Symbols and leitmotifs



The leitmotif "doll" appears right from the title of Henrik Ibsen's play A Doll's House and forms the framework around the entire plot (see section "Title"). Basically, a doll is a pretty object to play with that has a human shape. Even if it is very beautiful to look at and seems almost alive, it is only an empty shell.

At the beginning of the plot, Nora buys "a doll and dolly’s bedstead" (Act 1, 9%) for her little daughter Emmy as a Christmas present. When her children return home from playing in the snow, she greets her youngest as a "sweet little baby doll" (Act 1, 66%) and dances with her. The children report that they were chased by a big dog, but it did not hurt them. Nora assures them: "No, dogs don’t bite nice little dolly children" (Act 1, 66%). In this part of the plot, the symbol of the doll has a positive meanings. It shows Nora’s childlike and playful side.

But in the course of the plot this changes drastically. After Nora reveals that she did not inherit the money for the one-year stay in Italy, but borrowed it from Krogstad with a forged signature, Torvald is furious and denies her any form of self-determination and independent action. At this moment, Nora realizes that her father had also treated her this way. She always had to agree with him, and if she did not, she had to hide it from him, because it was not appreciated: "He called me his doll-child, and he played with me just as I used to play with my dolls." (Act 3, 76%).

Even after her marriage to Torvald, nothing changes. She has to adapt to Torvald's tastes and convictions in every aspect and therefore reproaches him and her father severely: "It is your fault that I have made nothing of my life." (Act 3, 76%). 

Torvald is very angry and accuses her of ingratitude, but Nora has realized that she was never happy with him, but always merry: "But our home has been nothing but a playroom. I have been your doll-wife, just as at home I was papa’s doll-child; and here the children have been my dolls. I thought it great fun when you played with me, just as they thought it great fun when I played with them. That is what our marriage has been, Torvald." (Act 3, 76%).

Torvald draws the completely wrong conclusion from this realization: "Playtime shall be over, and lesson-time shall begin. [...] Both yours and the children’s, my darling Nora." (Act 3, 78%). But his wife no longer wants to be his doll, dancing according to his will: "I must stand quite alone, if I am to understand myself and everything about me. It is for that reason that I cannot remain with you any longer." (Act 3, 78%). 

Torvald wishes that Nora could be again his "little skylark" and his "doll" as before, whom he "would in future treat with doubly gentle care" (Act 3, 81%). Her husband assures her that he has the strength to change. But for Nora it is clear that this is only possible when his "doll is taken away from him" (Act 3, 81%). She does not want to continue a marriage where she plays the doll. 

At the end of the plot, the symbol of the doll thus has a very negative meaning, representing the years of bondage and outside domination, first by her father and then by her husband, to which Nora had been forced to submit.

In the course of the plot, Nora realizes that she was always just an empty shell, externally determined by the prevailing social conventions of the time. She now wants to fill the inner void on her own and examine her convictions regarding religion, society, and morality from the bottom up. Therefore, at the end of the plot, she follows the basic tenet of the Enlightenment: "Sapere aude". [Have courage to use your own mind.] Her emancipation from social constraints also refers to the ideas of the Enlightenment, with which Ibsen clearly stresses that even 100 years later, many changes are still needed in society in order to achieve equality between men and women.


The Helmer couple plans to attend a masked ball on the 26th of December. Since Nora can no longer concentrate on planning this celebration after the conversation with Krogstad, she asks her husband for help with it, which he flatteringly accepts and acts as her "rescuer" (p. 42). She has the nurse bring her the box of masquerade costumes, but is completely beside herself due to the stressful situation she is in because of Krogstad's blac...

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