Why are the Kelvey girls compared to animals in “The Doll’s House”?

The Kelvey girls are compared to animals at four points. First, Else is said to resemble an owl because of her wispy hair and big eyes. When the sisters enter the Burnells’ yard, they are compared to “stray cats,” emphasizing their separation from society. When she sends them away, Aunt Beryl chases them like “chickens,” and after they leave, she thinks of them as “rats.” These instances emphasize Beryl’s attempts to dehumanize the poor girls.

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At four distinct points in the story, animal comparison are applied to the Kelvey sisters, Lil and Else. The narrator elaborates on the numerous ways in which the Kelveys are treated as social outcasts, not only by the other girls at their school but also by the parents. It emerges that Mrs. Burnell has told their mother that they are not to speak to her daughters. Kezia, however, does not want to ostracize or torment them as most of the other girls do.

The first animal comparison is applied to Else, who is described as resembling “a little white owl” because she has a small frame, wispy short hair which apparently looks feathery, and “enormous solemn eyes.” In addition to the general bird-like appearance, the choice of this particular bird suggests wisdom. Later, she is shown to be attentive and insightful.

The next comparison pertains to both girls. When Kezia encounters them walking near her house, she persuades them to enter the yard. They are compared to “little stray cats.” This description pertains to their overall status of alienation from the other children, as well as to being out without an adult.

The negative attitudes and behavior of the adults are revealed in Aunt Beryl’s actions and thoughts. She forbids them to stay in the yard, and shoos them out like she would chase chickens. This comparison both dehumanizes them and suggests they are ordinary, unintelligent domestic fowl—very different from owls. Finally, after mistreating the girls, the smug Aunt Beryl thinks of them as rats, again dehumanizing them but also suggesting they are unclean pests.

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