Henrik Ibsen is, perhaps, the most famous Norwegian playwright whose works are still staged throughout the world. “A Doll’s House” is a remarkable example of a social investigation where the most urgent problems of those days, among them, a woman’s position in the family and in the society in general, transparency of business affairs, as well as the issue of honesty and sincerity among the closest people, are shown at the background of the coming Christmas with its magic, but at the same time numerous illusions.
The central conflict of the play is connected with Nora’s fear of her forgery being discovered, but her crime is related to other two characters as well: to her husband, since she did it in order to save his life, and to Krogstad who knows the truth and blackmails Nora in order to get back his position in the bank. Thus, the playwright’s main concern is to consider the consequences of the marriage based on a lie when a husband and a wife refer to the matter differently, and this most serious issue of human interrelations is revealed through the symbols of Christmas and masquerade as embodiments of the ideas of renovation and illusion correspondingly, in such a way reconsidering the situation from a rather unusual perspective.
The very beginning of the play implies that Nora and Torvald’s marriage is in the dead-end with her getting tired of playing the same role of a cheerful doll and wishing to be treated equally and respectfully. The first scene with Torvald calling his wife “my little lark,” “my little squirrel,” “the little featherhead,” because she has spent too much money on Christmas presents (Ibsen 615) proves that Torvald looks down to his wife and views her as a beautiful decoration of their seemingly successful marriage. They are different even in their attitude to the coming holiday, since for Nora it is a possibility of starting everything afresh, while for Torvald it is a burden of wasting too much money.
Throughout the play, Nora does everything to look joyful and content, while Torvald takes everything for granted and only demands more and more favors. That is why his disappointment in Nora seems so deep and frustrating, since “she who was my joy and pride – a hypocrite, a liar – worse, worse – a criminal” (Ibsen 642). He does not admit his fault, but only repeats that Nora has ruined everything – “my happiness… my future” (Ibsen 643). In this monologue, Torvald opposes “I” and “you” with “I” (Torvald) reflecting everything stable, lawful, and respectful, and “you” (Nora) responsible for lack of religion, morality, and sense of duty. With these words, he spurns Nora, ruins all their chances to be happy ever after.
For the first time in her life, Nora sees clearly that this man will never be her support and rescuer, but only her judge and, possibly, an executor in the future. She wants to understand herself, what she wants in this life, and following her goal he leaves Torvald in order to restart everything in a new environment without any men to tell her what to do.
The key symbols of the play are closely related to the Christmas holidays with people’s anticipating something important to come, but at the same time, with their realizing that all the fantasies, illusions, and masquerades are a part of a deceptive ritual of everyone’s apparent happiness. A Christmas Tree appears in the play’s first scene and is accompanied with the words of the first illusion, since Nora asks the maid to hide the Christmas Tree carefully for children not to “see it until this evening when it is dressed” (Ibsen 615). Nora does not want her children to take the most active part in Christmas preparations, but prepares for everyone a great surprise.
Meanwhile, her husband jokes that Christmas is the time of revealing secrets and suggests his wife to keep her secrets to herself (Ibsen 616) being sure that there is nothing to worry about, though, in fact, Nora’s revelations turn out to be hard for their marriage to survive. This scene proves that Nora relies on herself in everything, though she pretends to be an obedient wife who “should not think of going against” her husband’s wishes (Ibsen 616). She is truly innocent in her self-deception in the beginning, but after getting disappointed in her husband and their union, she finds enough strength to resurrect for a new, better existence to stop being a doll-wife, but become “a reasonable human being” (Ibsen 645).
The fancy-dress ball is the reflection of Nora’s obedience and at the same time, the proof of her deep disillusionment when at last she manages to get rid of her mask. Going to the ball, Nora follows all her husband’s instructions: he “wants me to go as a Neapolitan fisher-girl, and dance the Tarantella that I learned at Capri” (Ibsen 628). At the party, Torvald behaves strangely as if they were “secretly in love… that no one suspects there is anything between us” (Ibsen 640), which involves them both in a game, an allegory of their happy marriage. The whole idea of a fancy-dress party with people wearing masks and pretending to be someone else seems rather illusive and fantastic, and Nora being in the center of all this fuss and falsehood looks quite incredible and inhumanly delicate. Therefore, before starting the most significant conversation with her husband, Nora takes off her fancy dress as if getting rid of all her illusions and preparing to face her new reality where there will be no place for lies or misconceptions.
Thus, one of the play’s most serious concerns is people’s eagerness to deceive themselves and live not according to one’s wishes, but to some rules. The play is set in the Christmas time, the most magic and incredible season when everything new and unexpected is possible, for example, someone’s wish to become another personality. The image of the fancy-dress ball is intended to emphasize how important and integral people’s masks may be, but it is more essential to learn to live without them. The two main characters, Nora and Torvald, manage to get through the greatest transformation in their lives, and there is hope that not only Nora, but also Torvald will be able to become a sensible and reliable human being in the future.
- Ibsen, Henrik. “A Doll’s House.” The Bedford Introduction to Drama, edited by Lee D. Jacobus, Bedford / St Martin’s, 2017, pp. 614-647. Print.