Animal Imagery in Henrick Ibsen’s A Doll House
Animal imagery in Henrick Ibsen’s play, The Doll House is a critical analyzing tool for the character development of Nora and Torvald Helmer the main characters in this play.
The play is a three-act play that takes place in the Helmer residence, in “A room furnished comfortably and tastefully, but not extravagantly.” (pg.3) It’s the Christmas season at the residence as it’s told early in the play. Torvald asks Nora what she would like for Christmas. Nora wishes for money, because, unknown to Torvald, she owes a large sum to Nils Krogstad for a promissory note loan he had given to her. The story goes on, and Torvald finds out about the note. The anger he directs at Nora goes away when he opens another letter from Krogstad with the note in it, saying that the note did not have to be paid back. Even after this, Nora decides to leave Torvald, saying that he “never understood her” and that he “never loved her.” That, in my opinion was the truth.
Nora Helmer was a sensitive character. She had been babied all of her life, by her father, and by Torvald. She really didn’t have too many concerns or responsibilities. She didn’t even have to care for the children; the maid would usually take care of them. Speaking stereotypically she was your everyday housewife. She never left the house, mostly because her husband was afraid of the way people “would talk.” In my opinion not too many people knew of their marriage, and that was they way Torvald wanted it to be. It really wasn’t her fault she was the way she was. It was mostly Torvald’s for spoiling her.
Ibsen uses creative, but effective, animal imagery to develop Nora’s character throughout the play. He has Torvald call his wife “his little lark” or “sulky squirrel” or other animal names throughout the play. He uses a lot of ‘bird’ imagery-calling her many different bird names. It seems to me that the name he uses directly relates to how Torvald feels about her at the time. He has something about him that observes the mood of the people that he is around, like later in the story when he says to Nora “Did you notice what good spirits Rank was in this evening?”(pg. 55) The animals Ibsen chooses to use are related to how Nora is acting, or how she needs to be portrayed to the reader.
For example not even a dozen lines into Act I, Torvald asks (referring to Nora), “Is that my little lark twittering out there” and “Is that my squirrel bustling about?” A lark is a songbird; a happy, carefree bird. It is can also be used as a verb that means to engage in spirited fun or merry pranks. A squirrel is quite the opposite: it is a small, furry rodent. If you are to squirrel away something, you were hiding or storing it, kind of like what Nora was doing with her bag of macaroons. Torvald calls her these names to fit the situation.
Nora was definitely a carefree woman, just like a lark, and Torvald refers to her as such: “my little lark.” When he says that, Nora is moving around the room and humming with a carefree spirit that would resemble a lark. Whenever she is in this mood, Torvald refers to her as his “little lark.”
On the other hand, Nora must be some sort of scrounge, because Torvald also refers to her as his “little squirrel.” He asks if “that is my squirrel bustling about?” It seems that maybe Ibsen was using this imagery to show that Nora was burying something deep down inside-maybe the macaroons or the knowledge of the promissory note-and that Torvald might have known about it (but I doubt it) and she felt ashamed.
Throughout the play Torvald refers to Nora as his lark, or songbird; two birds that are stereotypically peaceful, carefree, happy birds. At least from what you can tell. On the inside the birds may have many struggles, but they don’t show it, much like Nora avoids showing her feelings and concerns. Torvald can’t tell the difference. He thinks Nora is always happy, never sad, and energetic-characteristics of the song bird (at least on the outside).
Later, in Act II, Nora tells Torvald that she would “be a fairy and dance for you in the moonlight.” A fairy is a beautiful creature that flies around and mystifies, much like Nora wants to do for Torvald when she dances. She wants Torvald to be happy with her, because she knows he is going to find out about the note.
In Act II, Nora is begging Torvald to let Krogstad keep his job at the bank-which Torvald is the manger for-so Krogstad won’t ask for the money back the she owes him. Nora gets quite worked up about all of this. Torvald finally calms her down, and notices her “frightened dove’s eyes.” A dove has always been a symbol of peacekeeping, and Ibsen uses it to show her efforts to maintain peace and order. Torvald notices that she is just trying keep things right, and refers to her as a dove.
The animal imagery is consistent throughout the play, usually with references to happy, cheerful animals. In Act III the note is discovered, but also dismissed because of another letter from Krogstad. Nora is trying to calm down after Torvald gets angry with her for his betrayal. He comforts her, saying “I have broad wings to shelter you under” and that he will keep her, despite the incident, “I will protect you like a hunted dove that I have rescued out of a hawk’s claws.” Torvald is saying that he will protect her like something that was a gift from God, and he will use everything in his power to watch over her. I personally think he is a selfish man who wouldn’t care if anything happened to her, as long as nothing happened to him. He treats her like she is a baby. Even though in some senses of the word she is, but not to the point where she can’t take care of herself, she is just struggling a little bit. Torvald thinks that he needs to be there to watch out for her, and that she would be nothing without him. That’s why Nora decides to leave him. She doesn’t need his “wide wings” to shelter her. She doesn’t need to be rescued. She needs to leave this man, and even when she does he is still worried about what people will say. I don’t like overprotective individuals like that, and that’s why I don’t like Torvald.
In conclusion animal imagery in this play is used to show the kind of person Torvald is, and the kind of person he would like Nora to be (or at least how he sees her). In this play, it is critical in the character development for both characters, showing really how both sides perceive
Animal Imagery in Henrick Ibsen’s A Doll House