In Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll House, a drama written during an 1879, middle-class, suburban Europe, he boldly depicts a female protagonist. In a culture with concern for fulfilling, or more so portraying a socially acceptable image, Nora faces the restraints of being a doll in her own house and a little helpless bird. The title highlights two important aspects of the play, a doll and a house. The doll and house symbolize the main character Nora Helmer, and the house in which she lives in with her husband, Torvald Helmer. Ibsen named his play A Doll’s House because of the relationship between Nora and her husband, the perfection of the house in which they live, and the constant manipulation that occurs throughout the play.
Nora Helmer was a very interesting character and a personal favorite to many. Ibsen created her to have many different changing impressions on the audience. At the beginning of the play he portrays Nora as being a materialistic woman who spends money all the time and solely depends on her husband to do so. During the first scene of the play Nora is walking into the house with a handful of newly bought items and even pays a porter twice his service fee and then proceeds to tell him to keep the change. When Torvald greets Nora shortly after she walks through the door, he immediately refers to her as a spendthrift, she replies with “Yes, Torvald, we may be a wee bit more reckless now, mayn ‘t we? Just a tiny wee bit! You are going to have a big salary and earn lots and lots of money” (Ibsen). This immediately shows the audience that she does not understand the value of money and well, loves to buy things. By Torvald calling her a spendthrift repeatedly it also gives us a bit of insight as to what he thinks of her bad habit. As seen throughout the play you hear Nora talking about her husband and how he got promoted and repeats how he will be making a lot more money due to his new position. This dependency is the reason that she unknowingly allows herself to be Torvald’s “doll.” As the audience sees early on, Torvald gives Nora an allowance in exchange for her to be on her best behavior and fulfill her duties as a wife and mother. The lack of respect Torvald has for Nora as a woman can be seen when he constantly calls her patronizing names, dresses her up in pretty costumes, and makes her dance for him. Through these specific actions it is seen that Torvald only admires Nora for her beauty and nothing more. Only at the end of the play does Nora realize that she has been a doll her whole life, not only with Torvald but with her father too. “It is perfectly true, Torvald. When I was at home with papa, he told me his opinion about everything, and so I had the same opinions; and if I differed from him, I concealed the fact, because he would not have liked it. He called me his doll-child, and he played with me just as I used to play with my dolls. And when I came to live with you—“(Ibsen). This very moment acts as a turning point in the play and gives the audience a final impression that Nora is no longer that child-like character seen throughout the play.
To illustrate that Nora is in fact a doll in this play, Ibsen purposely placing the setting inside the Helmer house. The house is immediately described at the start of the play as “A room furnished comfortably and tastefully, but not extravagantly. At the back, a door to the right leads to the entrance-hall, another to the left leads to Helmer ‘s study. Between the doors stands a piano. In the middle of the left-hand wall is a door, and beyond it a window. Near the window are a round table, arm-chairs and a small sofa. In the right-hand wall, at the farther end, another door; and on the same side, nearer the footlights, a stove, two easy chairs and a rocking-chair; between the stove and the door, a small table. Engravings on the walls; a cabinet with china and other small objects; a small book-case with well-bound books. The floors are carpeted, and a fire burns in the stove” (Ibsen). The simple description of the house portrays a house that is perfectly furnished and accessorized just like a doll house. The direct connection between Nora and her house, like that of a doll and it’s house, is made when Nora asks for money from Torvald and he replies “Indeed it is–that is to say, if you were really to save out of the money, I give you, and then really buy something for yourself. But if you spend it all on the housekeeping and any number of unnecessary things, then I merely have to pay up again” (Ibsen). The specific idea of this line is that Nora and the house are both Torvald’s expensive property and both cost a lot to maintain and upkeep.
Besides the doll and the doll house aspect of the play, the storyline also tells of mutual relationships. Throughout the play, the relationships between all its characters can either be manipulative, or even seem fake. Nora uses Torvald for money while keeping secrets from him like eating macaroons behind his back, Torvald uses Nora for entrainment pleasure, and Christine uses Nora to gain a job at Torvald’s bank which causes Krogstad to lose his job. This all leads to the main conflict of the story when Nora forges her father’s signature on the loan document she gave to Krogstad. Because Krogstad lost his job, he threatens to tell Torvald of Nora’s secret. This conflict causes a chain reaction of manipulation as Nora attempts to do all she can do to prevent Krogstad from exposing her. Knowing about Krogstad’s history with Christine, Nora uses her to persuade Krogstad out of his decision. The cycle of lies, and manipulation is symbolic to that of a dollhouse because even though everything in the Helmer household and the relationships of the characters seemed to be perfect at the beginning of the play, it is all fake.