Table of Contents

THE NOTION OF “DOLL’’ IN A DOLL’S HOUSE In Henrik Ibsen’s play, ‘A Doll’s House’, he portrays the inhumane and male-dominant side of the society, in which the females have neither freedom nor autonomy and are limited to their social roles of being mothers and wives. The depiction of the anti-feminist thoughts and beliefs in which the females have to live under societal norms sheds light over the late 19th Century of Norway which was also referred as Victorian Era. The play involves the protagonist Nora Helmer, who spends most of her time as a ‘doll’ which shows a metaphoric comparison between Nora and a doll. The comparison resembles that Nora is a tedious, naïve and passive character with just a little self-identity. Her character appears to be unconcerned about the reality, and this complicates the relation between Nora and Torvald. When Nora realises that she was an amalgamation of societal expectations, she also admits that her active, loyal and principled husband Torvald was the formation of her expectations. She recognises that her marriage was a compromise and Torvald a doll-husband, Nora a doll-wife and their children destined to be “doll-children”. Moreover, the whole Helmer family behaves like a doll’s family, which makes the name “A Doll’s House” righteous. Nora seems to have a lackadaisical approach throughout the book; furthermore, she is always busy in her little world and never spends quality time with her husband. Likewise, rather than loving her children; she orders the nurse to take care of them, which shows that Nora has got rid of her responsibilities and reveals her laidback approach towards her life which can be seen in the Act 1 when she was lazily roaming in her house eating macaroons as if she had no concerns. As Nora used to spend money on buying toys for her children, they started playing with the dolls at an early age, which shows the continuation of her childhood tradition. The phrase “my sweet little doll” shows that Nora has nurtured characteristics of the dolls in her children at an early age. Nora keeps playing and undressing the dolls, which shows her engagement in her doll-like world. She keeps acquiring material possessions by purchasing dresses, toys, candy rather than living her life happily. It denotes the lack of fiscal responsiveness in Nora and seems that she takes a back-seat approach to her life like an object. The metaphorical comparison between Nora and an object emphasizes on her passivity and her lack of decision-making power. It also interprets her easy-going life. From the start of the play, Torvald Helmer patronises her by calling her a “squirrel”, a “Skylark”, a “squander bird”. Torvald treats her as a cute little girl and keeps protecting her. It leads to the continuation of Nora’s childish behaviour; nevertheless, she keeps accepting the treatment. Torvald restricts Nora like a father, protects and inhibits, a child. Torvald also forbids her from pursuing candy and spending money on her temporal pleasures. As Nora doesn’t object him, Torvald attaches “my” modifier to every pet name he calls Nora. In ACT 1, when Helmer asks Nora if his little lark was twittering out, Nora replies to him by saying yes. Furthermore, Helmer refers to Nora as his “little lark”, and she replies him without any objection. It shows how Nora accepted to be a possession of Torvald, which also emphasizes her lack of judgement towards the situation and behaviour of others. In a scene, Torvald calls Nora as his “dearest property” which illustrates how Nora is the possession of Torvald. Furthermore, Mrs Linde has been seen stating that she will save Nora “at any price” through which shows Nora as an object. However, Nora doesn’t object it, which shows her approval of being referred to as someone’s possession. Nora uses her moodiness to persuade Helmer to do whatever she wants: “I performed tricks for you, and you gave me food and drink, but that was how you wanted it. ”, which reveals that Nora plays the role of “doll-wife” to get what she wants from her husband. In the play, Nora appears to be immature like a child. The relationship between Nora and Torvald seems more like a father-daughter relationship rather than a happily married couple. The character of Nora grows the quality of being reckless within herself; as a result, she stops caring about the consequences of her actions. In the play, whenever Torvald puts forward a hypothetical tragedy, Nora tries to get rid of it by saying,” Oh! Don’t say such things.” Once, she had accused Mrs Linde of smuggling forbidden macaroons into the house, which is an example of her disregard for others by hiding her indiscretions. She seems apathetic as she doesn’t care whom she hurts in the process of making false accusations and blaming someone. It depicts her tries to hide from the real world by acting like an immature and being imprudent. When Torvald buys her a fish girl costume for going out in a costume party, he wants her to appear as a “Neapolitan fish girl”. He insists her for dressing the costume; apparently, the costume and dance are parts of his fantasy of gazing upon Nora and taking her out of the house and pretending that she is exotic, which clearly shows that Torvald coveted Nora to adopt a foreign identity. As one dresses his doll, Torvald had dressed Nora. Later, when she undresses, it feels like she is shedding an outer-covering of her doll-like existence. Throughout the book, it seems that Nora accepts the nicknames like “squirrel”, “Skylark”, “little creature”, “Songbird” given to her by Torvald and she doesn’t object the names which show her unresponsiveness and injudiciousness to the situation. While questioning Torvald, Nora renames herself as “a little squirrel” which explicates the comparison between Nora and a squirrel, as if she were an object who can change her identity as per the expectations of others, and here the portrayal of her lost self-respect becomes apparent. In the book, it is noticeable that Torvald doesn’t allow Nora to read the mail, which shows how he keeps her within his control and far-away from the outside world. Here, the ‘mailbox’ represents the real world. It also displays Nora’s submissiveness as she doesn’t take a standpoint for herself, and doesn’t even ask him for her rights to read the emails. Throughout the text, Torvald doesn’t grant her freedom; moreover, she seems to be doing what she has been told to do like a “doll”. Nora finally accepts the fact that her father has made her a ‘doll-child’ and he transferred Nora to Torvald’s hand. Nora compares Torvald’s house with a playroom where Nora is the “doll” and her children are dolls, too. Earlier, her father used to play with Nora and treat her like a doll as he used to force his beliefs on her, following the tradition; she plays and treats her children like dolls. According to her, Torvald was guilty of the same things. She realises that she couldn’t do anything in her life because she was initially objectified by her father and after marriage by her husband. These incidents illustrate the metaphoric comparison done between Nora and a doll. In Act 3, the symbolism of the “doll” gets more powerful. Nora expects Torvald to defend her honour in every circumstance by sacrificing his reputation and future, but Torvald fails to fulfil her expectations and shatters down Nora’s dream world. The reader can analyse that Torvald loved her as his status symbol. Torvald planned to manage the scandal from blackmailing by stripping Nora of her spousal and motherly duties but would keep her in the house for appearance sake. At a point, Nora realises that she was living with a deceitful man, which forces her into the real world, and she ceases to be a doll. In the final scene, there is a hypothetical shock when Nora realizes that her world is a complete sham. The epilogue signifies that Nora was initially like a doll, but later she has broken her doll-like shell, and has started living her life like an independent adult. On the other hand, in comparison with “real Nora”, Torvald is the doll. Lastly, he keeps wondering about what “the most wonderful thing” is. While they both were talking by the table, he had worn inappropriate clothes which highlighted his doll-like identity. In conclusion, due to the male-dominated society of late 19th century Norway, women are restricted in their respective roles of being mothers and wives; also, they don’t have enough autonomy. In this patriarchal system, Nora initially chooses to be “a doll” due to her dependence on Torvald for economic support; however, in the third act, Ibsen challenges these social restrictions imposed upon women, where Nora pursues a different way by embarking on the path of independence, leaving behind her confidence in the marriage.