In A Doll's House, when Nora sees the box of masquerade clothes, she wants to “rip them in a million pieces!” What does Ibsen symbolize with this characterization?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In act 2 of Henrik Ibsen's A Doll'sHouse, it is the nurse (nanny) who sees the box with the fancy dress in it.

Shortly before that, Nora had been terrorized by Krogstad and his blackmail. Therefore, as this scene progresses, keep in mind all the dynamics that...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

In act 2 of Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House, it is the nurse (nanny) who sees the box with the fancy dress in it.

Shortly before that, Nora had been terrorized by Krogstad and his blackmail. Therefore, as this scene progresses, keep in mind all the dynamics that are already running on the back of Nora's mind: the fancy ball, the blackmail, Linde's return, her own marriage, and the potential of the blackmail ruining her life.

Therefore, when this poignant dialogue ensues, it is rife with symbolism: Nora is legitimately about to "lose it," and she would very much like to scratch everything and start over again.

Nurse: But it is very much in want of mending.

Nora: I should like to tear it into a hundred thousand pieces!

Nurse: What an idea! It can easily be put in order—just a little patience.

Nora: Yes, I will go and get Mrs. Linde to come and help me with it.

The entire dialogue is a symbol of the state of Nora's life at this point, but to be more specific, it is even more symbolic of Nora and Torvald's relationship.

Their situation is very much "in want of mending." The entire marriage is a charade, a play of sorts, where Nora plays the role of the young, silly, juvenile, entertaining wife. She is the doll in Torvald's doll's house.

Remember that Nora truly believes that her "miracle" would come—that Torvald would completely understand if the truth about Nora's transaction with Krogstad ever came out. In other words, Nora really believes that "with a little patience", her marriage can all be fixed.

To add more irony to the dialogue, notice that she says that she will use Mrs. Linde's help. This is exactly what occurs with her marriage. The pivotal event that beigns the series of events leading to the end of Nora's marriage is the re-entry of Linde in Nora's life.

Linde does help Nora finally break it all apart. Sadly for everyone except Nora and Linde, there will be no mending for this marriage, since "the miracle" never happened for Nora.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The role Nora is supposed to play in the masked party, dancing for the guests, is symbolic of the control her husband exerts over her. She's forced to play a role, almost like a puppet. Torvald's behavior as they are rehearsing shows how dsyfunctional (though perhaps normal for the nineteenth century) the dynamic is between them. "She's forgotten everything I've taught her!" he exclaims as she apparently doesn't perform the dance properly, as if he, a banker, is an authority on dance too, as well as everything else, as he sees it. All of this is occurring as Nora is under extreme stress due to the blackmail threat by Krogstad. She has no way of knowing at this point if her marriage is going to collapse as a result of this threat, or if, at the very least, she'll be brought down because of her long-ago act of having forged her father's signature to obtain the loan from Krogstad.

Ibsen uses the masquerade as a pivotal event in the drama. At one point as Nora frenetically dances, she acknowledges that she's in effect "dancing for her life." Like the rest of the action of the play, up to the climax, the dance represents the coercive power Torvald has over her, as husbands held in the typical marriages of that time, and later. It is only when the blackmail demand is made known to Torvald (though it is lifted in the next letter from Krogstad), and he unleashes a stream of abuse at Nora, that she is able to break free of this dynamic and to become independent.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Nora's wearing of a frilly Italian peasant dress at the dinner party in act 3 symbolizes the superficiality of her relationship to Torvald. Her whole married life has been nothing but a masquerade which hides what's really going on beneath the surface. The dress that Nora wears is indicative of how Torvald sees her: as a cross between a little girl and a trophy wife. This is the kind of dress we'd imagine a doll wearing.

What's more the dress is for Torvald's benefit, not Nora's. She's only wearing it because he wants her to—because he wants to keep her under his tutelage. So as Nora gradually comes out from under Torvald's shadow and starts to assert herself as a woman, the box of masquerade clothes acts as a reminder of the complete fantasy that is her marriage to Torvald. In wanting to tear up her costume into a million pieces, Nora's expressing her revulsion at the way she's been living a lie all these years, and how she's been held back from achieving self-fulfillment by a husband who's treated her as little more than a glorified mannequin.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Nora's desire to tear up a costume symbolizes her growing discomfort with her secrecy and duplicity. She desires to be unburdened of her secret, but worries about Torvald's response when he finds out. 

Nora has been living with a secret for quite a while before the party is held that takes place toward the end of the play. She has been finding ways to pay Krogstad for the loan she took from to save Torvald's life years ago. 

Because Nora lied when she borrowed money from Krogstad, she must continue lying to repay the money.

By the time in the play when the party is to be held, Nora has been threatened and confronted by Krogstad. He has threatened to expose her secret loan (and the forgery that secured that loan). 

Nora is under a great deal of pressure as she prepares for the party and gets her outfit ready. At the party she will be called upon to perform a dance, in costume, and this poignant irony is almost overwhelming. She has already been performing, playing the part of the meek and helpless wife when she is actually quite effectual and even manipulative. 

The desire to tear the masquerade clothes into pieces suggests the degree of pressure she feels in continuing to maintain her secret and her performance. This desire symbolizes Nora's desire to be free of her secret, to become herself and stop playing the role of helpless wife.

Also, Nora wants to be freed of Krogstad's threats and find a way to save herself from legal action and public humiliation. Desiring to tear up the costume is also a desire to rid herself of all the pressures she is under. 

 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team