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Symbols in Henrik Ibsen's 'A Doll's House'

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1307 words Published: 28th Sep 2017

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Symbols of new beginnings for Nora

In A Doll’s House the protagonist, Nora lives in a Victorian society where women are heavily controlled and treated as second-class citizens. The average Victorian women belonged to a stereotype that the women were required to stay home and clean, prepare meals and raise children. In marriage Victorian women lost ownership of their wages, all physical property, including land, and all other cash generated once married. The husband would represent both man and woman placing the husband in control of everything and that including the wife as if she was a piece of property. This was Nora before her new beginning. The playwright employs a variety of literary techniques and symbolism to convey the transition from a traditional Victorian woman to the image of her seen at the end of the play; an embittered yet sophisticated, intelligent, and newly empowered woman boldly escaping the infantilizing clutches of her old life. Amongst the symbols employed throughout the play many were ones in which represented a new beginning for Nora. From the point of act one she played the submissive, seemingly selfish, foolish wife refusing to acknowledge the strength that she was building. From the Christmas tree to the macaroons to the Tarantella to New Year’s day are very important symbols which are Nora’s loves, they are what helped her to obtain her new beginning, these symbols conveyed to the reader the beginning a new for her.

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Christmas is favored holiday for Nora, the level of happiness is exponential, but part of the reason why she is so happy is the joy that she has when playing the role of a wife and mother. The toys that she chose for her children suggests that she is fine with the status quo of Victorian society, girls being nurturing and growing up to be a homely wife and mother while boys grow up to be strong and powerful. Though during this stage her action of wanting to buy something for herself implies that she wants to make a decision for herself going against the status quo. At this point though unaware she starts to think of independence as if the thought of it was in the back of her mind. Though Torvald does not allow her to do so, the fact that Torvald will not trust her with money to buy herself a present demonstrates a major imbalance of power. We see her during the play ordering the Christmas tree and then decorating it, secretly acting independently an implication of growth of strength to be an independent woman growing, edging towards a new beginning. During Christmas Eve Nora believed her marriage to be one that had little to no issues. At the beginning of the second act, the tree has been stripped and the candles burned out; stage directions dictate that is should look “bedraggled”. This represents the end of Nora’s innocence and foreshadows the Helmer family’s eventual disintegration, the tree represents the family and its unity, the stripping of the tree foreshadows Nora stripping from the family unit and her becoming her own person and reaching her new beginning. She is starting to change significantly at this point. Though the first implication of a strength that was beginning to grow was in her little act of eating a macaroon.

The macaroons was a treat that Torvald had forbidden Nora from eating. Nora claims that she “would never dream” of doing anything that Torvald did not want her to do, but this is disproved in the very opening of the play when Nora eats macaroons while she was alone in the living room. The macaroons come to represent Nora’s disobedience to Torvald, as this was her first act of disobedience seen by the audience. The macaroons show that Nora is the perfect little “pet” that Torvald views her to be. The macaroons function in the play was to demonstrate that although that some families and lives seem picture perfect, most of the time it is not true, as proven by Nora’s need to hide the bond and macaroons from Torvald. Ibsen’s use of symbolism in using such a minor pleasure impacts the story in a huge way by subtly showing the audience that Nora’s lifestyle is not as truthful, happy and dependent as it seems, an independent act can lead to more and such implies her growing strength. After giving a tempestuous performance of the tarantella Nora asks that the macaroons be served at dinner, indicating a relationship between the macaroons and Nora’s inner passions, the tarantella and the macaroons can be said to be two of Nora’s loves which help to show the audience the truth of who she really is.

The tarantella symbolizes a side of Nora that is fiery and passionate she could express her true nature in this dance. The Tarantella was a wild southern Italian dance, generally danced by a couple or line of couples. The dance was named after the tarantula spider, whose poisonous bite was mistakenly believed to cause ‘tarantism,’ an uncontrollable urge for wild dancing. The ‘cure’ prescribed by doctors was for the sufferer to dance to exhaustion. Pyscologists reason that the only form of expressing passion to its fullest, was the Tarantella. It is the fiery, passionate dance that allows Nora to drop the façade of perfect mild-mannered Victorian wife it is the catalyst in which Nora is able to demonstrate a repressed side of herself, her true self. Ibsen’s placement of the Tarantella in the third act is an foreshadowing element which implies the breaking out of Nora. Her new beginning, is clearly seen in this dance something that is not controlled. Throughout the play Nora uses performances to please Torvald, and the tarantella is no exception; he admits that watching her perform makes him desire her. However this is only under controlled circumstances, and Torvald seems to enjoy that the performance impresses other people more than anything. But she can be only controlled to a certain point such can be said when Torvald was trying to give instructions “slow down”, trying to control her as he watched her practice before the actual event. Though this seems to be only done to please her husband with a performance, what drives her to perform is the underlying aspect that she can demonstrate her emotions to the fullest uncontrolled.

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New Years day is traditionally viewed as a new beginning and such can be said to be the Helmer family’s view, they are looking forward to this new beginning. Torvald starts a better paying job at the bank at which he works, Nora is almost free if not already free of her debt by New Years day. By the end of the play Nora has definitely made a new beginning for herself though not as expected; without her children and her husband. As the secret about the debt is found out by Torvald and she has reached an epiphany because of this that she “existed merely to perform tricks” blaming him and her father for treating her like a spoilt child and a plaything for their own entertainment. They wanted her to be ignorant and helpless, and thus far she has only tried to please them and in turn missing out on any opportunity to educate and improve herself.

All the times she subtly rebelled or disobeyed or rather she was the one in control behind the scenes but now she is seen clearly, no more deception. Nora’s submissiveness to Torvald is no longer seen. She shows herself no longer as a child but as an adult woman these symbols that the author has employed has shown her development over time. Especially when Torvald fails to provide the strength that she needed, because of that she can truly say that she no longer loves him. Her realization that she wants to pursue her independence is not so much a transformation but an awakening to a strength that she had possessed all along and with this strength she can begin a new.


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