Symbolism in A Doll’s House

A Doll’s House is one of the many plays written by a Norwegian playwright and theatre director Henrik Johan Ibsen. Now Ibsen is often referred to as one of the most influential writers of his time and even as “a father of realism”. In this work, the plot revolves around a family, Nora and Torvald Helmer. Despite several troubles, in general, everything in their house seems to be peaceful and pretty – they have lovely children, the husband gets a raise. However, using a variety of symbols, the author manages to show how fragile and superficial this stability and happiness really is, particularly for Nora.

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The play starts with quite an emotional occasion, which is Christmas Eve. Despite the fact, that realism, as opposed to romanticism, rejects the pronounced emotionalism, subjectivism, and sentimentalism (Kvas 7), there is a holiday when the whole family comes together to celebrate, it serves as a perfect facade to conceal the dark secrets of this household, but only temporarily. Speaking of secrets, the first Nora’s words are: “Hide the Christmas-tree carefully, Ellen; the children mustn’t see it before this evening, when it’s lighted up” (Ibsen 1). Right from the beginning it is clear, that she only wants to show the bright side of life to her family. Moreover, the same tree also serves as a strong accent in Act II; an object, that is supposed to be the center of attention, no longer has ornaments, and the candles are burnt down. It symbolizes the beginning of the end and reflects both Nora’s neurotic state and her image.

A holiday is unthinkable without desserts, and here macarons, or, more precisely, Nora eating them, serve as another symbol. This act represents disobedience, deceit and desire for independence (Otieno 213). She even does not hesitate to lie to her husband about this, since an open rebellion would have caused an argument. This is usually how children disobey their parents, and Nora most certainly is treated like a child or a doll.

The dance is another symbol of Nora’s rebellion; in this scene, she proves herself much fiercer, as opposed to the moment when she secretly eats a macaron. She dances insolently and passionately, ignoring her husband’s instructions. However, at that point Nora is not completely free yet, since the husband manages to drag her away against her own will. In fact, he utters one phrase in a somewhat creepy manner: “But she is dreadfully obstinate, this sweet little creature. What’s to be done with her?” (Ibsen 94). It is clear that Helmer rejects the very idea of his wife’s having a strong will. He considers it as a flaw, an inconvenience. He even calls his wife “a creature”; she is not a person in his mind.

Finally, the doll’s house, where, despite the headline, the reader only sees occasional doll allegories in the beginning. Nora buys dolls for her daughter; “little dollies” are her children. Only in the end it is revealed, that she was a doll to be played by her father and then by her husband. Dissatisfied, Nora thinks that she can escape, creating better life for herself, and after that there is no changing her mind (Akter, 2).

Overall, the variety of symbols throughout A Doll’s House helps readers better understand the reason behind the ending. The main character is perceived as an object, just like a shiny Christmas tree. She is constantly treated like a child or a doll, which causes episodes of disobedience like secretly eating a macaron. Although, Nora’s eagerness to be free is also shown through her emotional dance, and several doll allegories remind the reader what this is really all about.

Works Cited

Akter, Saima. “Re-reading Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House: A Modern Feminist Perspective.” International Journal of English and Comparative Literary Studies, vol. 2, no. 3, 2021, pp. 79-87.

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Ibsen, Henrik. A Doll’s House. T. Fisher Unwin, 1829.

Kvas, Kornelije. The Boundaries of Realism in World Literature. Translated by Novica Petrović, Lexington Books, 2019.

Otieno, Tom Mboya. “A Linguistic Stylistic Analysis of Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House.” International Journal of Language and Linguistics vol. 8, no. 5, 2021, pp. 205-215.

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