The Significance Of Nora’s Deceits In A Doll’s House

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All human beings have a sacred duty to themselves. A Doll’s House, a three-act play written by the profound Norwegian author Henrik Ibsen, challenges the entire fabric of marital relationships. The play originally written in Norwegian, was published in 1879 before being republished “of an anonymous, undated English translation published by Bartholomew House” (Ibsen, ii). Ibsen, born into the upper-middle class, reveals the scandalous effects of a deceitful relationship and sheds light upon the sacrosanct institution of marriage, in particular through his construction of the protagonist Nora. Ibsen employs dramatic irony and symbolism to effectively represent the marriage as a form of imprisonment for women; whereby the playwright challenges the stereotypical female identity as submissive wife within a patriarchal society. Ibsen achieves this first through his establishment of innocent women in the play, symbolic of the traditional attitudes towards a corrupted and loveless marriage. He also addresses the harsh reality and truth of women conforming to the naïve societal ideals and hence the concealment of marriage through his creation of literary elements.

Ibsen implements the banned macaroons to symbolise Nora’s act of deception in her insubstantial and shallow marriage. Additionally, they represent Torvald’s efforts to control his wife and to treat her like a child, again depicting their deceitful relationship. After Torvald questions if his “Miss Sweet Tooth been breaking rules” (Ibsen, 4), Nora lies suddenly with “no, certainly not” (4). Her dramatically ironic response not only portrays herself as a liar to the audience, but also creates the macaroons a symbol of defiance against her husband’s tyrannical authority. At the beginning of the play, Nora appears to be a dutifully obedient and honest wife, however it is immediately divulged that she is continuously telling lies, allowing the audience to be presented with a glimpse of her rebelliousness. Furthermore, in rebelling against her husband, she is rebelling against society. This is evident in the final scene when Nora “deserts her husband’s house” (71) and leaves her family, since divorce was greatly frowned upon. When Doctor Rank arrives, Nora offers him a macaroon and he instantly becomes confused because he “thought they were forbidden here” (16). After his epiphany, Nora quickly replies with another lie claiming that Christine gave her them. Once again, Nora’s stubborn personality is clearly illustrated by certain symbols, as well as her character’s development; demonstrated through her deliberate lying. There is a significant impact on the audience because Nora is keeping secrets from her husband, portraying many women’s deceitful relationships within a patriarchal society. Scene 1 reveals that Torvald is guilty of narrow-mindedness and stubbornness as he shows no respect for Nora’s adulthood by treating her like a child because he simply thinks sugary sweets will spoil her teeth. On the contrary, Nora lies to Torvald about eating macaroons because she feels the need to maintain her dignity, while catering to her own desires. Moreover, as Nora enters her house, she “then goes cautiously to her husband’s door and listens” (1), exhibiting her propensity to sneak earlier in the play. In this occurrence, definite characteristics of Nora’s secretive nature and contradicting actions highlight the facets of a marriage in which women play a dependent and subordinate role. As the play progresses, the audience begins to realise that Nora’s petty lies shift to far more serious deceptions.

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The blackmail letter and letterbox are consequential symbols executed by Ibsen in his polemic work for irreversible truths. Although, Nora’s and Torvald’s fraudulent relationship is ironically progressed in a chronological manner. In act 2, her husband “can tell from [Nora’s] looks that there is a letter from [Krogstad]” (Ibsen, 49), demonstrating that Torvald can read Nora like a book after being together for 8 years. But, Nora’s unexpected reply “I don’t know” (49), essentially further contributes onto her countless lies. The letter was included by the playwright in order to create dramatic tension throughout, as it necessarily has the power to end the complex relationship between the couple. At the beginning of act 3, Torvald becomes concerned when he discovers “someone has been at the lock” (60), but shortly finds Nora’s “broken hairpin” (60), which is convincing evidence suggesting that Nora was tampering with the mailbox lock. Nevertheless, Nora “quickly” (60) puts the blame on her children, foregrounding her child-like behaviour, in comparison to when one lays the responsibility for something they did on their sibling/s. The derogatory play features the symbolic disposition of props, such as the key for the letterbox, which is only in Torvald’s possession, as confirmed by Nora when Mrs. Linde queries whether her “husband keeps the key” (47). Subsequently, Nora answered “yes, always” (47), allowing the readers to place substantial emphasis on the high modality language in order to understand how Torvald exerts control and dominance over Nora’s life. This enables the play to document revolutionary women in patriarchal Bourgeois society. Consequently, the letter acts as an inevitable revelation that ultimately undermines the sanctity of marriage. Similarly, it details to the audience about both the status and the role of Scandinavian women in the 19th century. Much of the truth in A Doll’s House is conveyed via letters, establishing that Nora’s and Torvald’s entire marriage is built on illusions and both characters are caught up in a web of deception and lies.

Ibsen’s controversial drama focused on the deceptive and restrictive marriage of Nora and Torvald. The tarantella dance serves as a symbol of Nora’s deep fear regarding Krogstad revealing the letter to Torvald. Also, the tarantella is believed to cure the bite of a tarantula spider where the victims danced hysterically for hours in order to remove the venom. As mentioned previously, the letter reflects upon the raw truths of women suffocating in unhappy relationships, thereby when Torvald wants to “see if any letters have come.” (Ibsen, 48), Nora begs “Torvald, please don’t” (48) and again lies that “there is nothing there” (49). The influential playwright provides the audience with an insight into how the wife persistently practises deception to save herself and her husband’s esteemed reputation. Additionally, in order to distract Torvald, Nora redoubles her efforts and desperately orders him to “sit down and play” (48) and for him to “criticize… and correct” (48) her fiery movements. This commanding tone showcases that Nora wants Torvald to “play”, like a child would with a doll, as opposed to when Torvald demands her to dance “not so violently” (48). His constructive criticism is ironical because Nora considers to commit suicide, clearly exemplifying how trapped and smothered women felt in 19th century married life. Despite her husband’s “frequent instructions” (48), “NORA dances more and more wildly” (48) and “as if [her] life depended on it” (48). These amorous comments further symbolise Nora’s desperation to escape from the extreme terror of the consequences of the loan being disclosed to Torvald. Her frantic manner and hurried rhythm both demonstrate the Tarantella being a physical manifestation of her desire to quell this morbid anxiety. Moreover, the rehearsing of the gestures and steps signifies Nora’s flee from traditional marriage and oppressive societal roles as she dances freely, ignoring Torvald's advice of slowing down. Also, manifesting the final breaking point inside her as her inner turmoil increases. Thus, Ibsen characterises Nora as both a puppet and windup doll managed by others, meanwhile her protean relationship with Torvald is continuing to contaminate itself with deception and lies.

In conclusion, Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House boldly elucidates the flaws during the Victorian era in the rigid Norwegian society, in which women conformed to highly oppressed social expectations. Nora’s dishonesty was mainly motivated by these expectations and also her individual values. As evident through the forbidden macaroons, she asserts a stark sense of identity and exerts her willingness to be an independent human within a patriarchal society. The problematic play embodies female gender struggle for personal freedom from their restricted roles and reinforces the entrenched status of women, by implementing the decisive letter. In fact, the exiled dramatist employed dramatic irony and symbolism in order to represent the notion of constant deception in the character’s daily lives, with the true intention of definitively revealing how couples in an unsatisfactory marriage wore a blissful façade. Therefore, these choices are deliberately made to underline Ibsen’s egalitarian beliefs, which enables the audience to capture the essence of realism.

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The Significance Of Nora’s Deceits In A Doll’s House. (2022, February 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 30, 2024, from
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