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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

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"It's not true. It can't possibly be true...."   (Act I)

In traditional Romantic dramas, soliloquies—speeches wherein characters reveal their inner thoughts out loud—were the primary way of offering insight into characters’ feelings and intentions. The “to be or not to be” speech in act III, Scene I of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, wherein Hamlet contemplates suicide, is a famous example of a soliloquy. Though Ibsen largely rejects traditional dramatic techniques in his works, he makes use of the soliloquy at the end of Act I and throughout the play to offer audiences the chance to see Nora’s inner thoughts and imagination at work.

"[MRS. LINDE starts, trembles, and turns to the window.] ..."   (Act I)

The stage directions reveal Mrs. Linde’s emotional reaction to Krogstad’s entrance. Rather than joining the conversation and making her presence known, she turns to the window, effectively hiding her identity. To tremble is to shake involuntarily, typically due to fear or excitement. For a live audience, these actions would foreshadow Krogstad’s importance as a character.

"But—the doctor?..."   (Act I)

This exchange about Doctor Rank adds realism to the dialogue while also introducing contextual information. Mrs. Linde has not been a part of the Helmers’ lives so this conversation provides an occasion for Nora to explain things that might otherwise seem obvious, such as the distinction that Doctor Rank is a family friend and not Torvald’s physician.

"[laughing]...."   (Act I)

Notice the way that Ibsen characterizes the physical interactions between Nora and Torvald. Torvald seems to find Nora’s antics amusing, and he smiles and laughs at her. He also puts his arm around her waist, emphasizing her stature, both verbally and physically smaller than his own. On the other hand, Nora is characterized as nervous and subservient, speaking quickly, avoiding eye contact, and fidgeting.

"They will all be revealed to-night when the Christmas Tree is lit, no doubt...."   (Act I)

This piece of foreshadowing further develops Torvald as a man who is 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.

"paid a visit to the confectioner's..."   (Act I)

Note how Torvald's previous question about breaking rules sets the stage for his follow-up questions. His question about visiting the confectioner's and the next two about eating sweets are 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]..."   (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..."   (Act I)

This early description of the house sets the tone for the rest of the play and introduces the financial circumstances of the Helmers: they live "comfortably" without being "extravagant" in their wealth. Ibsen also describes the house in extensive detail. This helps orient stage productions while also emphasizing the idea that the house is carefully arranged, much like a dollhouse.

"more reckless now..."   (Act I)

Torvald's use of the word "recklessly" in the line above is meant in a disapproving way, but Nora picks up on the idea of being reckless as fun and childish. It is in her character to want to enjoy finer things, but this desire should indicate to the reader that money has been even tighter than the Helmers let on.

" Is he hesitating?..."   (Act II)

Nora narrates Krogstad’s exit and his decision to put the letter in the box. In a stage production, Nora would be the focus of this scene, with Krogstad offstage as she describes what is happening. These lines build tension as Nora watches Krogstad leave, allowing the audience to wonder if he is truly going to put the letter in the box. The letter also affirms that the central conflict of the play is not between Nora and Krogstad, since that conflict has just been resolved. The most pressing conflict will erupt once Torvald reads the letter.

"What do you suppose brought me to town?..."   (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.

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