A Doll's House takes place entirely within the confines of the Helmer household; other locations are merely alluded to within the work. The author of the play, Henrik Ibsen , was Norwegian, and the characters have names with a definitive Scandinavian feel, so it is assumed that their apartment is...
A Doll's House takes place entirely within the confines of the Helmer household; other locations are merely alluded to within the work. The author of the play, Henrik Ibsen, was Norwegian, and the characters have names with a definitive Scandinavian feel, so it is assumed that their apartment is in Norway.
At the opening of the play, the main room is described as "furnished comfortably and tastefully, but not extravagantly," alluding to the family's middle class lifestyle. It is wintertime, but the house has carpeted floors and always has a fire going, making it a comfortable place for Nora and Torvald's family and their guests.
Setting here is particularly important because it mirrors not only the title of the work but also several thematic elements. The Helmer house becomes a dollhouse. It is tastefully decorated and kept neat and comfortable for the entertainment of their guests—and to keep the appearance of a happy, loving household. However, just as a dollhouse is a facsimile for a real house, the Helmer household feels artificial. Once you peel away the layers of tasteful decoration and comfortable furniture, it is clear that Nora and Torvald's marriage is an act. Torvald plays with his wife much as a child would play with a doll: he dresses her, tells her what to eat, and instructs her in her movements. Nora realizes this all at the end of the play and comes to the conclusion that she can no longer stay in the setting that confines her to this realm of artificiality.
All of this is amplified in the course of the play, which takes place over several days surrounding the Helmers' Christmas celebration. Nora strives to make Christmas a special time and goes out of her way to ensure that their house is kept to Torvald's liking as she decorates the Christmas tree (all of this, of course, going on while she is faced with Krogstad's threat to expose her crimes). However, as the play progresses, act 2 describes the same tree, which was nervously but immaculately decorated at first, as "stripped of its ornaments and with burnt-down candle-ends on its disheveled branches." This crucial set piece foreshadows the dissolution of the Helmers' marriage and mirrors Nora's state of mind.
Another important element of setting to consider is the time period. A Doll's House was published and first performed in 1879, and the play's action is contemporaneous. There are several elements of the plot and Nora's situation that deal directly with the problems of the time period. For example, Nora is unable to take out a loan in her own name without her husband's consent, forcing her to forge her father's signature. Likewise, the expectations that are placed on Nora—particularly her role as a wife, mother, and keeper of the house—are rooted in late-nineteenth-century tradition. However, the ending of the play shows that Ibsen was a man ahead of his time, as he is able to reject traditional societal values and have his heroine balk at tradition and forge her own path.