What is the tone of A Doll's House?

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Wallace Field eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In literature, tone describes the way the author feels about his or her subject. It is not to be confused with mood, which describes the emotional atmosphere created for the reader. In order to assess a text's tone, it can help to look at the way various characters are presented to us: are we supposed to like a certain character but not others? Are we supposed to judge them? Sympathize with them? Hate them? Nora Helmer, for example, is treated generally sympathetically by the narrator: at least by the end of the play. She may seem shallow and doll-like in the beginning, talking about money and Christmas and presents, but by the end, she has come to the astute realization that she was a "doll-child" to her father and how she has "lived by performing tricks" for her husband, Torvald. She is not dramatic or overly emotional; rather, she is quite reasonable in her presentation of her perception of her life, and she is not unkind to her husband despite her obvious upset. She admits that she has been "merry" in their life together, if not happy, but she states her belief that she's been a "doll-wife" to him quite plainly. Thus, Ibsen's tone toward Nora is certainly sympathetic, and we might even call it supportive of her. Being that Torvald seems to represent their society, in which women are often treated as and expected to be like dolls—pretty, compliant, and complacent—Ibsen's tone toward society (and Torvald) is judgmental and disapproving.

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teachertaylor eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The tone of Ibsen's A Doll's House mimics the content and theme of the play--on the surface of the plot, there appears to be a light-hearted, carefree atmosphere, but the reader (or viewer) is acutely aware that there is something much darker and heavier lurking beneath.  For example, Nora has a close relationship with Dr. Rank that on the surface appears to be one that is cordial given the relationship that Dr. Rank has with Nora's husband Torvald.  When Dr. Rank and Nora are together, they are superficially playful around one another.  However, later in the play, Dr. Rank reveals his love for Nora, and the reader gets the sense that Nora also feels the same for Dr. Rank because he is the one who listens to her and treats her like a "real" person.  But these intense feelings must be masked to preserve the artificial happiness of the Helmers' home and lifestyle.  So the tone of the play is on the surface light-hearted, but this masks the intensity that lurks beneath.

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