Henrik great and we eventually find our breaking
Ibsen’s “A Doll House” is a story about the inner turmoil happening with the
protagonist, Nora. Nora is married to a controlling man named Torvald Helmer. The
story is filled with symbols that represent abstract ideas and concepts, such
as a Christmas tree and the locked mailbox, but the most obvious and recurring
symbol is that of the macaroon. This symbol serves as an allegory of the
conflicts Nora has with herself, her husband and society. Ibsen used a simple
macaroon to illustrate how complicated life can be and that things aren’t
always as they appear. The macaroons symbolically
represent Nora’s three major personality traits: temptation, deception and independence.
Human nature makes most of
us crave something more if we’re denied from having it. The more temptation
lurks, the greater our craving for it becomes. That is why diets and
faithfulness are such difficult things to fully achieve. The temptation becomes
too great and we eventually find our breaking point. Nora is no exception to
The story kicks off with
Nora making the first impression on the reader that she’s a vapid, immature,
spendthrift wife. She even sneaks in a macaroon and denies ever having one when
Torvald has her. Later, her husband asks her what she would like for Christmas
and she practically begs for cash. She even whines when she requests something, and comes off as being incredibly
We soon get the impression
that they are not husband and wife in the typical sense. They have more of a
father and child relationship where he is very much the disciplinarian and she obeys
him… or at least leads him to believe she’s obeying him. The macaroons are
prohibited by Torvald because he says that they will rot her teeth, but the ban
is just another way to control Nora. In
this sense, the macaroons represent Nora’s innocence, childishness and
happy-go-lucky demeanor, all personality traits that are easy to dominate.
Nora’s eating of macaroons justifies that she possesses a childish nature. Eating them was childish ploy to see what she can get away with right
under Torvald’s nose. This is an immature game she plays so Torvald treat her
like a parent, rather than a husband, which leads into another spectrum of
Nora’s personality: deceit.
Nora was tempted into eating the macaroons, but she kept the façade of the
being the perfect agreeable wife up as well. That tiny dessert represented her
not only falling into the trap of temptation,
but also keeping up the betrayal by lying. She had no problem lying to Torvald
about things as small as eating macaroons to things with much bigger
consequences, like borrowing money.
why did Nora go through such great lengths to pretend to be someone she was
not? We quickly learn that Nora’s marriage is not a healthy one. He treated her
with much disrespect and she simply accepted it. When Nora is chatting with her
old friend, Mrs Linde, we begin to get
the idea that Nora had fallen into the trap of keeping up appearances. She
tried so very hard to get Mrs. Linde to understand that she had the perfect life.
Mrs. Linde was much more patient than I would have been because I was rolling
my eyes and Nora’s fakeness right away.
Anyone who has been in an abusive
relationship would know the lengths someone would go to in order for their
partner not to get upset. Torvald proved time and time again to have a short
temper and to be incredibly controlling. This is why Nora chose to keep up
appearances and pretend to be happier than she really was. This conversation
had between them showed just how awful Torvald was (Norton, page1698):
NORA: Just let me loose. You’re not going to
suffer for my sake. You’re not going to take on my guilt.
HELMER: No more playacting. Locks the hall door.
You stay right here and give me a reckoning. You understand what you’ve done?
Answer! You understand?
NORA: Looking squarely at him, her face
hardening. Yes. I’m beginning to understand everything now.
HELMER: Striding about. Oh, what an awful
awakening! In all these eight years—she who was my pride and joy—a hypocrite, a
liar—worse, worse—a criminal! How infinitely disgusting it all is! The shame! NORA says nothing and goes on
looking straight at him. He stops in front of her. I should have suspected
something of the kind. I should have known. All your father’s flimsy values—Be
still! All your father’s flimsy values have come out in you. No religion, no
morals, no sense of duty—Oh, how I’m punished for letting him off! I did it for
your sake, and you repay me like this.
NORA: Yes, like this.
