What is the setting for A Doll's House?

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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...

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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.

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The house where A Doll's House takes place is described as being elegant and nicely furnished, but not with overdone extravagance. There is a china cabinet and a bookshelf. The floor is carpeted. The fire in the stove is lit. It's cozy and comfortable. There is a door at the back right that opens to an entrance hall. Another door leads to Nora's husband's study. On the left-hand side are another door and a window. By that window, there are armchairs, a small sofa, and a round table. On the right side, there's another door toward the far end. There's a stove, easy chairs, a rocking chair, and a small table. The walls are decorated with engravings.

The action takes place in winter and before Christmas. In the first scene, Nora returns home, and a porter behind her is bringing a Christmas tree for the family to put up. The family lives in Norway. One large plot point of the play is that Norway at that time didn't allow women to take out loans; Nora took out a loan illegally to pay for a trip to Italy to save her husband.

Even when the action changes to focus on Mrs. Linde while the family is at a party, it still takes place in the main room. When performed, there is only a single set for the play.

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Henrik Ibsen wrote A Doll's House in 1879, and it was a contemporary drama at that time. All three acts of the play take place with the same set, which is the living area of the Helmer home. The home is situated in an unspecified village in Norway. The room is decorated tastefully but not ostentatiously, consistent with the middle-class lifestyle of the Helmer family. As act 1 opens, it is Christmas week. Nora has been Christmas shopping, and a porter brings the Christmas tree into the home. Act 2 occurs on Christmas Day in the same home. The confined setting of the play reinforces the theme of Nora's restricted lifestyle. She feels as if she is her husband's doll, and she realizes that her children have been her dolls. The setting, then, is the "dollhouse," which is a better translation for Americans of Ibsen's title than the British English equivalent "doll's house." Nora's slamming the door of her house when she walks out on her husband at the end of the play signifies her moving on to a broader setting for her life where she, presumably, will be able to find out who she really is.

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The setting of A Doll's House is a typical, middle-class household in a city in Norway, during the winter season. Keep in mind that the location is not indicative of the play being exclusively "Norwegian," as nothing that takes place is unique to that country, or even to the Scandinavian culture. In fact, that was the purpose of the play. Ibsen presented the audience with a picture of society that showed the inequalities that take place against women every day and everywhere. Ibsen said

A woman cannot be herself in contemporary society, which is an exclusively male society, with laws framed by men and with a judicial system that judges feminine conduct from a male point of view.

Hence, the setting should reflect a universal place that could be replicated anywhere in the world. After all, inequality is a rampant issue that still affects us today. 

The time period is the Victorian Era, which takes place from 1837, when Queen Victoria rises to the throne of the British Empire, until her death in 1901. Even though Norway is not part of the British Empire, the influence of the latter was felt all over Europe, and beyond. As such, everything from fashion to traditions would recreate the Victorian essence of sanctimonious morality, gender separation, and class division. All of these are evident in the play, as well. 

Therefore, the setting is a Victorian, middle-class household in Norway. It is interesting how a seemingly simple and generic setting can hold up so much within, such as it was with the case of the shallow relationship between Nora and Torvald.

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