Character Development of Nora from A Doll’s House
Ibsen’s character development of Nora is represented by animal imagery. From the beginning of the play, we notice Ibsen’s use of animals to describe Nora. In the opening lines, Torvald says, “Is that my little lark twittering out there?” (Wilke 1139). Webster’s defines “lark” as a songbird and to play or frolic (Guralnik 340). The reader automatically gets an image of Nora as a carefree, happy person. In the following paragraphs, I will show how animal names are used to paint a portrait of the character of “Nora the Lark.”
Ibsen has Torvald call his wife “his little lark” or “sulking squirrel” (Wilke 1139) among other animal names throughout the play. Most of the time, he uses bird imagery. The choice of animals that Ibsen uses relate to how Nora acts or how the audience or reader should portray her character.
Torvald’s continual reference to Nora using bird names not only tells the reader his opinion of her, but also parallels Nora’s image of herself. In the second act, Torvald calls Nora his “little featherbrain,” and his “little scatterbrain” (1178). This presents an image of weak, unorganized birds and thereby defines Nora as weak, unorganized and stupid.
When Nora is asked, “Is that my little squirrel rummaging around?”, Ibsen is presenting the image of a scrounge (1139). This could be a precursor to the fact that Nora is secretive and has something to hide. When Nora has to hide the macaroons and lie to Torvald about eating them, the reader must wonder what else she is not being honest about. Then, later in the play, it is revealed that Nora is hiding a deep secret about a debt.
Nora is a carefree woman that is always humming and flighty. She always appears happy and peaceful like a songbird or a lark. No wonder her husband always nick names her after birds. But, this is very deceptive. On the inside, Nora is being torn apart by feelings of guilt and betrayal. She has no idea about what to do or how she will solve her dilemma.
In Act II, Nora is begging Torvald to allow Krogstad to keep his job. She gets excited and worked up over her own fear of being caught in a lie. After calming her down, Torvald makes mention of her “frightened dove’s eyes” (1163). Ibsen uses this reference to a dove because a dove is a symbol of peace. Nora wishes to keep her household at peace. She doesn’t want Torvald to find out about the loan because she knows he would see it as a dishonor to his manhood.
Also in Act II, Nora refers to herself as a “wood nymph” which is a pretty hummingbird that is very graceful. This fits her well. She wants to be graceful, pretty, and dainty for Torvald so he can be happy with her. She is trying to avoid the inevitable situation, the horrible secret that will destroy her family. If she remains as a “wood nymph” in Torvalds’s eyes, maybe he will overlook her secret.
Once the truth about the bank loan is revealed, Torvald scolds Nora. After he learns that the note has been cleared, he then changes his attitude. Torvald tells Nora that despite the incident, he forgives her and will keep her “like a hunted dove rescued out of a hawk’s claws.” He will shelter her with his “wide wing” (1181). This is kind of ironic because Nora borrowed the money so he could get well from his sickness. So really, who is the one being sheltered? Nora’s “wide wings” actually has been what has sheltered Torvald’s honor over the years. Even though Nora is presented as weak, carefree, and flighty from the beginning of the play, what she did for her husband is very honorable.
Animal imagery is critical in painting Nora’s character. At the end of the play, Nora decides that she has been caged like a bird for all these years. She must leave Torvald. Before she is able to be a proper wife and mother, she must learn to spread her wings and fly on her own.
The end of the play is kind of amusing. Nora began as a fragile “little lark” in Act I. She tried to do and say all the right things to make everyone happy. The problem is that she was never really happy herself. What good is pretending to be a lark if you can never actually fly? Nora has lost sight of herself and really has no idea how to return. At the end of the play, Torvald refers to himself as rescuing Nora, “the dove”, from the “hawk’s claws.” Now it seems to me that Nora could very well be portrayed as the hawk. She is strong, determined, and swoops down and takes what she wants, her long awaited freedom. So Nora the lark has transformed into Nora the hawk.
Nora can finally soar above her bondage and learn how to stand on her own. Speaking of “hawk’s claws,” maybe Torvald was correct. All these years, Nora has lived like a “hunted dove.” She has had to hide from her father and then from Torvald. Maybe the very wing that has tried to protect her has been the very wing that has kept her trapped. Most of her life she has had to live in fear of someone else’s opinion and disdain. She has performed her doll duties and has allowed her life and actions to be molded. She has worn her doll dress well, so this is much of her own fault. When begging Torvald, she says, “Your squirrel would scamper about and do tricks, if you’d only be sweet and give in” (1161). The reader is to feel sorry for Nora, but she uses her image to her own advantage at times. She became comfortable in her “doll house” and with her image and played the role that was expected of her.
In the closing act, Nora’s eyes have been opened. She had hoped Torvald would stop treating her like his doll or his “little lark.” When Torvald chose his honor over his love for her, that was the last straw. As Ibsen uses animal imagery, once again, to define Nora as a dove caught in a hawk’s claw, the reader realizes the irony. Nora is no longer trapped. Nora the lark is now able to spread her wings to fly. Ibsen’s animal imagery proves to be a powerful means to show the character of Nora as the lark, squirrel, dove and finally, ironically, the hawk.