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A Doll's House | Study Guide

Henrik Ibsen

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Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe explains the symbols in Henrik Ibsen's play A Doll's House.

A Doll's House | Symbols



Money symbolizes men's control over women, who are not allowed equal access to it. The play begins with Nora coquettishly asking Torvald for money and ends with her refusing to take any belongings from his house except those she owned before they met. She also rejects his offer to help her financially as she leaves. Christine, in direct contrast to Nora, has means to make money, which gives her the power to make her own choices.


The tarantella is an Italian folk dance based on the frenzied movements victims make to draw out the poison after being bitten by a spider. Ibsen chose Nora to dance the tarantella to align the symbol in the play with the myth already associated with the dance. It also symbolizes the pretense Torvald and Nora have set in the play as the staple of their relationship. He instructs, and she performs. He criticizes, and she "dances" faster to please, but that doesn't please him either. When Nora rehearses the tarantella, she dances with wild abandon. She is trying to please, but she is also frantic to remove the "poison" of corruption Torvald has suggested she possesses when he refers to Krogstad's lack of character.


When Nora is happy in the way Torvald likes and expects, he calls her his "skylark" or "songbird." When she is frightened, she is his "dove." When he is unhappy, Torvald scolds Nora, referring to her in terms of birds, such as "A songbird must have a clean beak." Birds represent Torvald's view of Nora as a creature meant to entertain and delight him, whom he must protect. They also represent Nora's flight to freedom, as she is like a bird in a cage, singing for her keep in the beginning of the play, but escaping by the end.

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