Nora's Symbolism in Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House
In every society power is the bringer of fortune and influence. In his play A Doll's House, Henrik Ibsen portrays, through the character of Nora, the power women are gaining in patriarchal societies. Nora, who symbolizes all women, exercises her power throughout the entire play. She cleverly manipulates the men around her while, to them, she seems to be staying in her subordinate role. In all three acts of the play Nora controls many situations and yields the most power.
Act I, along with the introduction of Ibsen's tone and style, brought the introduction of power. It seems that since the Helmer household is symbolizing patriarchal European society that male characters should bare the most power. However, this is not true. Nora, a woman, yields a great deal of the power over the men in the play. In act I it becomes obvious that Nora has forged documents for a loan in order to save her husband, Torvald's, life. This deed in itself shows that she has power to be manipulative and deceitful. But also in act I Nora uses one of her most powerful weapons, influence over Torvald, to threaten Krogstad. Krogstad is a malicious character who puts the Helmers' reputation in jeopardy by threatening to reveal Nora's illegal actions. Nora, on the other hand, will not stand for this type of slander and says to Krogstad,
"Nora: Sometimes one has a tiny bit of influence, I should hope. Because one is a woman, it does not necessarily follow that--. When anyone is in a subordinate position, Mr. Krogstad, they should really be careful to avoid someone who-- who--
Krogstad: Has power?
Nora: Exactly." (21)
Nora uses an understatement by making it seem she has only a little influence over her husband. But through this understatement the audience can see she is only trying to be manipulatively humble. Krogstad feels threatened by her influence because she can be the pivotal deciding factor in whether or not he keeps his job. Nevertheless, Krogstad tries to turn her influence to benefit himself by threatening to reveal her crime if she does not help him to keep his job. This backfires on Krogstad when two women, Nora and Mrs. Linde, manipulate Krogstad into feeling obstinate and therefore he promises never to tell anyone of what Nora has done. Nora's power helped her to remain protected throughout the entire play.
Torvald, Nora's husband, feels powerful by referring to Nora as different types of feeble animals. Nora realizes this and uses it to her advantage. During act II she wants a favor from Torvald so she manipulates him by calling herself the animal names that make Torvald feel dominant. She says,
"Nora: If your little squirrel were to ask for something very, very prettily--?
Torvald: What then?
Nora: Would you do it?
Torvald: I should like to here what it is first.