What does the dress symbolize in A Doll's House?

In A Doll's House, the dress symbolizes Nora's subordination to her husband, Torvald. She wears the dress not because she wants to but in order to please her husband. Torvald is intoxicated by the sight of Nora wearing the dress and dancing the tarantella, and as Nora only wants to make him happy, she obliges. In doing so, she highlights Torvald's vision and treatment of her as doll-like.

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More than anything else, Nora's fancy dress symbolizes her subordination to her husband, Torvald. This rather fetching Neapolitan fisher-girl's dress isn't something that Nora wears for herself but for her husband. She's not wearing it because she thinks she looks good in it or because it makes her feel confident—she's wearing it because Torvald wants her to.

Torvald is positively intoxicated by the sight of Nora dancing the tarantella in this alluring dress; it throws him into transports of erotic delight. This tells us a lot about him and how he really feels about Nora. It seems that the only qualities that he really admires about his wife are transient, superficial ones like beauty. Torvald is so shallow that he's not interested in what might be inside Nora. In fact, one gets the impression that he doesn't think there's anything behind her beautiful exterior at all. One only has to listen to the patronizing pet names he uses toward her—such as "my little skylark" and "my little squirrel"—to understand this.

What's notable about the dress is that, when the nurse first brings it out, it's noticeably torn. Even more remarkably, Nora has the desire to tear the dress to shreds. In doing so, she would, symbolically speaking, be fighting back at her subordination as a woman in this conventional middle-class marriage. The obvious wearing away of the dress can also be said to symbolize the decline of the Helmers' marriage, which, like the dress itself, is all for show.

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