Vocabulary in A Doll's House

Throughout the play, Ibsen has Torvald use gendered, childlike, and diminishing nicknames for Nora to illustrate the oppressive power imbalance in their marriage. Nora is forced into stereotypical gender roles that perceive the figure of the woman as helpless and dependent. However, Nora is neither helpless nor dependent, and Torvald’s nicknames for her illustrate just how little he knows his wife.

Vocabulary Examples in A Doll's House:

Act I 2

"backwater..."   (Act I)

That is, a small and not very well-known place that isn't connected to the bigger metropolitan areas. This kind of setting would've made it very difficult for Mrs. Linde, a widow, to find reasonable work or make meaningful social connections. Hence, her visit to Nora, with whom she hasn't been close in nine years.

"little persons..."   (Act I)

Ibsen's use of adjectives like "little" and nouns like "spendthrift" and "skylark" or "squirrel" diminish Nora, making her not just smaller but younger, like a cartoon character flitting about their little house. Torvald might as well have called her a child.

"quill-driver's..."   (Act II)

A “quill-driver” was a term that was used to refer to a writer or clerk. Torvald uses the term in a derogatory way in order to imply that Krogstad’s occupation is expendable and lowly in comparison to Torvald’s. Torvald suggests that Krogstad’s “vengeance” is not a real concern to him because Torvald holds a higher station than Krogstad.

"prevaricate..."   (Act II)

To “prevaricate” means to “speak or act in an evasive way.” Here, Mrs. Linde suggests that Nora is intentionally feigning naivety in order to eliminate Mrs. Linde’s suspicions that Dr. Rank lent Nora money as an “admirer.”

"all sorts of excesses..."   (Act II)

Nora insinuates that Dr. Rank’s father’s tendency to “commit all sorts of excesses,” or in other words, to have many lovers, was the cause of Dr. Rank’s tuberculosis. As Tuberculosis is spread through the air via a person with the infection, Nora is suggesting that Dr. Rank’s father contracted the disease from one of his mistresses and infected his son.

"consumption of the spine..."   (Act II)

Whereas today we refer to what Dr. Rank suffers from as “tuberculosis,” a disease that affects the lungs and sometimes other areas of the body, tuberculosis historically has been known as “consumption.” The term “consumption” was used to describe the disease because of the weight loss it causes. “Consumption of the spine” is another way of saying that Dr. Rank has a type of tuberculosis that affects the tissues of the spine rather than the lungs.