What is the significance of the play’s title, A Doll's House?

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Although Henrik Ibsen is often considered an advocate for women's rights, he actually considered himself an advocate of human rights. In his play, A Doll's House, we witness how unforgiving this male-dominated society is with regard to women.

Nora's husband, Torvald, treats her like a child. He denies her sweets and calls her by pet names, as one would with a child. He compares her to a bird that cannot sing if its beat is dirtied by telling lies. Nora is totally dependent on Torvald at the beginning of the play, though Ibsen allows her character to secretly defy her husband, as she does when she sneaks candy and swears out loud in Mrs. Linde's and Dr. Rank's company.

(Mrs. Linde has also be poorly used by society. She married in order to provide for her family, but now her mother has died and her siblings are grown up and have moved out. She must now fend for herself by talking a job. Ironically, Mrs. Linde has little in the world to protect and save her, except the desperate Krogstad who delivers her from a life of loneliness, while her promise of love redeems his soul.)

Nora, on the other hand, lives a very comfortable life. She wants for nothing. However, as Mrs. Linde points out, she has been living a lie.

Years before, Nora forged her father's signature on loan papers in order to get money to take Torvald, who was desperately ill, to a warmer climate to save his life. She is very proud that she, just a woman, was successful in the attempt, and that Torvald is now in excellent health. However, she also fears that Torvald will find out and, because of his deep and abiding love for Nora, will insist upon taking the blame when the law steps in.

This "miracle" never happens. Torvald cares nothing that Nora saved his life. He only cares about the damage this will do to his reputation when the word gets out. It is at this point of the story that Nora realizes that their marriage is a sham. She has been treated badly by her father, first, and then by Torvald when they married. Neither man gave her credit for being intelligent and able, something prevalent at the turn of the century in the late 1800s. It is at this time that Nora defies social convention and leaves her husband and children.

The significance of the play's title, A Doll's House, is that Nora is treated by Torvald like a doll. She is dressed the way he prefers and she acts as he wants, not as she wants. She plays "dress up" for him at the masquerade party, and is never given credit for an original thought. He controls her and poses her as if she were a doll. It is for this reason that Ibsen gave his play this title.

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"A Doll's House" (actually, in the Norweigan it's apparently just titled "Dollhouse") is a really good title for the play, as there are lots of ways you can read it into what happens in the play itself.

  • Firstly, Torvald treats Nora like a doll, calling her his "squirrel", and patronising her with little pet names. She is like a little toy to him, not taken seriously, and not really credited with her own personality.

    Thus, Nora's exit from the house at the end is her removing herself from her role as a "doll" and stepping out into the real world for the first time. 

    Moreover, you might argue, it leaves Torvald as the "doll", the person trapped in a make-believe world, trapped in the doll's house.
  • Nora leaves her children at the end of the play. Some critics have argued that her children are also just playthings to her in the play, and that, like her housekeeping money and her macaroons, they are toys which needs to be left behind as she truly grows into a real person.
  • A doll, of course, is manipulated by its owner - it has no will of its own, and yet, even though Nora plays at being a doll, she actually manipulates Torvald and Dr. Rank quite successfully throughout the play. If this is the doll's house, Nora seems the one the most in control of it - and it is Torvald unable to operate after Nora's exit, not vice versa.

Hope it helps!

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