A Doll's House Questions and Answers
by Henrik Ibsen

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What do the macaroons symbolize in A Dolls House?

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In Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House, the macaroons symbolize Nora's acts of independence and deception. They also represent Torvald's efforts to control Nora and to treat her like a child.

Eating the macaroons is Nora's way of disobeying her domineering husband. This act illuminates the feminine issue in the play. Nora's growth as a person is stultified by her having to hide her little pleasures and by the demands upon her by Torvald to be his "little sweetheart" and his "little songbird"—his "doll." These sobriquets suggest Nora's dependence upon her husband and her helplessness. She is placed in the position of having to ask for money, and she must sew things to make some money.

The act of sneaking the macaroons into the house and eating them reflects the more significant act of deception that Nora has committed. Because Torvald believes that “a home that depends on loans and debt is not beautiful because it is not free,” Nora feels that she must deceive her husband about the loan...

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A Doll's House offers an unflinching look into a middle-class Norwegian family in the late nineteenth century. The protagonist, Nora, and her husband, Torvald, portray a facade of honesty and trust, but by the end of Act One, that facade is shattered for the audience.

The macaroons are the first symbol of the dishonesty and lack of equality displayed in the Helmer marriage. Early in act one, we see Nora nibbling on some macaroons in the festive spirit of Christmas; however, as soon as Torvald questions her about eating them, she directly lies to him about having them:

Helmer [wagging his finger at her]. Hasn't Miss Sweet Tooth been breaking rules in town today?
Nora. No; what makes you think that?
Helmer. Hasn't she paid a visit to the confectioner's?
Nora. No, I assure you, Torvald--
Helmer. Not been nibbling sweets?
Nora. No, certainly not.
Helmer. Not even taken a bite at a macaroon or two?
Nora. No, Torvald, I assure you really--
(Ibsen, Act One)

In this brief exchange, we see Helmer's playful badgering and Nora's panicked response. While it might seem odd that a husband would care about what his wife is eating, it is symbolic of Torvald's unhealthy desire to control Nora, a control later reversed at the play's shocking conclusion.

The macaroons also symbolize Nora's deceitful nature, albeit for altruistic reasons. Soon after the scene with the macaroons, the audience learns of much more serious deceit; the acquiring of a loan by forgery to save her husband's life, unbeknownst to him.

Ultimately, the macaroons are a reminder that deceit of any kind leads to mistrust, ultimately leading to the destruction of the Helmer marriage.