In A Doll's House, what purpose and symbolism does the tarantella serve?

Quick answer:

The purpose of the tarantella in A Doll's House is to symbolize Nora's growing sense of passion and a desire to live life on her own terms. She has been metaphorically dancing her way through her marriage, performing exactly as her husband expects. In this dance, we see Nora's sense of independence emerging.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The tarantella is a dance which is characterized by quick, light steps and an upbeat tempo and has historically been seen as a dance of cheerful courtship.

References to the tarantella are woven into various points of the plot. When Mrs. Linde visits, Nora tells her that Torvald wants her to attend a fancy ball and to dance the tarantella there. Later, after he dismisses Krogstad, Torvald instructs Nora to go shut the door and practice the tarantella with her tambourine. When she tries to prevent Torvald from reading the letter, Nora uses the tarantella to divert his attention, telling him that "I can't dance tomorrow if I don't practice with you." Nora then begins to dance "violently," and her dance only grows more wild as Torvald begins to chide her, giving her "frequent instructions" on how she needs to perform appropriately.

The tarantella symbolizes the growing sense of passion that Nora has tried to restrain in order to be the wife Torvald expects. For the entire play, she is ridiculed by her husband and seen as some sort of pet—a quiet little doll who performs on cue for her adoring husband. Torvald's need to see his wife perform the dance mimics his need to see Nora metaphorically dance her way through their daily lives together. She fulfills the role of his submissive wife without ever being given a voice of her own. In the scene where she begins to dance the tarantella, Nora demonstrates a desire to dance in her own way, ignoring the "instructions" of her husband. Torvald even comments that watching Nora dance the tarantella causes his "blood [to be set] on fire." Yet in the end, Nora no longer wants to perform under her husband's restrictions. She emerges from the play with a sense of independence, determined to live freely and passionately—no longer a mindless doll who simply performs the dance her husband desires.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial