Literary Devices in A Doll's House
Conflict: Ibsen includes both internal and external conflict in “A Doll’s House” in order to advance the narrative and keep the audience interested and engaged. External conflicts between Nora and Torvald, or Nora and Krogstad, further the plot and help create a lively play that more closely resembles the conflicts we face in daily life. Internal conflicts, like Torvald’s contradicting desire for Nora to be reserved and wild, or Nora’s decision about whether to tell her husband about her forgery, help us to more deeply understand personal motives, values, and emotions.
Foreshadowing: Ibsen uses foreshadowing in the play to build dramatic tension. Nora’s dialogue in particular often clues the audience or reader into her future actions and decisions, but without sacrificing any mystery or suspense. Likewise, from the very beginning, Torvald’s dialogue is carefully constructed to foreshadow his responses to finding out about Nora’s deception and forgery.
Foil: A foil is a literary character who contrasts another character in order to highlight certain aspects of the other character. Ibsen uses characters like Mrs. Linde and Krogstad as foils for Nora and Torvald in order to offer a vision of a relationship in which there is both equality and compromise. Refuting traditional gender roles of the time, Mrs. Linde can be strong and independant because these are characteristics that Krogstad recognizes and appreciates without feeling devalued. Mrs. Linde and Krogstad’s relationship allows each partner the freedom to be honest, authentic individuals.
Literary Devices Examples in A Doll's House:
Act I 4
"They will all be revealed..." See in text (Act I)
This piece of foreshadowing on Ibsen's part further develops Torvald as a man out of touch with reality. Note how this line establishes Nora's secrets as gifts that will be "revealed" later in the play. This "reveal" is a classic construction in psychological dramas and is used here to great effect.
"paid a visit to the confectioner's..." See in text (Act I)
Note how Torvald's previous question about breaking rules sets the stage for his follow-up questions. This one about visiting the confectioner's and the next two about eating sweets are, in effect, rules that Nora has broken, suggesting that she isn't even allowed to visit the confectioner's, let alone buy something.
"[moving towards the stove]..." See in text (Act I)
Ibsen uses stage directions as a way to manipulate the dialogue, both affecting the tone (in making Nora seem distant) and inserting a natural pause (in Nora's first steps toward the stove). His stage directions distinguish him from classical and Elizabethan playwrights, who didn't primarily use them as characterization tools.
"but not extravagantly..." See in text (Act I)
This early description of the house sets the tone for the rest of the play. Ibsen uses it to foreshadow Nora's obsession with money and her anxieties about not having enough of it. As you read, keep an eye out for words like "extravagant" and "spendthrift" and how they're used to characterize Nora.
Act III 1
"What do you suppose brought me to town?..." See in text (Act III)
Mrs. Linde tells Krogstad that he was her reason for coming to town in the first place. Recall that in Act I, Mrs. Linde told Nora that she felt like her work was done after her husband died and that it made her uneasy. Mrs. Linde suggested the same to Krogstad when she stated previously that she had “no one to mourn for, no one to care for.” We can look at Mrs. Linde and Krogstad’s relationship as a foil for Nora and Torvald’s. Mrs. Linde wants to care for someone as she grows older—in other words, she wants to be in exactly the same position that Nora is struggling to get out. Mrs. Linde is an independent and capable woman, but she does not know how she fits into her society if she is not a caretaker or someone’s wife. However, Krogstad acknowledges Mrs. Linde’s intelligence and capableness in a way that Torvald does not for Nora.