The Significance of the Title A Doll's House

The title of A Doll's House is symbolically significant as well as highly suggestive of the message that Ibsen seems to have intended to convey through the play. There are two important aspects of the play, which the title directly points to: the doll and the house.

Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906)

The doll represents Nora the central character, and the house stands for the house of Helmer where Nora lives.

If we read the play carefully and understand it critically, we feel that the word "doll" has been used in the title in a rather ironic manner. "Doll" signifies passivity, beauty, and the basically feminine nature which is seen in Nora when we look at her from outside. Indeed, from the viewpoint of Helmer, who is basically a traditionally possessive husband, Nora the doll is something like an inanimate object with which he can play and enjoy. As Nora says at the end of the play, she had been her father's doll until her marriage and she has been Helmer's doll for eight long years since her marriage. The word 'doll' suits Nora if we look at her with the traditional or uncritical eye, as Helmer or Mrs. Linde would look, or rather as they would like Nora to be. The reality is however that Nora has all the potential of being a real human being, seeking identity and dignity, and conscious of all the limitations imposed by her husband and his society's traditions. Nora is not a real doll but an apparent one. She is subservient; she is designed as per the demand and desires of Helmer, who would like to think that he makes her what he wants her to be; she is also perfect and unchanging, insentient and easy to handle like lifeless dolls, that is, in the eyes of Mr. Helmer. Her opinions and interests are fully determined and controlled by him. She is his doll, like she was her father's doll till marriage, Helmer possesses her, basically and almost only for fun. Nora has herself explained the fun that her husband obtained while their playhouse.

"...But our home has never been anything but a playroom, I've been your doll-wife, just as I used to be Papa's doll-child. And the children have been my dolls. I used to think it was fun when you came in and played with me, just as they think it's fun when I go in and play games with them. That's all our marriage has been…. "

Another ironic indication in the use of the word "doll's" is that the house does not belong to the doll. Nor is it made or maintained for her. The house, not home, is Mr. Torvald Helmer's. In one sense, he possesses the house, along with the doll! The house, therefore, seems to belong to the doll; but actually it is her cage. We say that the cover of a book belongs to it, or that it is the book's cover. It is only in that sense that the house belongs to the doll. Thus, Nora is the doll, and the house is a cage or 'case' for her. Indeed, the theme of the play suggests that her house (or home, or family) is a limitation on her freedom and prospects of life.

The word "house" also has symbolic suggestions and thematically significant connotations. "House", as contrasted to "home", means 'a structure or shelter to live in', unlike "home" which means 'a house where one's family lives and one gets love and care". "Home" is an emotively charged word, whereas "house" is not. So, in the case of the title of this play, the word 'house' as the connotation of 'just a place to live in', 'a shelter', 'a lifeless thing', and so on. Indeed, for Nora, the house of Helmer has never been a home; it has been a house. As we see her in the beginning, Nora is mainly satisfied with her living place, her house; so, it is her 'home' indeed. But, as she finds out later, it has been a house, a cage, she has been living there as a plaything until her expectation of an act of, sacrifice by her husband, or what she calls "miracle", fails to happen. When she is disillusioned about her place and value, her dignity and respect from her husband, she realizes that her husband has been treating her like a child treats its doll. She has the feeling of that home which has been like the doll's house. That is the meaning of the title. The title is thus very appropriate and is also indicative of the theme of the play.

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