Confinement and self-liberation in 'A Doll's House'

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  Setting is used as an immediate representation of the social conventions imposed on the central female characters.  In A Doll’s House, Ibsen presents the appearance of cosy bourgeois family life through the ‘comfortably and tastefully, but not expensively furnished’ setting.  This is further exemplified through the Christmas tree; a festive season and the synonymous family security and happiness is indicated in order to establish a cosy, middle-class home conforming to religious and social expectations.  Nora is seen at times during the course of the play concentrating on its decoration, conveying her involvement in ensuring her family’s well-being and in turn, emphasising the strict gender role in which she is restricted to.  Despite this, the audience cannot help but feel the setting has been created to suit Torvald’s tastes, thus depicting Nora’s confinement within her home.  For example, Nora rings the bell of the house before her initial entrance, suggesting that she does not possess her own key.  This is further emphasised when she ‘listens at her husbands door’, implying that she does not have full access to the house.  Ibsen immediately establishes a typical bourgeois home and the conventions of a patriarchal society through a blend of naturalism and realism to depict the suppression of the central female character and also to create a world instantly identifiable to his middle-class audience in order for them to relate to Nora’s situation.  

  In addition to this, the image of doors in A Doll’s House contributes significantly in conveying Nora’s internment within her home.  For example, the opening stage direction describes a main living room – providing the focus of the dramatic action – with four doors; one leads to Torvald’s study, and represents patriarchal authority, one leading to the nursery, representing her responsibilities as a mother, and one leading to the outside world, offering Nora the prospect of liberation.  Doors are used throughout the play to reinforce her confinement within her home.  For example, Nora never enters Torvald’s study, conveying her conformation to patriarchy.  As other characters come and go freely through the hall, Nora becomes increasingly restricted to the main living area throughout the course of the play.  She is seen using the door to the outside world only twice; on the rise of the curtain and in the denouement to claim her independence.  It is the sheer irony in this image which is particularly effective in reinforcing her entrapment within her home; doors typically connotate freedom and infinite space.  Nora finally achieves her independence from Torvald at the final slam of the door; she essentially slams the door on conventional ideals and rejects society’s restricted role of the archetypal wife and mother, or metaphorically is emancipated from her ‘doll’ role in order to gain a sense of self-liberation.  

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  Nora is immediately presented as the archetypal wife and mother through her submissive behaviour towards her husband, Torvald, who is ‘proud of being a man’.  This is illustrated through her impartial reaction to Torvald’s generous use of diminutive nicknames for her such as ‘little squirrel’ and ‘little songbird’.  The use of small mammals or birds – easily trapped or caged – is effective here in conveying Torvald’s – and indeed society’s – idealised view of the submissive wife and in turn, the constraints this imposes on Nora, who accepts these terms in order to act out the prescribed ...

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