upon her husband. This is the main reason why Ibsen discusses an important issue concerning the low status of women in society and the moral issues connected with it. Christmas-time symbolizes love and family relations as a vein sacrifice that is painful and sorrowful lasting for decades and causing terrible sufferings and emotional burden.
The settings unveil family relations and symbolically portray the roles of the husband and wife. Through the settings, Ibsen records the changes in Nora’s nature and her desire to overcome her husband’s oppression and become free from him. The settings unveil contractions between old and new values and ideas.
Ibsen, H. A Doll’s House. 2002.