A Doll's House

A Doll's House Essay Questions

  1. 1

    The play is usually considered one of Ibsen's “realist” plays. Consider how far the play might be anti-realist or symbolic.

    Answer: Consider the symbols, metaphors, and imagery of the play, and weigh their importance against the elements that seem realistic. It also should be very helpful to define “realism” over against the uses of symbols and elements that are absurd, grotesque, or fantastic. Note that “realism” and “symbolism” have gained specific connotations within Ibsen criticism.

  2. 2

    When Nora says in Act One, “I can't think of anything to wear. It all seems so stupid and meaningless,” Ibsen illustrates the symbolism of clothing in the play. Describe how Ibsen’s use of clothing works in the play.

    Answer: Consider, especially, Nora's tarantella costume and fancy-dress box, as well as her black dress when taking the clothing is a symbol. Explore the metaphor of clothing as something which covers up, something which disguises, or as something which confers identity. Ibsen also uses clothing to make points about agency and gender. Consider who dresses whom and who wears certain clothes for the sake of personal expression or in order to please someone else.

  3. 3

    Why is freedom important in the play?

    Answer: Nora sees herself as not free when she is confined in the domestic life of her husband’s home. The direction of the play is to perceive Nora’s awakening as someone who deserves freedom. Consider, too, that Torvald becomes free of his marriage obligations, which also have been oppressive of his own liberties. Finally, consider the ambiguous nature of the freedom Nora wins. She is going from a fairly predictable life into something unknown. Remember that Mrs. Linde would rather be tied to a family rather than alone and on her own. Is that because of human nature or because of her individual choice?

  4. 4

    Is Torvald Helmer a deeply abhorrent character?

    Answer: To answer this question, perform a detailed character study of Torvald Helmer. Do not jump to a conclusion based on your initial feelings about his words and actions in the play. Weigh both sides of the argument—what specifically is the problem in the marriage and in his choices? If you decide to abhor the character, how bad is he? Consider the ways in which he genuinely loves his wife, earns money for the household, and pays attention to her against his selfishness, oppression of his wife, and ability to handle stress.

  5. 5

    How does the play illustrate inheritance, the passing along of traits from parent to child?

    Answer: Consider Dr. Rank's illness as attributed to his father’s indiscretions. Krogstad's shame for his own alleged errors is inherited by his children by way of reputation. Consider, most of all, Nora's relationships with her father and her nurse as influences on how she treats her own children.

  6. 6

    What is the importance of the title of the play?

    Answer: This is a reasonably straightforward question that could be taken in a number of directions. How far is Nora a doll, an object or toy for others? How does her home represent a doll’s house, from which the doll cannot escape on her own? When Nora leaves the house, she is breaking free of the metaphor, though it is unclear what will happen if she is going to return to her earlier family home, where she was something of a doll to her father.

  7. 7

    Ibsen once described Mrs Alving in his play Ghosts as a version of Nora in later life. Imagine what Nora’s earlier life might have been like, based on her characterization in the play.

    Answer: If up till the last day, Nora has been living in a fantasy world, she must have been even less self-aware or independent when she was younger. She probably married by being enthralled by her society’s ideas of love and marriage. Under her father and nurse, she seems to have had few opportunities to get anything like a liberal education; instead, she seems to have learned only how to be a traditional girl and a traditional woman.

  8. 8

    To what extent is the play a comedy?

    Answer: As well as considering smaller touches, such as individual lines, or jokes that might be funny or comedic, it is worth learning about the theatrical definitions of comedy and tragedy to consider how the structure of the play and the main plot elements might count as part of the tradition of comedy. Consider the roles of marriage, death, friendship, self-awareness, irony, family, holidays and parties, and the various themes of the play in this context.

  9. 9

    Is A Doll's House a feminist play?

    Answer: Ibsen claimed that his play was about liberation in a more general, human sense, rather than specifically about female liberation. If feminism focuses on both men and women, it is reasonable to see the mutual liberation of Torvald and Nora as a feminist goal, liberating people of both sexes from social and cultural limitations based on gender. Consider the various women in the play as well. How are we to know whether Ibsen wants us to approve or disapprove of their various choices in relation to men and to their own goals? How do the characters themselves exhibit any goals or points that could be described as feminist?

  10. 10

    How does Ibsen provide suspense in the play?

    Answer: The audience wonders when Torvald will read the letter and what will happen when he does. We also do not know if Nora is going to decide to kill herself, leave, or stay home, but we do know that the pressure on her is building and that something in her is going to burst. Foreshadowing contributes to these issues, such as when Nora tells Mrs. Linde that she has plans Mrs. Linde cannot understand.

  11. 11

    Compare the relationship between Mrs. Linde and Krogstad with that of Nora and Torvald.

    Answer: Nora and Torvald have lived in something of a fantasy marriage for years, and finally they are separating. Meanwhile, Mrs. Linde and Krogstad have been apart, thinking about one another, and finally they are getting together with a larger degree of self-understanding and maturity.