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What does the lamp symbolize in A Doll's House?

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In A Doll's House, the lamp symbolizes false security, illumination, and truth-telling. In act 2, Nora uses the lamp to protect herself from the truth of Dr. Rank’s love. Nonetheless, the lamp’s appearance coincides with Dr. Rank’s revelation. In act 3, the lamp shines a harsh light on the true state of Nora and Torvald’s marriage. It forces both characters to see the reality of their relationship and its dynamics.

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In A Doll’s House, the lamp represents both false security and the illumination of truth. In the play, Ibsen introduces the lamp as a prop that characters use as protection and as a device to reveal truths. The lamp first appears in act 2 when Nora is about to reveal her secret—her past forgery—to Dr. Rank. She tells him,

I know you are my truest and best friend, and so I will tell you what it is. Well, Doctor Rank, it is something you must help me to prevent.

Her confession, however, is interrupted by his admission of a secret love for her.

I was determined you should know it before I went away, and there will never be a better opportunity than this. Now you know it, Nora. And now you know, too, that you can trust me as you would trust no one else.

Instead of being a vehicle to shine light on truth, the lamp becomes a symbol of false cheer. Disturbed by Dr. Rank’s revelation, Nora immediately decides not to divulge her secret to Rank but commands the maid to bring a lamp into the room.

NORA. Helen, bring in the lamp. [Goes over to the stove.] Dear Doctor Rank, that was really horrid of you.

RANK. To have loved you as much as anyone else does? Was that horrid?

NORA. No, but to go and tell me so. There was really no need—

RANK. What do you mean? Did you know—? [MAID enters with lamp, puts it down on the table and goes out.] Nora—Mrs. Helmer—tell me, had you any idea of this?

The lamp becomes a symbol of safety; Nora wants to light up the room—banishing any darkness or suggestion of romance—and seek the warmth of the stove. Light and heat represent security, innocence, and childlike protection from Dr. Rank’s unexpected amorous advances and, most importantly, the truth of his love for her. Nora wants to be shielded from this truth. After turning on the lamp to create a safe and well-lit environment, she admonishes Rank:

You can do nothing for me now. Besides, I really don't need any help at all. You will find that the whole thing is merely fancy on my part. It really is so—of course it is! [Sits down in the rocking chair and looks at him with a smile.] You are a nice sort of man, Doctor Rank! Don't you feel ashamed of yourself now the lamp has come?

In other words, how can he violate the bright atmosphere of false cheer with uncomfortable truths?

In act 3, the lamp once again seems to symbolize illumination and truth-telling and eventually does so after a false start. This final act opens with a lamp burning on a table at the center of the stage. Ibsen presents revelations in the third act but not in a straightforward way.

After Torvald discovers from Krogstad’s first letter that Nora had committed forgery, he reacts by scolding her for her crime; he cannot bear her confession of the truth. He tells her that she has ruined his reputation and happiness and that they must present false appearances:

I must try and appease him in some way or another. The matter must be hushed up at any cost. And as for you and me, it must appear as if everything between us were just as before—but naturally only in the eyes of the world.

Then when Torvald receives a second letter from Krogstad, he moves to the lamp in order to read it and learn the truth.

HEL. [standing by the lamp]. I scarcely have the courage to do it. It may mean ruin for both of us. No, I must know. [Tears open the letter, runs his eye over a few lines, looks at a paper enclosed and gives a shout of joy.] Nora! [She looks at him questioningly.] Nora! No, I must read it once again. Yes, it is true! I am saved! Nora, I am saved!

When Torvald discovers that Krogstad cancelled Nora’s debt, he rejoices that he is saved—with Nora as an afterthought. Nora then realizes that her truth cannot be accepted by Torvald and that Torvald cares more about himself and appearances than about her as a complete person and separate adult. He still sees her as a powerless doll and child.

At the end, she sits on one side of the table and he on the other side; with the lamp between them, she tells him that she is leaving him. The lamp provides a harsh light on the true state of their marriage:

But our home has been nothing but a playroom. I have been your doll wife … and here the children have been my dolls. I thought it great fun when you played with me, just as they thought it great fun when I played with them. That is what our marriage has been, Torvald.

In fact, the light of the lamp illuminates this truth to Nora—"I have never felt my mind so clear and certain as tonight”—and motivates her to grow and exit her cloying domestic situation.

