Places: A Doll’s House

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Et dukkehjem, 1879 (English translation, 1880); first performed, 1879

First produced: 1879

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Social realism

Time of work: Nineteenth century

Places DiscussedHelmer house

Helmer Doll’s House, Ahouse. Home of Torvald Helmer, a successful bank manager, and his wife, Nora. The dwelling contains comfortable and stylish furniture and such items as a china cabinet, a bookcase with well-bound books, and a piano on carpeted floor–all of which demonstrate a stable financial situation. However, the house is a mere container, or doll’s house, for Nora, who spends her time entertaining or nervously accommodating (as her nickname “the squirrel” implies) her demanding husband–rather than decorating, designing, or even “taking charge of” her own life.

Sitting areas in the house realistically capture the limitations on Nora’s growth as a woman. For example, in these staged sitting areas, Nora secretly eats macaroons to escape her husband’s upbraiding; she has threatening conversations with Krogstad, concerning his reinstatement at her husband’s bank; and she prepares her costume and practices the tarantella for a Christmas ball she must attend with Torvald. All of these situations in closed rooms psychologically and emotionally demonstrate the manipulation and oppression of this doll in the house, filled with rooms of deception and corruption.

When Nora finally decides to leave her husband, she goes out of the house and slams its downstairs door shut. In so doing, she physically, mentally, and spiritually enters a new space: the unknown. For here she can truly “find herself” now and discover what she wants to do as a woman without Torvald’s rules and codes of behavior.

Helmer’s office

Helmer’s office. Torvald’s efficiently furnished banking office, which is an emblem of his kingdom–the room in which he makes the rules of conduct for his home and for his little doll, Nora. Ibsen’s social realism is evident as in his studio many despotic decisions that further emphasize the theme of female injustice are made. For example, in act 2 Torvald writes a letter dismissing the bookkeeper Nils Krogstad, who has been blackmailing Nora since she forged her dying father’s signature to a bond at the bank, when she needed money to take Torvald to Italy when he was seriously ill.

BibliographyDowns, Brian W. Ibsen: The Intellectual Background. New York: Octagon, 1969. Contains preface, chronology, and index, and makes multiple references to A Doll’s House. Downs argues that the “disagreement” upon which the drama turns is not between a wife and husband as much as it is between woman and society.Hornby, Richard. Patterns in Ibsen’s Middle Plays. Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 1981. A readable, helpful, and interesting discussion of A Doll’s House in one chapter. Indicates that the play’s underlying idea is the “ethical leap” that informs the technical and aesthetic development of the play.Mencken, H. L. Introduction to Eleven Plays of Henrik Ibsen. New York: Random House, 1950. Mencken’s prose is worth reading for itself and especially so in this case for anyone interested in Ibsen. Mencken lauds A Doll’s House and declares that it represents the full measure of Ibsen’s contribution to the art of drama.Meyer, Michael. Ibsen: A Biography. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1971. A well-organized, readable, illustrated source with an annotated index. Includes frequent references to A Doll’s House, especially in chapter 19. Meyer also discusses the continued focus on Ibsen’s view of women’s situation in a man’s world, on the outcry against A Doll’s House, and on the monetary return it brought the author.Shafer, Yvonne, ed. Approaches to Teaching Ibsen’s “A Doll [sic] House.” New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1985. Useful for both nonspecialists and specialists. Provides section about materials available for a study of A Doll’s House and a section on approaches to teaching it. Provides insight for understanding and interpreting the play.
Categories: Places