The Doll's House

The Doll's House Essay Questions

  1. 1

    What is significant about the Burnell girls' school in "The Doll's House"?

    "The Doll's House" uses the microcosm of the Burnell children's mixed-income school to illustrate how the economic divisions of class create barriers between people in a society—barriers that perpetuate hierarchical attitudes, prejudice, and ostracism. Social class is most apparent in the story through Mansfield's contrast of the economically and socially privileged lives of the Burnell children to the impoverished, underclass subsistence of the Kelveys. While the Burnells live in a large house with servants, special-occasion dresses, a servant-driven buggy that picks them up from school, and eat thick mutton sandwiches, the Kelveys wear clothes made from the Burnell's recycled tablecloth and eat jam sandwiches wrapped in newsprint. The Burnells' mother forbids her daughters from associating with the Kelveys, and the Burnells' social exclusion of the Kelveys is adopted by other students, thereby cementing the Kelveys' social ostracism. In this way, Mansfield shows how the class prejudice of the Burnells' mother leads to a recreation of the greater society's class hierarchy within the setting of the school.

  2. 2

    What does the doll's house at the center of the story represent?

    In "The Doll's House," the doll's house the Burnell children receive symbolizes social privilege. A gift from Mrs. Hay, a wealthy guest at the Burnells' home, the doll's house serves to elevate the Burnell girls' social status even higher within the social hierarchy of their mixed-income school. The eldest daughter Isabel understands that she can use the doll's house to enhance the aura of importance that already surrounds her. She intuitively knows that by only allowing two girls per day to see the doll's house, she can create a hierarchy of importance by determining who gets to see it first. In this way, Mansfield depicts how the privilege of owning the doll's house extends to the privilege of who gets to see the doll's house. Once every girl at school except the Kelveys has seen the doll's house, the hierarchy ceases to matter. However, privilege is still used as a weapon to separate everyone who has seen the doll's house from the only two who haven't because of their underclass status.

  3. 3

    What is the significance of the little lamp in the doll's house?

    The lamp on the dining table in the doll's house is a symbol of Kezia and Else's innocence. Kezia distinguishes herself from her sisters by zeroing in on the amber-colored lamp with the white globe when she and her sisters are first viewing the doll's house. Kezia admires how lifelike the lamp is, and marvels at how when she shakes it she discovers it is full of a liquid that emulates oil. When her sisters boast about the doll's house the next day at school, Isabel doesn't discuss the lamp with the emphasis Kezia believes it deserves. The lamp doesn't enter the story again until the end of the story when Else Kelvey tells her sister Lil, "I seen the little lamp." The line confirms that Else heard Kezia mention the lamp and was similarly enchanted by it when she finally saw the famous doll's house. In their shared appreciation of the little lamp, Else and Kezia are united in their innocence; they are the only characters who appreciate the doll's house for what it is and not the privileges it confers.