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What does the dress symbolize in A Doll's House?

More than anything else, Nora's fancy dress symbolizes her subordination to her husband, Torvald. This rather fetching Neapolitan fisher-girl's dress isn't something that Nora wears for herself but for her husband. She's not wearing it because she thinks she looks good in it or because it makes her feel confident—she's wearing it because Torvald wants her to.

Torvald is positively intoxicated by the sight of Nora dancing the tarantella in this alluring dress; it throws him into transports of erotic delight. This tells us a lot about him and how he really feels about Nora. It seems that the only qualities that he really admires about his wife are transient, superficial ones like beauty. Torvald is so shallow that he's not interested in what might be inside Nora. In fact, one gets the impression that he doesn't think there's anything behind her beautiful exterior at all. One only has to listen to the patronizing pet names he uses toward her—such as "my little skylark" and "my little squirrel"—to understand this.

What's notable about the dress is that, when the nurse first brings it out, it's noticeably torn. Even more remarkably, Nora has the desire to tear the dress to shreds. In doing so, she would, symbolically speaking, be fighting back at her subordination as a woman in this conventional middle-class marriage. The obvious wearing away of the dress can also be said to symbolize the decline of the Helmers' marriage, which, like the dress itself, is all for show.

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What does the ring symbolize in A Doll's House?

I assume that you're referring to the Ibsen play A Doll's House rather than the Katherine Mansfield short story of the same name, as a ring is an important symbol in the play rather than the story. For Nora, her wedding ring is a symbol of a failing marriage and all that that entails. Like most women of the time, Nora has little freedom as a married woman. The wedding ring that she wears increasingly becomes a symbol of her subservience; that she's regarded by a male-dominated society as being little more than the property of her husband, Torvald. The ring becomes almost like a chain, manacling her to a man whose true selfishness and narcissism are gradually revealed.

But more than anything else, Nora's wedding ring is a perfect symbol of her marriage because it is superficially pretty, something to be shown off to the whole world, and yet which has no real substance to it. Her marriage, like the ring, is ultimately just a bright, shiny bauble of purely economic value.

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What is an example of a symbolism in "A Doll's House"?

Arguably, one of the biggest symbols in the play A Doll's House is the season where the play is set. It is near the end of the year. Christmas and New Year's Eve are in the horizon. The weather is cold outside, yet, the Helmers keep warm inside with the proverbial fire on the hearth. 

Why is all of this symbolic?

It is symbolic because of the traditional and significant events that are celebrated toward the end of each year and especially during the Winter and Christmas seasons:

  • the birth of Jesus
  • the" birth"/start of a New Year
  • the end of the old and the welcoming of the new

If you think about it, there are several "rebirths" taking place in the play, in one way or another.

  • Mrs. Linde and Krogstad find one another, and they decide to restart their lives together.
  • Krogstad changes his ways.
  • Torvald discovers what Nora did and shows his true colors; he is no longer a loving husband but a judgmental and patronizing man.

Nora notices this and she, too, changes her ways. She decides to leave the family and go away forever. She realizes she has been a play thing, a doll. She is now reborn, and wants to be her own person. 

Nora [taking her bag]: Ah, Torvald, the most wonderful thing of all would have to happen.

Helmer: Tell me what that would be!

Nora: Both you and I would have to be so changed that— . . . our life together would be a real wedlock. Goodbye. [She goes out through the hall.]

All this being said, it is clear that New Year's Day will mark a totally different life for these characters. Nothing will be like it was before; the New Year will bring with it new lives, which could be happy or sad. Christmas, New Year's Eve, and New Year's Day (all celebrated during the Winter season) are definitely symbolic of a rebirth for the characters. 

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What symbolism is represented in A Doll's House?

An interesting symbol that is usually not mentioned is the dance, the Tarantella, that Nora practices for Torvald. 

During this dance, Nora is full of excitement, nervous energy and agitation, so she dances wildly and Torvald is displeased with her. Symbolically, the dance, can be seen as Nora's attempt at a full and satisfying life, and Torvald, obviously, does not approve. Nora could never have a more satisfying life with her husband, he does not approve.

He refers to Nora with cute little animal names, like a pet.

