What are some symbols that can be found in Henrik Ibsen's play A Doll's House?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Henrik Ibsen's play A Doll's House is not a literary work that is full of symbols, but there are a few.

One symbol is the macaroons that Nora is seen eating and hiding in the opening scene. When her husband questions her to find out if she has been eating macaroons, which he has forbidden because they will spoil her teeth, he asks her in the same way that he would ask a child if she/he has been behaving. Hence, because the macaroons connect Nora to being treated like a child, the macaroons symbolize Nora's still uneducated, child-like mind. By the end of the play, Nora feels that, like a child, she is uneducated about the ways of the world. The macaroons also symbolize both her husband's and her father's treatment of her. Nora feels that they have both treated her like a child by not respecting her mind and opinions.

A second symbol is the fancy dress, or costume, Nora wears to the fancy dress ball and wears to dance the Tarantella in. The fancy dress symbolizes the pretenses that Nora puts on throughout the play. Nora committed a great crime, but hides it from her husband and pretends that everything has worked out well. The fancy dress can also symbolize the illusions that Nora is persuaded by throughout the play. For instance, Nora is under the illusion that she is happy, but in reality, she is only content. In Act III, when Torvald asks her if she has not been happy, Nora replies "No, only merry"(Act III).

Another important symbol is the Tarantella dance. The Tarantella is a folk dance from Southern Italy. The dance became a ritual to represent a victim having been bitten by a wolf spider. The poisonous bite provoked hysteria and it was believed that bite victims should dance in a fast and crazy style(eNotes). In the case of A Doll's House, Nora's spider bite can be seen as society forcing her to forge a loan to save her husband's life. The Tarantella symbolizes her trip to Italy to save her husband's life and also symbolizes how society has victimized her. In Act II, when Nora asks Mrs. Linde to help her mend her fancy dress for the performance, Mrs. Linde replies by saying "I see; you are going to keep up the character"(Act II), meaning that Nora will be keeping up the pretenses of being an obedient, innocent wife.