Nora Helmer is a delicate, pampered wife who was spoiled by her wealthy father and later by Torvald. As Ibsen alludes, Nora is the doll of this dollhouse, as her role is to bend into the shape of the ideal housewife. If it is dancing for her husband, completing the family shopping, or playing childish games to attract Helmer’s attention, Nora will do what it takes to fit the roles. As readers, we soon read that beneath the blank smile of this doll lies a web of lies, deception, and debt.
Nora lives a life separated from the glittering housewife of Torvald Helmer. Nora is possible of her own triumphs and tragedies, independent of the life and decisions of her husband. Using creative symbolic animal imagery, Ibsen develops a deeper understanding of Nora’s character, allowing her the capability to deceive and strike a blow for independence of women. Helmer’s first spoken phrase comes from the study off-stage: Is that my little lark twittering out there? (346) He refers to Nora as a lark, a lighthearted, cheerful, petite songbird found in Eurasia.
Helmer is most probably attempting to make the similarity with the characteristics between the bird and his wife. The name also gives a basic meaning of Nora’s actions during this situation, as when he first calls her his little lark Nora is scurrying around the room humming. This little lark name also suggests Nora’s childlike attitude, and Helmer’s desire to promote her childish behavior. It illustrates Helmer’s desire to cling to his false reality of a happy, simple housewife. What is even more intriguing is the physical characteristics of the bird in relationship to Nora. All larks have white outer tail feathers with their black tail, a black band across their upper head, a black line encircling the crown, and a black mask across the eyes.
A mask is defined as a face covering that, in ritual and theater, disguises the wearer and usually communicates an alternate identity. (Random House) This is very fitting for Nora who attempts and temporarily succeeds in disguising her debt from her husband with lies and deception. This mask allows for the seclusion of her debt, and the forged signature on the note payable to Krogstad. It is also the mask that separates the characters from reality, and it is only after this mask is figuratively removed that the Helmer marriage falls apart, causing Nora to banish herself from her family and other illusions that she has lived with up to this point. Is that my squirrel rummaging around?(346) Helmer asks as Nora opens Christmas packages and nibbles on macaroons.
A squirrel is another animal altogether. These rodents mainly live in trees, and their food is mostly vegetable (especially nuts, seeds, and buds) (Random House). When food is in abundance squirrels will often store their excess amounts in order to return when food is scarce. Nora is constantly storing items she has placed high values on. From money to macaroons, she has found it necessary to squirrel away what she has, and hides the truth from her husband.
Nora will resist spending her husband’s money on expensive items in order to steal or embezzle the money she needs to pay off her secret debts. Squirrels will hide and bury food, as Nora buries the truth about the money used for the trip that saved the life of Helmer. Ibsen uses squirrels and larks to describe the round character that is Nora. Helmer wishes to simplify Nora’s life, relating her to animals that seem joyful and carefree. Helmer wants to live a life within a dollhouse, with a wife who is simple, childish and obedient.
Ibsen, however, sets the animal comparisons to unveil an altogether different motive, animals that are deceitful and independent, animals that are able to survive without the help of others. Nora is independent of the roles Helmer imposes on her, as she revels her ability to deceive and comprehend her own demise in the end.