The best character to focus on when thinking about isolation in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House is the protagonist, Nora Helmer . For Nora, the alienation that she feels stems from the wifely and motherly behavior that is expected of her, and this is the driving force of tension throughout...
The best character to focus on when thinking about isolation in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House is the protagonist, Nora Helmer. For Nora, the alienation that she feels stems from the wifely and motherly behavior that is expected of her, and this is the driving force of tension throughout the play. These expectations are slowly but surely suffocating her.
Torvald treats Nora as a child, and the nickname he gives her—“my little song-bird”—not only represents the superficial role she occupies in her husband’s mind but also highlights her isolation. She feels alone and in a cage, made to “sing” (perform as the “perfect wife”) for her husband. Torvald’s infantilization of Nora makes her feel isolated from the “real” world and “serious” topics. Their conversation at the end of the play, when Nora is leaving, highlights how long she has wanted to be taken seriously:
Eight whole years—no, more, ever since we first knew each other—and never have we exchanged one serious word about serious things. (Nora, act 3)
Her choice to eventually leave her husband and children highlights the difference between being isolated and being independent:
If I’m ever to reach any understanding of myself and the things around me, I must learn to stand alone. That’s why I can't stay here with you any longer. (Nora, act 3)
In this quote, and at the climax of the play, we see Nora make an active decision to acknowledge herself as an individual rather than as just a wife, daughter, and mother. She chooses to “stand alone” and, in doing so, removes herself from the feelings of isolation and alienation that she has expressed throughout the play, living as a “doll-wife.” We can also interpret this quote as highlighting Nora’s isolation from herself. After being the plaything of men for her entire life and learning what they expect from her, Nora is removed from her true self, opinions, and individuality. Her choice to leave is a reclamation of power.
It is interesting to consider how the dynamic shifts at the end of the play and how suddenly Torvald is left in isolation. His final lines—which are, in fact, the closing lines of the play—suggest his own loneliness and leave Torvald isolated against the weight of society’s expectations now that his wife has left.