Rank. "But, Nora darling, you're dancing as if your life depended on it!...This is sheer madness - stop, I tell you!...I'd never have believed it - you've forgotten everything I taught you" (Ibsen 204). Torvald must now take her in hand and re-teach the wild Italian dance, the tarantella.
The choice of this particular dance by Ibsen is a stroke of genius as it aptly illustrates the nature of the situation arising within Nora. The dance derives from an Italian belief that the only way to purge the poison of the tarantula was to dance wildly and dance the poison out of the body. "The tarantella is an expression of fear bordering to madness and a sensuous zest for life that also operates as a regenerative process" (Rekdal 168). Within Nora in this dance, the audience sees the fear and madness, but the scene also foreshadows the zest for real life and leads to her regeneration at the end of the play.
Nora has played a role up until this point in the play and done it brilliantly. As a matter of fact, all of the characters have been thoroughly entrenched in their assigned roles. Nora is the centerpiece of Ibsen's concern with roles, but in order to make the larger point about human rights, he wants the audience to see that many characters are trapped into a specific role from which they must break free. For Nora, the role of wife is synonymous with the role of mother. She has played both brilliantly throughout her married life. The children are not seen very frequently on the stage, but the impression is made that they are Nora's play things and as such in a precarious position. From the very beginning of the play when Nora is buying Christmas presents, she comments that "here's a doll and a doll's bed for Emmy. They're rather plain, but she'll soon smash them to bits anyway" (Ibsen 149). The expectation that her daughter will smash her doll things certainly foreshadows Nora's changing role.
Nora's role as mother is most symbolized on the stage by her game of hide and seek with the children in act one. On an obvious symbolic level, the game is used to illustrate how childish Nora sometimes is. The game also exists to cement Nora's role as a middle-class mother who only takes responsibility for her children when she feels like it. However, the game can also be seen as an illustration of Nora's character and the role that she has played. On the surface, she is the respectable mother and wife. However, the scene also serves to illustrate how Nora will be forced to crawl out from underneath her deceitfulness in order to assume a new role at the end of the play. It is interesting to note that it is Krogstad who finds Nora and stops the game as if to point out that he will stop more than one game for Nora (Drake).
Nora is the most obvious representation of motherhood in the play. However, the other two female characters are used to show things about this role in society. Mrs. Linde is childless. When Nora learns this at the beginning of the play, she feels sympathy for Mrs. Linde. "And no children?...But to be so completely alone - that must be terribly sad for you. I have three lovely children" (Ibsen 154). This dialogue appears to represent how Nora feels that she has done things right in her life. She has fulfilled the expectations of society by having a successful husband and three children. Naturally, Nora views Mrs. Linde as barren and undesirable because of what Nora has been forced to imbibe her whole life.
Later, Nora's conception of women without children and children without mothers begins to change. Nora is possibly facing life in this situation due to Krogstad's blackmail. In a conversation with Nurse, Nora questions the traditional ideas of motherhood.
Nurse: You see, they're so used to having their Mamma with them.
Nora: But, Nanny, I can't be with them like I used to.
Nurse: Oh well, young children'll get used to anything
Nora: Do you really think so? Do you thing they'd forget their Mamma if she went away altogether?... Tell me, Nanny...I've often wondered, how did you ever have the heart to hand over your child to strangers?
Nurse: But I had to, so that I could come and be nanny to my little Nora.
Nora: Yes, but how could you want to?
Nurse: When I had the chance of such a good place? Any poor girl who'd got into trouble would be glad to. (Ibsen 182)
Here, we learn that Nora had no mother and it is possible for a mother to live without her child. Both of these things are revealing about Nora. From Ibsen's perspective, the lack of a real mother for Nora may have in some way guided her down the path that she is on. However, the nurse's reassurance that mother and child can be successful separately allows Nora in the end to walk out the door leaving nurse in charge of another generation.
As much as the female characters are struggling with the role of motherhood, the male characters struggle with fatherhood. Dr. Rank, Krogstad, and Torvald all represent something different about fatherhood in their respective roles. Some critics see this play not as an avowal of feminist causes, but "an attack on patriarchy by denigrating its prime symbol, the father" (Rosefeldt). All of this contributes to Ibsen's idea that the play is about the roles people play in society and how that affects them as humans. By expanding those limited roles, Ibsen hopes to bring more humanity to his world.
Much of what Ibsen writes has to do with the sins of the fathers on their children (Rosefeldt). The most obvious character in that regard is Dr. Rank who suffers physically from his father's debauchery. Dr. Rank has inherited syphilis from his father. Although the doctor looks normal on the outside and is successful and wealthy, internally he is terribly flawed (Johnston). With this, Ibsen points to the obvious effect of an inappropriate patriarchal role on the next generation. Incorrect fulfillment of the roles will cause irreversible damage. It may also be a way for Ibsen to illustrate how some are not suited for the role that they are assigned within the middle class society that he establishes in the play.
A similar situation exists regarding Krogstad and his sons. Krogstad has committed some form of fraud in his young years which he has attempted to cover up. Torvald explains to Nora that Krogstad had tried "to wriggle out of it with tricks and subterfuges" (Ibsen 179). When the audience sees Krogstad in the play, he is struggling to keep up appearances so that his sons do not suffer the ignominy that he has. This is to no avail according to Torvald, "Because an atmosphere of lies like that infects and poisons the whole life of a home" (Ibsen 179). Ironically, the problem with Krogstad and his sons is pointed out by Torvald who, in the final act, is more than willing to practice a similar deceit in his attempt to save face or as he says create a "mere facade" (Ibsen 222).
The concept of fatherhood is also tied to the female characters through Mrs. Linde's lack of a father and the problems associated with Nora's father. Mrs. Linde was cast upon the world and made responsible from a young age due to her father's absence. She made an early and loveless marriage in an attempt to support her mother and young brothers. The lack of a father has been the root of her problem and what forced her to follow the conventional path of marriage to escape from her plight (Rosefeldt).
Similarly, Nora's father caused many of her problems and, in the end, shares the blame with Torvald. Early in the play we learn that there was something suspect about Nora's father when Torvald comments that she is "just like your father - always on the look-out for all the money you can get, but the moment you have it, it seems to slip through your fingers...these things are hereditary" (Ibsen 151). Nora seems to have lived under this suspicion all of her married life as is evident at the end when Torvald lambastes her. "All your father's shiftless character has come out in you. No religion, no morality, no sense of duty...So this is what I get for condoning his fault!" (Ibsen 221). Since Nora's father did not play his role in society correctly, Nora is forever tainted in the eyes of her husband.
Torvald has a great love for the roles of society. For him this society is the great middle-class. In his assessment of a Doll's House, Ian Johnston states that "Ibsen's portrayal of that society emphasizes how middle-class life here is limiting, brutal and unforgiving." No one…