The Doll's House

The Doll's House Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

The Doll's House (Symbol)

The doll's house at the center of the story is a symbol of social privilege. Gifted by a wealthy guest at the Burnells' home, the doll's house further elevates the Burnell girls' already high social status at their mixed-income school. Isabel uses the doll's house to create an aura of fame and importance around herself, which her mother furthers by only allowing two girls to see the house at a time. Isabel extends her privilege to the people she selects by giving them the privilege of seeing the house. Eventually, every girl except the Kelveys has seen the doll's house, thereby cementing their underprivileged social status.

The Little Lamp (Symbol)

The little lifelike lamp that sits on the dining table in the doll's house is a symbol of innocence. Kezia, the youngest Burnell, is distinguished from her family because she notices the beauty of the little lamp while her older sister Isabel has no interest in the lamp, valuing the house mostly for how the house can extend her social privilege. While boasting at school, Isabel neglects to mention the lamp, prompting Kezia to attempt to get her to make a bigger deal about the lamp so her audience understands how exquisite it is. At the end of the story, Else Kelvey tells her sister Lil that "I seen the little lamp," a line that suggests she heard Kezia talking about the lamp and similarly zeroed in on it when they finally got to see the doll's house. Appreciating the little lamp establishes a connection of innocence between Kezia and Else, who are the only characters in the story who do not understand why they are meant to follow Kezia's mother's prejudiced order not to speak to each other.

Narrative Voice Adopting Interior Monologues (Motif)

Throughout the story Mansfield uses a narrative mode called free indirect discourse to have her narrator report the thoughts of characters without distinguishing between the omniscient narrator's voice and the character's interior voice. Mansfield introduces this motif when she writes "But perfect, perfect little house!" in the third paragraph without specifying which of the Burnell children is having the thought. Later in the story, Mansfield's narrator absorbs the class prejudice of the society in which in the story is set by commenting on the fact of the Kelveys' mother being a washerwoman with the qualification "this was awful enough." Using free indirect discourse runs the risk of conflating the author's opinions with the opinions the narrator plucks out of characters' heads, but Mansfield uses the motif to capture the unexamined nature of her characters' prejudice.