"Come, come, my little skylark must not droop her wings. What is this! Is my little squirrel out of temper? (Taking out his purse.) Nora, what do you think I have got here"? Act I

"It's a sweet little bird, but it gets through a terrible amount of money. You wouldn't believe how much it costs a man when he's got a little song-bird like you!" Act I

She is treated like a doll, who must look pretty, and be put on a shelf to be controlled. Nora is not a real person to her husband, in his mind, she can never handle responsibility outside the house. Therefore, when Torvald finds out about Nora's deception it is such a betrayal, a scandal for him.

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What symbolism is represented in A Doll's House?

An obvious symbol is Nora herself.  She is the "doll" of the house, pretending to be the perfect wife that her husband wants, but dying inside. Torvald also treats her as if she were a doll.  He treats her with kid gloves and as if she were a toy instead of a human being.  The things she hides from her husband represent how oppressed she is.  Also, Nora represents women of the nineteenth century in Europe (their plight).  This time period was marked by males being judged by their work success and women being socially oppressed and relegated to domestic duties. 

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What are some symbols that can be found in Henrik Ibsen's play A Doll's House?

An additional important symbol in A Doll's House is that of the Christmas tree. It represents the comfort and respectability of the middle-class home, the kind of place where a happily-married bourgeois couple would live. And it is this image of domestic wedded bliss that the Helmers like to present to the outside world. On the face of it, all seems well. Like a beautifully-decorated Christmas tree, the Helmers' marriage is pleasant and attractive.

But in reality, it's nothing more than a sham, and the true nature of Nora and Torvald's marriage is aptly symbolized by the bare, bedraggled state of the Christmas tree in Act II, when it has been stripped of its decorations and all the candles have been put out.

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What are some symbols that can be found in Henrik Ibsen's play A Doll's House?

Henrik Ibsen's play A Doll's House is not a literary work that is full of symbols, but there are a few.

One symbol is the macaroons that Nora is seen eating and hiding in the opening scene. When her husband questions her to find out if she has been eating macaroons, which he has forbidden because they will spoil her teeth, he asks her in the same way that he would ask a child if she/he has been behaving. Hence, because the macaroons connect Nora to being treated like a child, the macaroons symbolize Nora's still uneducated, child-like mind. By the end of the play, Nora feels that, like a child, she is uneducated about the ways of the world. The macaroons also symbolize both her husband's and her father's treatment of her. Nora feels that they have both treated her like a child by not respecting her mind and opinions.

A second symbol is the fancy dress, or costume, Nora wears to the fancy dress ball and wears to dance the Tarantella in. The fancy dress symbolizes the pretenses that Nora puts on throughout the play. Nora committed a great crime, but hides it from her husband and pretends that everything has worked out well. The fancy dress can also symbolize the illusions that Nora is persuaded by throughout the play. For instance, Nora is under the illusion that she is happy, but in reality, she is only content. In Act III, when Torvald asks her if she has not been happy, Nora replies "No, only merry"(Act III).

Another important symbol is the Tarantella dance. The Tarantella is a folk dance from Southern Italy. The dance became a ritual to represent a victim having been bitten by a wolf spider. The poisonous bite provoked hysteria and it was believed that bite victims should dance in a fast and crazy style(eNotes). In the case of A Doll's House, Nora's spider bite can be seen as society forcing her to forge a loan to save her husband's life. The Tarantella symbolizes her trip to Italy to save her husband's life and also symbolizes how society has victimized her. In Act II, when Nora asks Mrs. Linde to help her mend her fancy dress for the performance, Mrs. Linde replies by saying "I see; you are going to keep up the character"(Act II), meaning that Nora will be keeping up the pretenses of being an obedient, innocent wife.

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Discuss Henrik Ibsen's use of symbolism in A Doll's House.

For a 300-word paper on the symbolism in Henrik Ibsen's "A Doll's House", you may want to focus on one specific set of symbols that bring out the central themes of the play. These symbols can be verbal or physical.

One interesting set of verbal symbols are the pet names and terms that Torvald uses for Nora. He often describes her as small animal, a lark or a squirrel. Although these terms appear affectionate on the surface, it is worth exploring how they trivialize her and treat her as less than fully human and less than an equally partner in the marriage.

Another interesting symbol is that of the forbidden macaroons. You can think of these in terms of symbolizing a system of arbitrary rules of power or also of the notion of circumscribing and disciplining desire in a Foucaltian sense.

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