What is the atmosphere of the opening passage of Act 1 in A Doll's House? How is this atmosphere created?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One of the most definite aspects of the atmosphere created in the opening passage of Act I is the significance of social conventions which govern Nora's and Torvald's life together.  Ibsen does not miss a chance to remind the reader that there is a weight of social expectation that controls the couple's being. This atmosphere of conformity is created through stage directions.  Examine how Ibsen describes the living room: "A room furnished comfortably and tastefully, but not extravagantly."  Everything featured in the room is reflective of the weight of external expectation.  The entrance hall, the piano, small sofa, and even the "engravings on the wall" all create the atmosphere of the"perfect" home.  Ibsen creates an atmosphere of middle class conformity, a realm where individuals live in accordance to the expectation and dictates of external reality.  Everything has its preordered place in the room; carefully designed interiors with no room for human emotion or expression.  The room that is "furnished comfortably and tastefully" reflects a type of appreciation meant to generate affirmation from others.  The fact that it is decorated "not extravagantly" confirms that the atmosphere in the home is one where external reality is validated above all.  This reality is something that weighs heavily on the relationship between husband and wife, governing their interactions and their sense of being.  

Even in the drama's expositional dialogue, the atmosphere of conformity is evident.  Nora instructs the maid to "hide the Christmas Tree carefully" because the children should not "see it until this evening." These conditions reflect how Nora's characterization is one that validates the external opinions and constructions of other people. Torvald's continual referring to Nora in a patronizing manner is another way that Ibsen communicates the atmosphere of conformity.  Torvald reinforces the social expectation that women are seen in a manner that is inherently unequal, communicating this through language like "little squirrel" and "little lark."  The opening of Act I in both dialogue and stage directions help to establish an atmosphere of importance regarding social expectation.  

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