A Doll House
A Doll House written by Henrik Ibsen is a realist play written in the 19th century. The use of symbolism, metaphors and dramatic irony were used by Ibsen to portray the expected role of the 19th century wife. The choice of Ibsen’s material and its presentation show that the author expected some contribution from women toward the solution of the cultural and social problems. ( Nesarimus 33) The use of these literary terms allowed the reader to see how Nora, in a sense, rebelled against what was expected of her.
A Doll House contained a feminist message which brought questions to the table in regards to the role of women in society. Symbolism is portrayed throughout the play. A symbol, defined by Oxford English Dictionary online, is something that stands for, represents, or denotes something else: not by exact resemblance but by vague suggestion or by some accidental or conventional relation. (Oxford Second Edition 1989) Nora’s fancy dress costume, the Christmas tree and the Tarantella dance symbolized the movement towards freedom of a woman victim to her society.
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Nora’s fancy dress costume was chosen by Torvald. Nora wore the dress for him. This reinforced the idea that it was Nora’s superficial qualities, such as her beauty, that Torvald most appreciated and was interested in. In Act II the Nurse brought the dress to Nora. (Ibsen 2205) Nora discovered the dress to be torn. It was Mrs. Linde’s idea to repair the dress. Nora on the other hand looked at the dress as if it was beyond repair. The difference in how Mrs. Linde and Nora looked at the dress symbolized how they viewed the marriage of Nora and Torvald.
Mrs. Linde believed that if Nora was truthful with her husband the marriage could be repaired like the dress. Nora believed that her actions of dishonesty and forgery sent her marriage to point beyond repair. In Nora’s eyes her dress and marriage were not repairable. Another symbolic object used by Ibsen is the Christmas tree. The Christmas tree symbolized Nora’s role in the household. A Christmas tree is a decoration used to bring joy and warmth to a home. Nora’s position in the home was like that of the tree. She was to look good and be seen not heard.
At the beginning of the second act the stage directions indicate that the Christmas tree is “disheveled”. (Ibsen 2205) The tree being disheveled symbolized Nora’s psychological condition. At that point in the play Nora’s dishonest ways had caught up with her. The Christmas tree showed a sign of break down just as Nora did. Nora was unable to keep her emotions and guilty actions contained. By Christmas day the Christmas tree was stripped of its decorations and Nora was stripped from the hope her secret would not be revealed.
Nora believed at that point in the play that Krogstad’s letter would inevitably be read by her husband revealing her secret. The marriage was left waiting its destiny like that of the Christmas tree. The Tarantella Dance is a third symbol used by Ibsen. The Tarantella is an Italian dance generally danced by a couple or line of couples. The dance is named after the tarantula spider. The poisonous bite by a tarantula spider was believed to cause tarantism. Tarantism is described as an uncontrollable urge for wild dancing. ( Oxford Second Edition 1989) Torvald helps Nora practice the Tarantella.
Nora persuades Torvald into watching and instructing her how to dance. She did this to prevent her husband from opening the mail which contained the letter from Krogstad. The letter would reveal her secret and lies. Torvald attempted to give his wife instructions at which time she danced more wildly. Nora needed to keep her husband entertained to keep him from retrieving the mail. Nora dancing wildly symbolized tarantism. She danced wildly to rid herself of the poison. Torvald told his wife, “But Nora darling you dance as if your life is at stake. ” Nora replies “ And it is. (Ibsen 2218)
The poison is the threat contained in the letter written in the letter by Krogstad. The symbols used in the play reinforce Ibsen’s belief of what was or should be a 19th century wife. Like symbolism, metaphors are also used throughout the play by Ibsen. A Metaphor, defines by Oxford English Dictionary, is a figure of speech in which a name or descriptive word or phrase is transferred to an object or action different from, but analogous to, that to which is literally applicable. ( Oxford Revision 2008) The Doll in A Doll House is a metaphor.
In Act III Nora tells her husband that he and her father have treated her like a doll-child. (Ibsen 2230) Nora did not have any opinions of her own and she believed that she was only played with by Torvald and her father. Nora states that the men committed “a great sin” against her. ( Ibsen 2230) Neither man allowed her to grow up, discouraging her to do so along the way. Throughout the play Torvald called his wife pet names. The word little is usually tied to the beginning of the name. I believe that Torvald sees his wife as a child.
Upon discovering the letter from Krogstad, Torvald told Nora “Playtime is over, now for the schooling. ” (Ibsen 2230) He provided her with money, told her how to dress, and gave her orders. Torvald picked a costume for Nora as if a mother would pick an outfit out for a baby. Torvald played dress up with his wife as little girls do so with their baby dolls. Torvald wanted and insisted that Nora remain dependant upon him. Torvald used Nora for amusement and as a decorative and beautiful object. Pet names such as little squirrel, skylark and songbird were also metaphors used by Ibsen.
Torvald used these names for Nora to show that he did not see her as an equal. Nora’s role in Torvald’s home was to delight him. The pet names used were those of all wild animals. Squirrels, skylarks and songbirds do not belong in cages. Like the wild animals, Nora could not stand living in the Torvald’s restricted home. The metaphors used throughout the play help to portray the role Torvald believed Nora was to uphold in his home. A third literary term used throughout A Doll House is irony. Irony serves the purpose of accentuating a story and adds to its creativity and originality.
Dramatic irony, defined by Oxford’s Dictionary, is the incongruity created when the significance of a character’s speech or actions is revealed to the audience but unknown to the character concerned. ( Oxford Second Edition 1989) The dramatic irony used in the play involves unconscious hypocrisy. In unconscious hypocrisy the speaker intends to be understood as meaning what his utterance would ordinarily be understood to mean, but is unaware that the situation is at odds with this meaning. (Baker) An example of this was portrayed in the scene in which Torvald reacts to Krogstad’s letter. All your father’s flimsy values have come out in you. ” (Ibsen 2227)
“Oh how I’m punished for letting him off. I did it for your sake and you repay me like this. ” (Ibsen 2227) In these statements Torvald revealed that he himself committed perjury in covering up for Nora’s father. As a young lawyer, Torvald had been commissioned by the city authorities to look into allegations that Nora’s father had mishandled funds. (Baker) Torvald did not except the plea of ignorance by his wife Nora. In his eyes it was not an excuse.
Torvald knew that his own affidavit as the special investigator in the case of Nora’s father was criminal. Torvald was a hypocrite in the sense that the laws apply to others but not him. Torvald declared his wife morally unfit due to her lies. Yet he did not see himself in the same way. Ibsen used Dramatic Irony to bring issues to the table in regards to what was expected by a 19th century women. Torvald played the male dominant role. Nora was to play the role of an obedient wife who was seen and not heard. Nora’s role fell to the wayside as her dishonest actions in the past were brought to the attention of Torvald.
What was good for the goose was not good for the gander. As you can see Ibsen’s use of symbolism, metaphors and dramatic irony gave way for an entertaining play. The use of these literary terms stimulated the reader’s mind and allowed them a more in depth view of the wife’s role in the 19th century. Ibsen’s work allowed him to express how he felt in regards to women and their social status. The meaning of the symbolism, metaphors and irony is up for the individual reader’s interpretation but it is clear to me what Ibsen meant by the way of the literary terms.