Significance of the Title A Doll’s House
Symbolically the title A Doll’s House represents a greater significance to Ibsen’s stark message of male domination over woman. A doll in this play suggests the married woman who after getting married comes to build house with her love and care but ultimately gets insulted, humiliated, tortured. Unable to realize her dream she turns into an inanimate object exactly like a doll.
The word “doll” means a woman who has no mind or will of her own. “A doll’s house” therefore means a house where lives such a woman. The word “doll” in the context of this play is applicable to Nora. “Doll” signifies passivity, beauty, and the basically feminine nature which is seen in Nora. She is a doll because during the eight years that she has spent as Helmer‘s marriage partner, she has always been a passive and subservient kind of wife to him.
It is true that on one occasion she took a bold initiative by entering into a transaction with Krogstad and obtaining the requisite amount of money in order to take her husband to Italy because he was critically ill and the doctors had told her that he could survive only if he were taken to a warm climate The step which she took on that occasion certainly shows that she was no doll. During the eight years following her husband’s recovery she has regularly been paying monthly instalments to Krogstad against the principal amount and against the interest which has been accruing thereon. This too shows that she was no doll, especially because she has regularly been dealing with Krogstad and has yet never allowed her husband to become aware of what has been going on between her and Krogstad. Apart from this, however, she has been more or less, a kind of doll, obeying her husband’s wishes and always conforming to his views and his tastes.
At the very beginning of the play we find Helmer treating his wife as kind of a pet. He addresses her as his “little skylark” and as his “little squirrel”, and she fully responds to these terms of endearment. It is true that she enters into an argument with him over the amount of money that should be spent on the occasion of the Christmas festival. But her manner of arguing clearly shows that she has to submit to the wishes of a husband who is conscious of his power over her and who says in categorical terms to her:
“No debts ! Never borrow!”
Immediately afterwards, however, Helmer tries to humour her by saying:
“My little singing bird must not o drooping her wings.”
Helmer’s whole attitude towards Nora consists of a feeling of authority mingled with a deep affection, but the feeling of authority predominates.
The authoritarian attitude of Helmer becomes more emphatic when he rejects Nora’s recommendation on behalf of Krogstad, Helmer on this occasion appears as a stern moralist, and his condemnation of Krogstad is so strongly worded that Nora, applying the condemnation to her own case, shudders inwardly. If she had been self-assertive woman, she could very well have taken up a firm attitude on this occasion and tried to refute Helmer’s arguments. But, far from adopting a firm attitude, Nora begins to think of suicide and at the beginning of Act II, we find her speaking to the old Nurse as if she had already decided to put an end to her life.
When Krogstad comes to meet her for the second time and gives her another threat, she feels even more demoralized. But this time again her recommendation on Krogstad’s behalf is summarily rejected by her husband. In fact, this time her recommendation has the opposite effect because Helmer hastens to send to Krogstad the order of dismissal which he might otherwise have sent a few days later.
By the end of Act II, no doubt is left in our minds that Nora is entirely dependent on her husband. She seeks his advice as to what kind of a costume she should wear at the fancy dress ball. She tells him that she cannot move a step without his guidance in this matter. She then seeks his guidance in rehearsing the Tarantella, appealing almost helplessly to him for his direction. Indeed, according to the ideas then prevailing, Nora is a model of wifely devotion. She loves Helmer so much that, in order to save him from the disgrace of a public disclosure of her guilty action committed eight years ago, she is ready even to put an end to her own life. Previously she wanted to kill herself so as not to continue to poison her home and deprave her children: but now she wants to put an end to her life in order to save her husband from disgrace and scandal. Accordingly, at the end of Act II we find her saying that she has now only thirty-one more hours to live.
Nora has been living in a doll’s house without having ever been conscious that she was a doll. But the awakening comes with Helmer’s totally unexpected reactions to Krogstad’s two letters. After she has severely been reprimanded by Helmer and then after she has been forgiven by him, Nora realizes that she has always been a non-entity in this house and that she has been rendering blind obedience to convention and custom all these years in order to keep her husband pleased. It now dawns upon her mind that her husband is not the man she had thought him to be. He neither has the moral courage to face Krogstad’s challenge nor loves her enough to come forward and take the blame for her guilt on his own shoulders. Her love for him now drops dead, and her mind now becomes active.
Nora discovers that she is an individual in her own right, but that her individuality has remained dormant and suppressed all these years. She tells Helmer that he has been treating her as his doll-wife just as her father had in the past treated her as his baby-doll. She tells him that their house has never been anything but a play-room and that he has been playing with her just as she has been playing with her children. She says that she would now like to know things at first hand and in order to do that, she must go out into the world alone. Her most sacred duty, she says, is not to him or to her children but to herself. And so Nora makes her exit from this doll’s house.
At the end of the play Nora is no longer a doll. She is a woman and an individual in her own right. She would now discover her own potentialities and seek to achieve a fulfilment of those potentialities. She would be facing an uncertain future, but she has now got the necessary self-confidence for the purpose. She has greatly matured; she has grown in stature mentally and morally. Who can predict what would happen to her?
There is every possibility that, in the course of a few years, she would emerge as a leader of a campaign for the rights of women. In the course of a few years she might distinguish herself as a feminist leader. After all, great results have been achieved by enterprising individuals who have taken initiatives of this kind.
The title A Doll’s House for the play is most appropriate because it signifies the kind of life that Nora has led for eight years in her husband’s home. Her exit from her husband’s home is a turning point in her life; her exit can prove to be a new starting point for Nora.