The title of Ibsen's work conjures up images that could be associated with the characterization of women during that time period. On one hand, the idea of women as a "doll" is one where individuals are kept for "show" and on display for others. The house for dolls helps to create the image of a static character, one incapable of change or advocating for a sense of dynamic identity. Another symbolic connotation of the term " a doll house" refers to the element of power. Doll houses are always under the powerful control of the arranger of the doll house. They are not able to advocate for their own senses of self and their own identity, for they are constantly subject to the perceptions of an outside and dominating force. Certainly, Nora begins in this manner in her relationship with Torvald, only to shatter this image by the end of Ibsen's work.
A doll is not a real person, it has no brain,living body,personality,identity or role other than a thing to be played with, to amuse, to entertain and discard when no longer interesting. In suggesting that Nora is in some kind of 'doll's house' Ibsen is also suggesting that she is an artificial creation with no autonomy and can only exist in an artifical world created specially for her. In some cases, in Ibsen's society and time (and our own at times) this was true. Women were idolized if they were from a wealthy family and pretty, for their beauty and charm, but given no means to further their own learning,training or independence in order to forge a career where they could stand on their own two feet. Under the guise of protecting women (who had been made deliberately dependent) society trapped them first by marriage and their role as 'wife' and then by child-bearing and their role as 'mother.' Many audiences just couldn't take Nora's walking out on this role. Some brave and ground-breaking women did break out to write novels or get involved in politics later on such as the Pankhursts but these were few and far between. The daily grind kept most women in the roles that had been created for them - in the doll's houses they lived in if they were lucky. If not they lived in 'doll's rooms' in poor areas of tenements but the role or lack of it was the same.Here is a history link to how some of these things began to change due to the bravery of some women breaking out of their 'doll house ' roles: