The play ‘A Doll’s House’ is one of the best plays by Ibsen. Ibsen has refined the taste of his plays with the use of many devices. Symbolism is one of the main and common devices used in drama. The use of symbolism may heighten up the emotional effect of a situation. The symbolism imparts additional layer of meaning to the writing. While the apparent meaning lies on the surface. The symbolic meaning is often hidden from views it lies deeper than it seems. Ibsen makes use of symbolism in “A Doll’s House” for the purpose of character revelation. Ibsen always said that he aimed at drawing living creatures and that any symbolism was purely development in Nora’s character at the end is so great that some critics think this change to be dramatically incredible.
The play “A Doll’s House” revolves around two main characters Torvald Helmer and his wife Nora Helmer. They live in a house which is symbolized as a doll’s house by Ibsen. The very title “A Doll’s House” symbolizes that all of the people that live in the Torvald residence are like dolls. Torvald plays with them when he chooses and ignores them when he has something else to do. Torvald maintains his office in his home and use to interact with his wife and children whenever he chooses. Maintaining office in the same premises where he lives, gives us the evidence that work is more important for him and his family is less important. He does no bother his family and indulge himself more in his office work.
Another aspect of the title “A Doll’s House” is that Torvald treats Nora like a doll. Nora tells Torvald that her father and Torvald both have treated her like a baby-doll. Nora’s father used to call her ‘doll-child’. She says in the play that
That is just it; you have never understood me, I have been greatly wronged, Torvald – first by papa and then by you.
I mean that I was simply transferred from papa’s hands into yours. You arranged everything according to your own taste, and so I got the same tastes as you – or else I pretended to, I am really not quite sure which – I think sometimes the one and sometimes the other. . .
To her father, Nora was a sort of toy or doll that he could play with. Nora feels her relation with her husband like the one with her father. She considers her marriage a mere change of possession. Torvald’s house is a doll house to her. She was cuddled like a child and was never given an opportunity to take a serious decision. She was never consulted for opinions. Instead, she was often molded either by Torvald or her father in their own decisions. It also symbolizes a male dominant society that a woman is a mere puppet in the hands of the possessor. They use them as they find it fair. They seek their own benefit neglecting their feelings, and desires.
Torvald uses to call Nora with different pet names that symbolizes that he considers her a doll and not giving her an equal status of a wife. He considers her role is to amuse and delight. Torvald’s behavior with to Nora is very childish. The pet names he uses for Nora are considered to be used for children. For him she is no more than a doll.
The play begins with religious symbols that are Christmas Evening and Christmas tree, which signifies the security and happiness of the family. Nora orders Christmas tree and insists to hide it until it is completely decorated. This symbolizes that Nora is the keep of appearances. It shows there is a contrast in appearance and reality in Nora’s marital life. Her act of hiding the true inculcates the doubt that there are secrets in her life and she does not want to disclose them before she manages them. She has borrowed money from Krogstad for the treatment of her ailing husband, but she is unable to pay it off. So she is concealing this matter by trying to convince Torvald to keep Krogstad in his job. Nora has carefully maintained appearance of the happy marriage under the encroachment of truth.
Nora’s fancy costume which is bought by Torvald was found torn and Nora tempted to tear it into pieces. This symbolizes the flaws and weaknesses of her marriage and feelings about it. Nora thought to shred her marital relation into pieces because in her opinion it was beyond repair. Mrs. Linde wanted the couple to face the bitter reality and mend their minute misunderstandings. In spite of all these feelings Nora wears the costume for the sake of Torvald because by wearing that costume throws Torvald in a state of erotic fascination. It was her transient qualities that Torvald must appreciate. Nora makes herself in agreement with the likes and dislikes of Torvald. She wants to please him at any cost.
New Year’s Day means a new beginning, because the first day of a new year brings hopes and happiness for people. In the play it symbolizes a new beginning for almost all the characters. The Major character, Torvald, is going to start a new and better paid job at a bank. Nora is seeking to be free from her debt, which was borrowed secretly for the treatment of her husband and Nora starts a new life by leaving Torvald and Her children in the house.
Light in the play symbolizes Nora’s state of awareness. She is innocent and immature in the beginning of the play and with the advent of incidence she is getting mature. The light symbolizes enlightenment of her mental consciousness. She realizes her status of being a female and makes her voice loud for her rights. Light also appears to symbolize hope and spiritual redemption when Dr. Rank is talking to Nora about his upcoming death. The light begins to grow dark, symbolizes that Nora is using her sexual attractiveness to manipulate the dying Dr. Rank into giving her money to pay off her loan. The darkness is a sign of evil. Darkness tempts towards wrong doings. Nora wants to create an atmosphere so that Dr. Rank agrees for giving her money.
The Tarantella, an Italian dance, generally danced by a couple or line of couples, which was named after the tarantula spider, whose poisonous bite was mistakenly believed to cause ‘tarantism’, or an ‘uncontrollable urge for wild dance’. The ‘cure’ prescribed by the doctors was for the sufferer to dance to exhaustion. Modern psychologists speculate that the true cause of the disorder was not the spider’s bite, but the repressed morals of that age. The only outlet for passionate self-expression, they reason, was the Tarantella. This symbolizes that Torvald wants to keep Nora in isolation within her marriage. And she dances more wildly so that Torvald hears her and unable to read the Krogstad’s letter. It also symbolizes that Nora is dancing wildly to free herself from the poison which Krogstad brought in, in her life.
Finally, we can say the Ibsen’s use of symbolism in his play “A Doll’s House shows originality in his respect. The manner in which Ibsen describes the room in the stage directions at the opening of the play gives us an idea of the effect he was aiming the realistic details of the opening stage directions are used to lead the audience into a close identification with the characters who live in this room which seems so familiar.
1) Textbook of the play “A Doll’s House” by Henrik Ibsen.
2) Critical notes on “A Doll’s House” by New Kitab Mahal.
3) Lecture notes