Secret Warnings of a Tragic End

     Perhaps some of the most significant parts of any form of literature are the underlying meanings that are woven into a story and revealed only through seemingly insignificant snatches of conversation, reoccurring objects, and minor characters. These instances of symbolism can add enormous depth to any plot, and often a story would not even be the same story without them. This is true of the 1879 story A Doll's House by Henry Ibsen, filmed twice in 1973 by Joseph Losey and Partrick Garland. There are several instances of symbolism throughout the book and movies that help to link together important events, portray the feelings of several characters that are integral to understanding the story, and play a large role in foreshadowing a tragic end.

     Money is mentioned very often throughout the story, and it is obvious that it is very important to Nora (Jane Fonda/Claire Bloom). However, when she has it, she uses it for superficial, and otherwise unnecessary, purposes. Basically, it is nice to have, and she enjoys showing it off to other people, which is prevalent in how she brags to Christine (Delphine Seyrig/Anna Massey) about all the good fortune that her family has come into with Torvald's (David Warner/Anthony Hopkins) promotion. Yet, Nora can do without it, as she has had to do before, and she can do without it again, if need be. The running theme throughout the book is also characterized by money, in her constant distress about the money she has borrowed from Krogstad (Trevor Howard/Denholm Elliot). In this way, money has even become cumbersome to her. Due to these ideas, a distinct parallel can be drawn between Nora's concept of money and Torvald. Her relationship with Torvald is nice to have for security reasons; but Nora can live without him, as she proves by leaving him in the end of the story. Their happy marriage is something Nora is proud to show off to society, but cumbersome to her in the fact that she must always be acting the perfect wife and following Torvald's rules. Nora is an independent strong woman, not one of submission and obedience, which she also begins to display more as the story continues, culminating in her emergence as a woman ready to discover how self-reliant she truly is in the end.

     Another element of symbolism in the story is the children. In Nora's mind they are representative of the love that is absent from her marriage. Although, at this point in the story she has not fully realized what she is doing in putting so much energy into telling others of her children, it is obvious that she wants to put them on display when she brags to Christine about having "the most beautiful children." Also, when Christine speaks to her about her own loveless marriage, Nora asks, ". . .he left you nothing to show for it, not even any children?" It is as though Nora herself only has her children to show for her own farce of a marriage, and she knows there would be nothing if not for them.. Perhaps the most prominent piece of symbolism in the book and movies surfaces in the dialogue when Torvald asks Nora (in the book), "Have you changed your things?" and Nora replies, "Yes, Torvald, I have changed my things now." This exchange occurs after the fight that fully opened Nora's eyes to the play she had been acting out with her husband. In the movie directed by Patrick Garland, the lines are slightly different in that Nora and Torvald's discussion refers to taking off "her costume." With these words, the tangible object that she is wearing stands figuratively also for the idea that Nora will soon shed the costume that she has been wearing for him and society, and become a real person, rather than his doll wife.

     Thus, the symbolism present in A Doll's House is important in developing the plot, revealing Nora's true feelings, and foreshadowing the traumatic events that end the story. If symbolism had not been incorporated by Ibsen, the book might not have received nearly as much success, there could have been a completely different ending, and/or we might not have two movies to supplement such a great story.

Amberly McLimore

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