In A Doll House, Ibsen presents us with Torvald and Nora Helmer, a husband and wife who have lived together for eight years and still don't know each other. This rift in their relationship, caused in part by Torvald's and Nora's societally-induced gender roles and also by the naivete of both parties to the fact that they don't truly love one another, expands to a chasm by the end of the play, ultimately causing Nora to leave Helmer. Throughout most of the play, Ibsen continually has his characters prepare for a masquerade ball that takes place at their friends' house.
We are first introduced to the ball in Act Two. "...[T]here's going to be a costume party tomorrow evening at the Stenborgs'... Torvald wants me to go as a Neapolitan peasant girl and dance the tarantella that I learned in Capri,"(Ibsen 74) Nora says in a conversation with her friend Mrs. Linde. Ibsen has embedded quite a bit in these few lines. First of all, the whole "costume" theme is a metaphor for the "costumes" and "masks" that both Nora and Torvald wear in their everyday lives, making it ironic that Nora would need to dress up at all; she is already in costume. Aside from the problems in their marriage, Ibsen has also slyly revealed to us the infrastructure of the Helmer marriage; Nora does as Tovarld says. Nora is going as what Torvald wants and doing what Torvald wants her to do. This point is further reinforced in the next two lines. In response to Mrs. Linde's question, "...[A]re you giving a whole performance?" Nora replies, "Torvald says yes, I should."(Ibsen 74) Again, Nora's opinion never enters the picture. Her life revolves around Torvald's demands.
In the same passage, Ibsen also plants a bit of irony. Seeing Nora's tattered and worn dress, Mrs. Linde remarks, "Oh we'll fix that up in no time. It's nothing more than the trimmings-they're a bit loose here and there. Needle and thread? Good, now we have what we need."(Ibsen 74) Nothing could be further from the truth. Nora's dress is a metaphor for the facade which Nora imposes upon herself every day, which is literally falling apart at the seams. Something as simple as a needle and thread cannot hold together that which is ready to burst apart. Ibsen reveals Torvald's attitude towards the matter later, through Nora: "...Torvald can't stand all this snipping and stitch ing."(Ibsen 76) Read metaphorically, one can conclude that Torvald would rather not have to see, or worry about, things which are going wrong with his marriage.
In preparation for Nora's dance at the party, we again see Ibsen showing us Torvald's and Nora's roles. "I can't get anywhere without your help."(Ibsen 91) "Direct me. Teach me, the way you always have."(Ibsen 91) Nora's lines reflect the "costume" that Torvald expects her to wear (and which she wears obligingly), that of the meek, subservient, childlike wife.
After the masquerade ball, the costume is finally described as being Italian and...