University of Arkansas System
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Symbolism in A Doll’s House
Symbols are used universally to arouse interest to something prosaic and to stimulate the mind. Henrik Ibsen’s play, A Doll’s House is fraught with symbols that represent abstract ideas and concepts. These symbols successfully illustrate the inner conflicts that are going on between the characters. A few of the symbols are the macaroons, the Tarantella dance, and the Christmas tree. Nora lies about the macaroons twice, the first time to Torvald and the second time to Dr. Rank. Nora resorts to lying about eating the macaroons because she feels she is at fault for disobeying. The macaroons denote Nora’s dishonesty, which also alludes to her act of committing objectionable, underhanded deeds. The Tarantella is symbolic because it shows that Nora is trying to rid herself of the poison just as the dance’s original meaning is to try to expel the poison from the bite of a tarantula. The Christmas tree is another image in the play, which corresponds to Nora. Just as the Christmas tree is employed as a decorative, aesthetic object, Nora serves the same purpose as a doll living in her dollhouse solely for aesthetic purposes
Nora’s fetish for macaroons is one example of a very suggestive symbol. When Torvald approaches Nora and questions Nora in a childlike manner if she has disobeyed him eating macaroons he say, “(wagging his finger at her) Hasn’t Miss Sweet Tooth been breaking rules in town to-day?” (6) Nora hides the truth and reassures him that she has not. Torvald appears to be teasing her, but the mere truth that for such an insignificant matter Nora has to lie, indicates that there is conflict in their relationship. The second time that Nora lies about the macaroons is when she offers them to Dr. Rank. He asks her, “What, macaroons? I thought they were forbidden here.”(17), and Nora answers with a lie by responding “Yes, but these are some Christine gave me.”(17). All these deceptions in their marriage are the sources of trouble between the seemingly happy couple.
Eating the macaroons appears to be an unimportant issue, but for Nora it is imperative that Torvald does not find out she has been eating them. The macaroons therefore symbolize also how crucial is that Torvald does not discover any information about the forged documents and the loan that she has made from Krogstad to save Torvald’s life.
The tarantella is a folk dance from southern Italy that picks up the pace from its already fast rhythm. Its purpose is to be Nora’s final chance to be Torvald’s little doll, to dance and amuse him. Moreover, the tarantella is frequently known as a dance that is supposed to purge the dancer of the poison of the bite of the tarantula. When it says, “Nora dances more and more wildly…her hair comes down and falls over her shoulders; she pays no attention to it, but goes on dancing”(47), it symbolizes that Nora is letting her unexpressed aggravation, and apprehension flee.
It is her way of articulating her desire for something better in life. The use of the dance suggests that Nora is ineffectively trying to relieve herself of the venomous poison. Instead of mitigating her pain, the music of the Tarantella dance along with her life only continue to go faster and spin out of control.
The Christmas tree in the Helmer household is also representative of Nora. Both are viewed to be objects that are there for pleasure only for the eye. Nora plays the role of a doll who adds charm to the house just as a Christmas tree does. Just as Nora orders the nurse, “Hide the Christmas Tree carefully, Helen. Be sure the children do not see it till this evening, when it is dressed” (1), she similarly tells Torvald, “Yes, nobody is to have a chance to of admiring me in my dress until to-morrow” (46). In addition, when the second act opens the Christmas tree is described to be, “stripped of its ornaments and with burnt-down candle-ends on its disheveled branches” (29). This description corresponds to Nora’s psychological state because she is confused and feeling mixed emotions.
Ibsen’s extensive use of symbolism throughout the play is used to capture the reader’s attention and create another level to the plot for the reader to explore and be absorbed in within the play’s content. These symbols all allude to the conflicts involving Nora and herself or another character. The Tarantella, the Christmas tree, and the macaroons all demonstrate how Nora’s life is complicated by her marriage with Torvald that is not even real. Their relationship shares no mutuality and Nora is never allowed to be independent; she is always the doll that is being manipulated by Torvald. From the parallels formed by the symbols, we understand how many of the things in the play are representative of her life.