Henrik Ibsen uses numerous literary devices in A Doll’s House. These include two types of comparisons, metaphor and simile. Throughout the play, he frequently employs dramatic irony. With this device, the author reveals information to the reader or audience at least one character is unaware of, which helps create suspense.
Torvald Helmer often compares his wife to a small animal, and she occasionally replies to his questions or comments using one of those terms for herself. The comparison of Nora to a squirrel is a metaphor, a direct comparison of unlike things for effect. Torvald calls his wife his “little squirrel” because of her small stature and rapid movements, but also because she has hidden things away—primarily the Christmas presents. Nora calls herself a squirrel when she refers to hiding things, but she means the secrets she is keeping. She also calls her manner of speaking “chatter,” which resembles a squirrel’s vocalization.
A simile is a comparison between unlike things for effect using “like” or “as.” One example is Nora’s description of her children’s appearance when they come in from playing outside. She says they have “red cheeks like apples and roses.”
Dramatic irony appears in several spots. Nora’s reference to the things she, as a squirrel, hides from Torvald is one instance. He interprets this literally as a reference to Christmas presents, but she apparently means the financial secrets she keeps from him. The forgery that she committed years before is the biggest secret. In a long conversation with Christine during her visit, Nora both reveals her crime and states that Torvald does not, and must never, know. This lets the audience in on her secret and confirms that Torvald is unaware.
There are various examples of irony throughout this play.
Verbal irony is when a speaker's words contrast with the literal or actual situation. When Nora realizes that Torvald has sent a letter to dismiss Krogstad, she is horrified, believing that this will surely expose her secret. Torvald tries to calm her by saying,
Come what will, you may be sure I shall have both courage and strength if they be needed. You will see I am man enough to take everything upon myself.
In fact, Torvald does not have the strength to "take everything upon himself," and when he finds that Nora's actions might harm his own reputation, he panics. He tells Nora,
You have ruined all my future. It is horrible to think of! I am in the power of an unscrupulous man; he can do what he likes with me, ask anything he likes of me, give me any orders he pleases—I dare not refuse.
Torvald proves to be quite a coward, not a man of courage. In yet another twist, Torvald is required to "take everything upon" himself when Nora leaves him and their children.
Dramatic irony occurs when the audience is aware of something that at least some of the characters in the work are not fully aware of. In act 1, Torvald calls Nora his little "spendthrift" and asks whether she has been "wasting" their money yet again. In actuality, Nora has been steadily stashing money so that she can secretly repay a loan; she illegally procured the money so that she could pay for Torvald's medical treatments without his knowledge.
Situational irony occurs when events in the play (or story) turn out quite different than what was expected. When Nora asks Torvald to help Mrs. Linde get a job at the bank, Krogstad actually gets fired. Because of this, Krogstad is quite upset and threatens to expose Nora's forgery and illegal loan. In trying to help Mrs. Linde, Nora actually puts herself in legal danger.
Significant literary devices used in Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House include foreshadowing and symbolism. Foreshadowing is when a storyteller drops hints about events to come within earlier scenes. This is a way of creating suspense and continuity within a work. A Doll's House uses foreshadowing quite a bit. The most notable case is when Nora eats macaroons without her husband's permission. Torvald, her husband, tries to control how many sweets Nora eats, saying they are especially bad for her teeth, but she buys some without telling him and even lies when he asks her about the matter. This is both a foreshadowing of Nora's more incriminating secret she keeps from Torvald and of Nora's ultimate break from him in the final scene of the play. Another element that foreshadows Nora's final actions includes Nora asking for plain cash as her Christmas gift and coyly telling Torvald about secret expenses when he claims she is unable to save money. She says, "You haven't any idea how many expenses we skylarks and squirrels have, Torvald."
Symbolism is a literary device in which concrete objects are used to represent thematic ideas or abstract concepts. In the case of A Doll's House, dolls are major symbols, representing both Nora's relationship with her husband and her own relationship with her children. A doll is a plaything, an inert toy lacking emotions. This is exactly how Torvald perceives Nora: He assumes she has no mind of her own and uses her in several ways, both to show her off at social gatherings and as an object of desire in private. He cannot fathom that she is unhappy or unfulfilled. Similarly, Nora views her own children this way, calling them "dollies." In the end, the constant playtime feels false to her, and so she leaves her family.