What do the macaroons symbolize in A Doll's House?

Quick answer:

From the opening moments of A Doll's House, Ibsen establishes the macaroons as a defining symbol of key aspects of both Nora’s and Torvald’s characters and marriage. Ibsen thus immediately establishes the macaroons as a symbol to represent the oppressive condition of Nora’s domestic life under Torvald’s disproving and diminishing eye, where Nora feels the need to lie about her humblest indulgence to maintain her husband’s good favor.

Expert Answers

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

When Nora’s character makes her initial entrance, the first thing she does after tipping the porter is to make sure the coast is clear to furtively pop a couple of the dainty confections into her mouth while Torvald is in his study. Her submission to Torvald’s will stems from her financial dependence on him, as well the societal expectations pressuring Nora to be a dutiful wife and ethereal creature of beauty and grace. Secretly munching macaroons is one of the few gestures of rebellion available to Nora, so by giving in to her sweet tooth, she is asserting her will at home, albeit in private.

By repeatedly referring to Nora as his “squirrel” and “skylark,” Torvald demonstrates his cutesy diminution of Nora’s womanhood and humanity, and the animal references have dual significance. First, the scene of Nora hurriedly inhaling the macaroons on the sly does indeed suggest the image of a squirrel gleefully enjoying its trove of acorns, or perhaps a songbird pecking at some delectable treat. This illustrates how Torvald regards Nora as some tiny “wild” creature that must be tamed and coddled, and this aspect is heightened further in act 2.

Having established that the macaroons are a symbol of Nora’s childlike willfulness and rebellion, Ibsen connects the taboo dessert to Nora’s tarantella-fueled passion and abandon as another expression of her “animal” nature. After dismaying Torvald with her “violent” practice dance, her gyrations suggesting carnal Italian pleasures forbidden in frosty, repressed Norway, Nora’s exuberance leads to her ordering extra macaroons for the costume ball.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House, the macaroons symbolize Nora's acts of independence and deception. They also represent Torvald's efforts to control Nora and to treat her like a child.

Eating the macaroons is Nora's way of disobeying her domineering husband. This act illuminates the feminine issue in the play. Nora's growth as a person is stultified by her having to hide her little pleasures and by the demands upon her by Torvald to be his "little sweetheart" and his "little songbird"—his "doll." These sobriquets suggest Nora's dependence upon her husband and her helplessness. She is placed in the position of having to ask for money, and she must sew things to make some money.

The act of sneaking the macaroons into the house and eating them reflects the more significant act of deception that Nora has committed. Because Torvald believes that “a home that depends on loans and debt is not beautiful because it is not free,” Nora feels that she must deceive her husband about the loan that she procured in the early years of their marriage so that they could go to Italy and save Torvald's health.

In her efforts to repay this loan, Nora has done copying work, and she has never spent more than half the money that Torvald has given her for a dress or other things, using the other half to repay her debt. When her husband does learn about Nora's loan, Torvald is enraged at her deception. It is his failure to understand the sacrificing of happiness for another—something Nora and her friend Mrs. Linde have both done—that is the undoing of his marriage.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In the play A Doll's House, by Herink Ibsen, the main character is a young wife named Nora. Nora's role within her marriage is to please and entertain her husband, rather than to serve as a solid foundation for the family. This has caused Nora to opt for a behavior that befits her role in the marriage: She is childish, hyperactive, dramatic, and seemingly very immature.

Among her many childish behaviors, Nora tends to sneak macaroons and eat them behind her husband's back. When he sees her sneaking the macaroons, he adopts an overly-important fatherly tone to scold her. In turn, Nora embraces the "little girl" persona as a result. This alone shows how the macaroons help Torvald assert the authority that he feels that he deserves to have over Nora. Hence, the macaroons can be seen under a completely different light when we see the dynamics that eating them creates in the relationship between Nora and Torvald.

Yet, there is much more to the macaroons than it seems: Nora has to sneak the macaroons. It is a secret pleasure that she is hiding from her husband. They symbolize the suppressed delights that Nora endures as a result of playing the role of a child within the marriage. They also symbolize the forbidden and so-badly wanted pleasure of being allowed to be free within the relationship to engage in the behaviors that she seems fit. Nora is obviously running on empty and out of ideas on how else she could act like her husband's doll- The macaroons, and the need to consume them, are also allegorical to the preoccupation that Nora has to conceal her real self.

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