In Ibsen’s A Doll’s House social conformity is the central idea around the establishment of Nora and Torvald’s household. The characters throughout the text are all attempting to fit inside the social “norm” and manipulate themselves and others accordingly. From this arises the major conflict in the play from Krogstad attempting to achieve a social norm by having a job with a good reputation; while Nora is also trying to achieve a social norm by being the perfect wife to any husband and not corrupting her household. Throughout the text, Nora uses macaroons to try to fit into society, as it is something that gives her recognition as a wife and a woman participating in the role of a “little lark” to her husband. Ibsen uses the macaroons as a motif to symbolize social conformity in the play as its appearance disappears throughout the play to demonstrate Nora’s change from a conformist to a rebel.
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In act one, macaroons are listed 6 times, all of which have a negative connotation. Nora is forbidden from having macaroons in her own household because of her husband fears they will spoil her teeth, as he asks inquisitively, “Not even taken a bite at a macaroon or two?” (Ibsen 4) as he asks Nora if she has been “breaking rules”. Macaroons in this context symbolize temptation and misbehavior, which is why Nora is drawn to them. For her, they represent her key to being like others in her same society, which is why she offers macaroons to Dr. Rank when she asks, “Doctor Rank, what do you say to a macaroon?” (Ibsen 16). This is where Nora’s desperation for conformity is shown. The temptation of the macaroon is the symbol for her wanting to be part of society and the societal social norm. This is also indicative of her wanting to be part of the society, away from her home and family, which is why she does not tell her husband about neither the macaroons, nor the deal made with Krogstad; because it is not socially acceptable for a woman to misbehave and step out of her role.
Macaroons are only mentioned once in act two, as a celebratory means. Nora is attempting to distract Torvald from finding the letter from Krogstad, revealing her secret as she says “Yes, a champagne banquet till the small hours. And a few macaroons, Helen—lots, just for once!” (Ibsen 49). At this stage in Nora’s shift from conformist to rebel, macaroons symbolize recognition and awareness. To Nora, these macaroons are the remains of her wanting to fit in; which is where she loses her desire to comply with the social norms, which is why macaroons are not mentioned in the second act. The macaroons also juxtapose with the tarantella dance, as the tarantella is what she will do to please her husband and everyone at the party they are going to. As the macaroons shift in meaning from temptation to distraction, the tarantella becomes the distraction of wanting to be part of society. This juxtaposition is the turning point in the play as it has become a last testimony as stated, “HEL. My dear darling Nora, you are dancing as if your life depended on it. NORA. So it does” (Ibsen 48). This marks whether it is the end of her secret or the end of trying to fit in.
Lastly, macaroons are not mentioned at all in act three to symbolize the rejection of societal norms. As Nora is leaving, she rejects, clearly, what is normal in society by saying, “…I can no longer content myself with what most people say or with what is found in books” (Ibsen 68). Content has both a positive and negative connotation, as it does not quite mean happy, but is not displeased. Nora has come to the realization that she will not be “happy” from chasing after a characteristic of society that will only change over time, as popular trends habitually do. The absence of macaroons symbolizes the maturity and growth that Nora has gone through to reject standard behavior; as the macaroons were a childish antic to yearn for something that one could not have. This is why Nora first had the intention to fit in with societal norms, but now does not because that is not something that is she can have; or rather, attainable. Societal norms are a way of making all the citizens in society conformists. However, Nora is not, and never has been, a conformist throughout the play: the macaroons, her deal with Krogstad, the treatment of her children, and abandoning her family to find her true personality and gain her own understanding of everything. The reference to books in the quote also demonstrate her no longer accepting societal norms. The bookcase in the living room is filled with books, yet no one reads them. At this time in Norwegian society, the books demonstrated you social status and wealth. The simple presence of the books that she does not read demonstrates her once willingness to fit in and discuss with others “what is found in books”. When Nora makes this claim in the final scene, it appears that she is not a conformist and is not trying to be one anymore.
Throughout the play, societal norms and conformity are discreetly a main idea and builds the conflict between Nora and Krogstad. Macaroons were also placed throughout the play to symbolize a gradual change in Nora’s attitude about her conflict and her outlook on her marriage, and life overall. The macaroons also juxtapose other props and ideas in the play to demonstrate the transition from a yearning for the unattainable social acceptance to rejecting the social norms. Overall, the macaroons are important to the development of conflict and characterization of Nora as the protagonist. Nora has transitioned to a social butterfly, wanting to be noticed as a figure in society that was just like everyone else, to rejecting the status quo and becoming an independent woman, to find her future. However, this raises the question if Nora truly rejected the societal norms by her decision to leave. A wave of feminism takes place during this time in Norway; has Nora honestly become a rebel of society, or joined a new normal by becoming a feminist?
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