Henrik Ibsen’s in one of his most revolutionary plays, A Doll’s House, filled his set and narrative with symbols that emphasised the idea that above everything, one must be an individual. Doors, macaroons and the tarantella are all symbols that are used by Ibsen to convey to the audience that the life of Nora and Torvald isn’t what it seems to the naked eye. The doors in the ‘doll’s house’ set, are emphasised, to symbolise the separate ‘world’s ‘ Nora and Torvald live in; the illusive macaroons symbolise the control Torvald has over his wife and the wild tarantella dance is symbolic of Nora’s desire to escape from her restricted and heavily defined existence.
Doors in A Doll’s House are not just a wooden blocks that can be used as a thoroughfare between rooms; they are used to distinguish between the two different spheres, Nora’s sphere and Torvald’s sphere. All throughout the play, Nora never enters her husband’s ‘world’. Guests for Torvald were instructed to ‘not come in here (Nora’s living room)’, and they went on into Torvald’s study. As Krogstad ‘slammed’ the door on the way out of his house, Nora’s world was smashed into a million shards of tiny fragile pieces. The character of Nora is sent into a spiral of depression, anxiety and out-right craziness that turned a seemingly normal dance into a 19th century movement of oppressed emotions.
The macaroons that Nora possesses in the beginning of the play are more than just a common snack. Nora has the macaroons in the early stages of the play, with Torvald around. They give the audience the knowledge of Nora’s child-like behaviour and emotions. All through ‘A Doll’s House’, Torvald treats Nora like an ‘inexperienced child’, and the macaroons are one of many indications of this. She offers it to guests as they enter her ‘world’, but not to her husband, in which she hides them from him. The child-like behaviour is also witnessed in the scene where Nora is playing with her children, calling them ‘little dolls’ and playing with them like they are her friends and she’s not their mother. This child-like behaviour was encouraged by Torvald, by simple nicknames, such as ‘skylark’ and ‘mockingbird’, to make Nora be more immature towards Torvald and keeping her youthfulness that he liked so much.
The infamous dance, the tarantella, was an expression of the oppressed society that woman had to go through in the 19th century. The tarantella was used to convey emotions that woman couldn’t express in normal, everyday life. They used raw energy to express that raw emotion. In ‘A Doll’s House’, Nora uses, just as other woman have, to express and release the oppressed emotion that was given by Torvald towards her. In the scene where Nora is dancing for Torvald as practice of the dance and Dr. Rank comes in, Torvald keeps telling Nora to ‘stop it’ and ‘do it as I said’. Nora is completely oblivious to Torvald and keeps on dancing in her own style. Dr. Rank comes in and takes over Torvalds role as piano player to fuel the flame that Nora was burning. The dance becomes more and more wild as the scene progresses, until the music stops and Nora is just ‘still’. The oppressive moment of woman in the 19th century created this dance.
‘A Doll’s House’ uses this symbols of child-like behaviour, different worlds and an oppressed dance to show the audience that the world of the 19th century wasn’t a blissful place where men and woman were equal in everything they had rights to, like they do now. Torvald showed that he was a man of conformity and tried his best to bend his family into the social norms of the time. Torvald never let Nora have her way and treated her like a child, making her regress into one and even making her be his child. She was scared to wrong by her husband, even hiding a simple sweet from him so he wouldn’t find out that she was eating it.
By the end of ‘A Doll’s House’ , Nora grows up. After the problems arisen by Krogstad, she learns that her husband isn’t her saviour anymore and she doesn’t love him. The party ended when Torvald wanted to leave. Nora got home and changed out of her formal attire, and into outdoor wear, making Torvald wonder, ‘Why are you dressed like that?’ The taking off of her formal clothes gives the impression that Nora is now taking off her old life, her oppressed life, and starting afresh. After an emotional discussion with Torvald, she ends up leaving him and the children. Walking out of her house, through the door, again is symbolising the end of something. This time it’s Nora’s life with Torvald. As the door closes, this time it’s Torvald who breaks down, mirroring Nora’s emotions when Krogstad leaves the letter in the letter box.
Symbolisation is a major part in any play, even more so in ‘A Doll’s House’. The emotion scenes with Nora, Torvald, Dr. Rank and even Krogstad wouldn’t be the same without objects such as the doors or macaroons, or the two different spheres dividing Nora’s world and Torvalds. The dance itself plays a vital role of showing emotion without the notice of Nora’s own husband. Without such devices, ‘A Doll’s House’ wouldn’t be the same revolutionary play that we see today; it would just be mere words on a page.
‘A Doll’s House’ Henrik Ibsen
Courtney from Study Moose
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