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Nora's treatment as a doll in A Doll's House

Summary:

In A Doll's House, Nora is treated like a doll by her husband, Torvald. He patronizes her, controls her actions, and diminishes her role to that of a plaything or a child, rather than an equal partner. This treatment reflects the societal norms of the time, which often saw women as subservient and decorative rather than independent and capable individuals.

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In A Doll's House, what are three moments that show Nora being treated like a doll?

Nora acts—and is treated like—a doll when it comes to her eating habits. Her husband, Torvald, does not want her to eat sweets because he says it will ruin her teeth. He cares a great deal about her physical appearance, as well as her obedience to his wishes. In her desire to please Torvald, Nora does not let him see her eating sweets, and so she "Hides [a] bag of macaroons in her pocket and wipes her mouth," according to the stage direction, when she thinks he is coming into the room. She appears to submit to his desire, acting like a doll, and he manages her lifestyle and tries to stop her from making her own choices, treating her like one.

A short while later, Nora asks Torvald for money for Christmas so that she can think about what she wants and purchase it later. He chides her about her spending, saying, "It's a sweet little lark, but it gets through a lot of money. No one would believe how much it costs a man to keep such a little bird as you." Torvald has lots of diminutive nicknames for Nora—little squirrel and little lark included—but, somewhat alarmingly, he actually refers to her as it in this line. It ought to refer to an object, like a doll, but never a person. People are not its, and this makes it seem as though Torvald thinks of her as an object in some ways.

Once Torvald learns what Nora has done, he blames and insults her, calling her all manner of names. Further, he says,

People will think I was at the bottom of it all and egged you on. And for all this I have you to thank—you whom I have done nothing but pet and spoil during our whole married life.

This statement—that all Torvald has done is "pet and spoil" Nora—again shows how he treats her as a doll. One adult does not speak like this to another adult whom one respects. She has not acted like his obedient doll, and he verbally abuses her as a result.

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In A Doll's House, what are three moments that show Nora being treated like a doll?

Henrik Ibsen, in his play A Doll's House, gave us several instances in which we can see that Nora is being treated like a doll, or doll wife, rather than a real human being. Listed below are a few of the most significant instances:

The first moment in which we can see Nora being treated like a doll takes place in the opening scene. We see that Torvald has many pet names for Nora, such as lark and little squirrel. When he hears Nora enter the house, he asks her "Is that my little lark twittering out there?" and "Is it my little squirrel bustling about?"(Act I). But these endearing phrases stand in great contrast to his next line: "Don't disturb me" (Act I). These endearing names in conjunction with his treatment of her shows just how little respect he actually has for her and just how little he takes her seriously. His lack of respect is further shown when he calls her a "featherbrain" for so called "wasting" money on Christmas gifts that Nora bought very cheaply (Act I).

A second occurrence proving that Nora is nothing but a doll to Torvald is Torvald's reaction to Nora's request that Torvald let Krogstad keep his position at the bank. Torvald treats her request with complete disregard. Nora, like a doll, asks her husband "If your little squirrel were to ask you for something very, very prettily--?" and of course, like a doll, Torvald refuses to take her request seriously (Act II). He has his own opinion of Krogstad and refuses to bend to the ideas of his doll.

A third moment signifying that Nora is being treated as a doll is when Nora is practicing the Tarantella in front of Torvald. Ibsen goes to great extent to describe Torvald standing beside her, giving her "frequent instructions," while she dances violently and Dr. Rank plays the piano (Act II). Finally Torvald exclaims, "Stop, I tell you! I could never have believed it. You have forgotten everything I taught you" (Act II). Just as Torvald instructs Nora about macaroons in Act I, Torvald believes that it is his right to instruct Nora into whatever he wants her to be. Just like a doll, Torvald believes he can bend her, and pose her, and make her look however he wishes.

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In A Doll's House, how does Torvald treat Nora like a doll?

Notice at the end of the play how Nora explicitly identifies herself with a doll to explain how she has been treated by Helmer during their marriage:

I was your little songbird just as before--your doll whom henceforth you would take particular care to protect from the world because she was so weak and fragile.

This clearly indicates the way Nora feels that she has been viewed by her husband. The fact that she is a "doll" indicates that she is an object that is owned by her husband. She is not recognised as an independent human in her own right, and she is certainly not given agency to act as a human in the play. From the start of the play, Helmer patronises her, treating her as if she were a child, calling her a "skylark," a "squirrel" and a "squanderbird." Nora engages in childish games of concealment with him and acts in a very immature way. It is clear that, as Nora says in the final act, that when she married Helmer he took over where her father had left off, arranging everything so that his opinions became her opinions.

The "doll" is therefore a very important piece of imagery because it points towards the way that Nora in particular and women in general were objectified and not treated as adults, and were seen as a possession to protect and look after by the patriarchal society in which Ibsen lived.

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In A Doll's House, how does Torvald treat Nora like a doll?

In A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen, Torvald consistently patronizes his wife Nora with seemingly innocuous comments such as "my little squirrel" and other demeaning rather than endearing comments. Torvald also scolds Nora over her fondness for macaroons and insists that she should not eat them. Nora does not help the situation because she sneaks macaroons and "wipes her mouth" just like a child may do. Torvald is abrupt with her, even telling her not to interrupt him in a tone usually reserved for a relationship between a parent and a child. He even gives her money and expects the kind of excitement which a child would normally show when receiving pocket money. He reveals the unequal and dependent nature of their relationship when he says, "No one would believe how much it costs a man to keep such a little bird as you." later, he dismisses her and berates her for telling an "untruth." Their relationship has no depth, such as they will both find out at their own expense later in the play. 

Torvald has an unrealistic picture of Nora which Nora would rather preserve at the moment. She even talks about herself and her "dolly children." She does suggest that she may tell him her deepest secret one day

"when Torvald is not so much in love with me as he is now ; when it doesn't amuse him any longer to see me dancing about, and dressing up and acting..."

This confirms how he treats her as a doll, believing that she is almost fragile and certainly not to be taken seriously. He even refers to Nora as her husband's "property in Act 3 and Nora remarks how she has been his "doll-wife" which he cannot deny. 

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