Speak about gender roles regarding character vs society in A Doll's House.Note the symbolism in Nora's "costume change" in Act 3

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

During Nora's costume change, in Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House, the reader symbolically sees Nora and Torvald throw off the conventions of society to become—temporarily—different people.

Norwegian author, Henrik Ibsen, published and performed the play in 1879. It would not be until 1888 that women would be allowed to own property—a major point in this story. Norway had won its independence from Denmark in 1814, and freedoms of all kinds, including political and social, were opened up to change, but not for Nora's character. Even in 1879, there was little freedom from society's expectations for a woman of good character.

A woman would have been expected to conform in other ways: she was to be subservient to her husband, could not entertain men alone, could not make major decisions on her own, and was expected to always be "prim and proper." Basically, women belonged to their husbands and depended upon their beneficence to survive. A woman would have been expected to show respect, personal restraint, and decency in dress and manner. (For an independent-thinking woman, this would be an example of character vs society.)

With the costume change, however, Nora is "permitted" to shed the shackles of a repressive society, and Torvald loves it. She dresses as a peasant girl, dancing the tarantella (a southern Italian dance); her performance (and costume) is suggestive and wild. Torvald comments on it, but doesn't seem too concerned:

...though [it was] possibly a trifle too realistic—more so than was aesthetically necessary, strictly speaking. But never mind that. Main thing is—she had a success.

The dance has an arrousing effect on Torvald; he says his "Capri signorina" was a "roaring success," and he cannot wait to get her alone. But as Nora is so concerned about Krogstad's letter in the mailbox, she has no time to even consider that Torvald wants to make love. (This demonstrates character vs society, in that Nora basically says "no.")

Nora: Leave me, Torvald! Get way from me! I don't want all this.

Helmer: What? Now, Nora, you're joking with me. Don't want, don't want—? Aren't I your husband—?

Nora, and Torvald, see the costume as the chance to change oneself and be something other than who each person is during the daytime—out in society. For Nora, ironically, she will usually do so because it is like playing "dress-up" (a childish response: the complete opposite of Torvald's response). However in this instance, it helps her to distract her husband. (Manipulating one's husband could also be seen as character vs society.)

For Torvald, he is able to see Nora as he imagines her to be: sexy, young, untouched. While Torvald expects Nora to adhere to society's norms during the day, he wants her to be different at home, in private. In this we see character vs society. (The adherence to social conventions during the day was expected, but "Victorian" society was also known as a time of hypocrisy for exactly this reason: the distinction between public and private behavior.)