Analyze several symbols, such as clothes, dolls, money, macaroons, or doll-like imagery, the Christmas tree, etc., in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. What do they illuminate in terms of theme or character or some other aspect of the play?

Dolls and doll-like imagery symbolize the childlike state in which Nora pretends to exist and Torvald’s paternalistic attitude toward her. The macaroons symbolize Nora’s dissatisfaction with her life and the deception at the core of her relationship with Torvald.

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As suggested by the title, dolls and related imagery such as play and a playroom are important symbols throughout the play. Nora’s life and her relationship to her husband are compared to playing with dolls or playing house. Another significant symbol that emerges in act 1 is the macaroons. These cookies represent Nora’s dissatisfaction as well as her deceptive behavior in other, more important aspects of their marriage.

Through most of the play, Torvald often behaves more like a father than a husband to Nora. He routinely uses the adjective “little” in addressing her—often in combination with animal nicknames or insults—and he also criticizes her behavior as immature and irresponsible. His behavior establishes a connection between his paternalism and her childish or doll-like status.

After Torvald is forced to confront Nora’s ongoing deception and the ramifications of her illegal actions, they argue about the future of their marriage. Nora explicitly evokes “dolls” and compares her husband’s paternalism to her father’s attitude when she was a child. She further connects her own parental behavior toward their children to Torvald’s treatment of her. Nora admits that she had a distorted perception of reality, thinking it was “fun” to play at being a wife. She also compares their home to a playroom.

Here I have been your doll-wife, just as at home I used to be papa's doll-child. And the children, in their turn, have been my dolls. I thought it fun when you played with me, just as the children did when I played with them.

Once Nora has been honest about the forgery and accepted the play-like falsity of their marriage, she can break free of that pretense.

The symbolism of the macaroons becomes apparent when Nora hides them and lies about them. She buys and eats the cookies because she needs a sweet treat, as the supposedly healthful substance of her marriage does not satisfy her. Nora not only eats the cookies in secret, keeping them hidden in her pocket, but flat-out lies to Torvald when he accuses her of sneaking the sweets and wasting money on them. Her deception and lies in this small matter represent the much larger deception and lies of committing forgery to get money and of actually being a frugal, budget-conscious household manager, not a spendthrift.

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