University of Arkansas System
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
A Doll’s House: Characterization and Symbolism
“A Doll’s House” by Henrik Ibsen is a play that incorporates the use of characterization and symbols to capture the audience’s attention to show ordinary life of a middle-class family. Social status is the most important characterization tool in A Doll’s House. Most every character is strictly bound into the roles that are placed on them by society. Nora must be the submissive housewife. Christine only knows how to be happy if she’s fulfilling the same role. She thrives on helping people. Torvald must be the dominant husband. Krogstad struggles against the undesirable perception the community has of him. It is when the characters struggle against these roles that the play’s main conflicts are revealed. As in most drama, the character’s actions also define them. Krogstad spends most of his time threatening and blackmailing, showing us what a foul sort of person he can be.
Christine tries her best to help Nora throughout the play, which gives us an idea of her thoughtful nature. Then there’s Torvald. His actions paint him as overbearing and snobbish. He’s the classic egotistical husband. His little concessions to Nora show that he does love her in his way. Finally, we have Nora. Her doomed struggle to keep her secret is the central action that drives the play. Her dishonest methods tell us a lot about who she is as a character. We see what society has forced her to resort to in her desperation to help her husband. When we look for symbols in the play, the Christmas tree, a festive object meant to serve a decorative purpose, symbolizes Nora’s position in her household as a plaything who is pleasing to look at and adds charm to the home.
There are several parallels drawn between Nora and the Christmas tree in the play. Just as Nora instructs the maid that the children cannot see the tree until it has been decorated, she tells Torvald that no one can see her in her dress until the evening of the dance. Torvald’s study is another symbol that represents the sanctuary of male dominance and decision-making. Males in the 19th Century dominate not only the home but also the workplace and this is prevalent through the play. With the use of characterization and symbolism, “A Doll’s House” by Henrik Ibsen points out the dirty little secrets about the middle-class and brings it to life.