At the opening of Act I of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, Nora is introduced to the audience “humming contentedly.” Nora does, as will be evident, hum regularly, a habit that, to her controlling and demeaning husband Torvald , prompts him to compare his wife to a songbird....
At the opening of Act I of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, Nora is introduced to the audience “humming contentedly.” Nora does, as will be evident, hum regularly, a habit that, to her controlling and demeaning husband Torvald, prompts him to compare his wife to a songbird. Throughout Act I of Ibsen’s play, the theme of Nora as songbird is repeated, as in the following exchange in which Torvald has established a pattern of comparing his wife to a series of innocent, harmless animals, specifically, a lark and a squirrel and, finally, to a songbird:
Nora: I wish I had inherited many of papa's qualities.
Torvald: And I don't wish you anything but just what you are — my own, sweet little song-bird. But I say — it strikes me you look so — so — what shall I call it ? — so suspicious to-day.
Torvald, the audience comes to understand, is using the animal monikers or comparison to emphasize his superiority over his wife. As noted, he is a controlling husband whose attitude towards his wife is disrespectful and demeaning. Note, for example, in the following comment by Torvald his continued practice of demeaning Nora and his use of the songbird metaphor to emphasize Nora’s seemingly innocent, helpless persona:
Torvald: Didn't you say that nobody had been here ? (Threatens with his finger.) My little bird must never do that again ! A song-bird must sing clear and true ; no false notes.
The significance of Torvald’s comparison of his wife to a songbird is in its condescending approach toward the individual who is supposed, under more ideal conditions, to be his partner in life. Despite his best efforts, he has not yet destroyed Nora’s desire to be upbeat and considerate despite the secret regarding her financial status she seeks to maintain from her controlling, critical husband. Nora’s humming reminds Torvald of a songbird, but the animal metaphor is maintained to institutionalize her subservience to him.