In line with Ibsen’s use of realism, the play does not contain many allusions to external sources —no more than would a normal, domestic conversation. However, the play is rife with symbolism, often used to demonstrate Nora’s role in the household. Consider how the play’s title, A Doll’s House, immediately introduces the Helmer household as a static, aesthetic object, rather than a living household.
- Significant symbols that occur throughout the play are the doors, locks, and keys in the house, the clothing that the characters wear, and the dolls and dollhouses.
We also must consider why Ibsen chose to center the play’s events around Christmas. Christmas is traditionally a family holiday, and welcomes connotations of comfort, happiness, and togetherness, as well as domesticity and tradition. The Christmas tree itself directly symbolizes Nora’s state of being. While initially pleasantly decorated, over time it becomes bedraggled and stripped of all its ornamentation.
- As the “perfect” Christmas tree deteriorates, so does Nora’s image of a “perfect” family and home life. Similarly, as the tree loses its value as an accessory or aesthetic object, so does Nora, who is no longer content to be a static, “pretty” thing to be fussed over or admired.
In contrast to the static passivity of the doll’s house, the tarantella is a wild, sexual dance that enables its dancers to assume agency and control. It is through the tarantella that we see Norma embrace her individual identity, separate from that of wife or mother.
- Having learnt the dance in Italy, Nora practices throughout the play, believing that her performance will be her final act as a married woman.