HELMER: Now you’ve wrecked all my happiness—ruined
my whole future. Oh, it’s awful to think of. I’m in a cheap little grafter’s
hands; he can do anything
he wants with me, ask for anything, play with me
like a puppet—and I can’t breathe a word. I’ll be swept down miserably into the
depths on account of a featherbrained woman.
Even then, Nora loved Torvald in her
own way. Just as she lied about eating the macaroons, she also lied about
something much bigger. She confessed to Mrs. Linde that she had taken out a
loan to save Torvalds’s life. She told him that her father had left her the
money when he died, but she had taken out a loan illegally and was slowly
trying to pay it back. Gender roles play a big part in Nora’s reasoning as to
why she lied and then covered up her lies. Mentioned earlier, Ibsen also uses other symbols to represent Torvald as a
character. The sweat-inducing scenes with the mailbox are a mirror of Torvald
as a dominating and controlling husband. Only Torvald has the key of the strong
mailbox. The mailbox is for Torvald alone to access, as he only holds the key.
Similarly, the lack of access to mailbox also reminds us of Nora’s
submissiveness, which is a commentary on gender roles. Nora’s insistence on
maintaining Torvald’s ego intact, but ultimately failing miserably is just one
of Ibsen’s many social commentaries in A Doll’s House.
Even with Nora’s many
flaws, she manages so to show glimmer of independence and it shows from the
very beginning of the story. The very act of disobeying her husband and
enjoying the hell out of her treat shows an independent spirit roaring inside
her. This spirit continues as she confessed her greatest sin to her friend,
Mrs. Linde. Even though things soon went downhill after that confession, it
proved to be a cathartic moment for Nora. (Norton, page 1664),
LINDE: But Nora
dear—who was this gentleman?
NORA: Good grief, can’t you understand? The old
man never existed; that was only something I’d dream up time and again whenever
I was at my wits’ end for money. But it makes no difference now; the old fossil
can go where he pleases for all I care; I don’t need him or his will—because
now I’m free. Jumping up. Oh, how lovely to think of that, Kristine!
Carefree! To know you’re carefree, utterly carefree; to be able to romp and
play with the children, and to keep up a beautiful, charming home—everything
just the way Torvald likes it! And think, spring is coming, with big blue
skies. Maybe we can travel a little then. Maybe I’ll see the ocean again. Oh
yes, it is so marvelous to live and be happy!
macaroon also stands for her revolt against Torvald, and her inner passions,
which she could no longer hold in. We realize Nora had a cathartic moment when,
at the end of Act 2, after she was unable to convince Torvald to keep Krogstad
on payroll, she gives up and asks her maid to fill her dinner plate with
macaroons. She lies to Dr. Rank about having been given some
macaroons by Mrs.
Linde. Then, after the Tarantella performance, Nora
is so elated that she offers for everyone to enjoy some macaroons, and she even
suggests this in front of Torvald. The offering has the feeling like she just
discovered this new, vibrant world and she must share it with everyone, almost
like Eve offering a bite of the apple to Adam. Torvald, who is quite surprised
(to say the least) at the suggestion, asks her to please keep being his little
lark again. What does she do? She humors him and just waves him off. This act showed
her independent spirit is awakening like a phoenix rising from the ashes.
The macaroon constantly kept coming into play even when it’s not
directly mentioned because every time Nora is caught in a lie, we are reminded
of that sweet dessert. That initial innocent lie blew up to be much, much
bigger until everything spiraled out of control. Ibsen extensively used symbols
to portray much larger ideas. Everything from the pristine and harmonious
beginning to the disheveled, chaotic appearance towards the end showed the
metamorphosis Nora had to go through to find her true self and force herself
out of the Doll House. The macaroons ultimately came
to represent Nora’s disobedience and deceit, but most importantly, her
independence. By rebelling through harmless actions, Nora is fulfilling her
inner need to feel a sense of meaning in a male-dominated society.
Ibsen, Henrik. A Doll House. The Norton Introduction to Literature, edited by Kelly J. Mays, shorter 12th ed., W. W. Norton,
2017, pp. 1655-1704