A Doll's House

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The Tarantella Symbol Analysis

The Tarantella Symbol Icon
Like the macaroons, the tarantella symbolizes a side of Nora that she cannot normally show. It is a fiery, passionate dance that allows Nora to drop the façade of the perfect mild-mannered Victorian wife. Throughout the play, Nora uses performance to please Torvald, and the tarantella is no exception; he admits that watching her perform it makes her desire her. However, this is only under very controlled circumstances, and Torvald seems to enjoy the fact that it is a performance that impresses other people more than anything.

The Tarantella Quotes in A Doll's House

The A Doll's House quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Tarantella. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Love and Marriage Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Oxford University Press edition of A Doll's House published in 1998.
Act Two Quotes

Now Dr. Rank, cheer up. You’ll see tomorrow how nicely I can dance. And you can pretend I’m doing it just for you—and for Torvald as well, of course.

Related Characters: Nora Helmer (speaker), Torvald Helmer, Dr. Rank
Related Symbols: The Tarantella
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:

Dr. Rank has told Nora that he is dying and that she and Torvald will soon forget him, but Nora brushes him off and attempts to distract him by mentioning the Tarantella. Her behavior in this passage is rather childlike, as she is dismissive of Dr. Rank's melancholic feelings and seems unwilling to discuss the sober matter of his death. Her flirtatious behavior would similarly have been seen as immature and irresponsible, far from the ideal of a modest married woman. 

This passage also serves as another example of Nora's use of the Tarantella to appease men; she often brings it up to distract from conflict with Torvald, and here she uses a similar strategy with Dr. Rank. Her suggestion that Dr. Rank imagines she is dancing "just for him" highlights the pervasive notion that men wanted exclusive ownership of women.

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Tell me what to do, keep me right—as you always do.

Related Characters: Nora Helmer (speaker), Torvald Helmer
Related Symbols: The Tarantella
Page Number: 58
Explanation and Analysis:

Torvald has come perilously close to opening the letterbox and finding Krogstad's letter, and in order to distract him Nora pretends to be nervous about the Tarantella, insisting that she needs to rehearse and that she requires Torvald's help. On one level, this behavior is purely manipulative, as Nora knows the Tarantella is guaranteed to catch Torvald's attention. Her claim to need his help can similarly be seen as a way of appeasing him by playing the role of the obedient, submissive wife. 

At the same time, Nora does still love Torvald, and this quote can also be interpreted as a genuine desire on her part for Torvald to take care of her. As Nora grows increasingly frantic about Krogstad's threat, she remains unable to seek guidance from her husband, and thus is left isolated and in turmoil. This quote thus also serves as a reminder that Nora and Torvald's marriage isn't all bad, and that Nora truly does crave and appreciate the support of her husband.

But my dear darling Nora, you are dancing as though your life depended on it.

Related Characters: Torvald Helmer (speaker), Nora Helmer
Related Symbols: The Tarantella
Page Number: 59
Explanation and Analysis:

Having managed to persuade Torvald not to open the letterbox with the promise of rehearsing the Tarantella, Nora beings to dance in a wild, desperate way, not listening to the instructions Torvald gives. Torvald's statement conveys that Nora's inner turmoil has reached a level of crisis. She can no longer play the part of the carefree, childlike doll-wife, and has even considered committing suicide. Indeed, following this statement Nora replies that her life does depend on the dance; this prefigures her later statement to Torvald that she performed for him - "doing tricks" - in order to survive. 

At the same time, Nora's wild dancing style can also be seen as representative of her longing to break away from the strict codes of behavior for Victorian women. The fact that she ignores Torvald's instructions as she dances foreshadows her eventual decision to leave her husband and children in order to pursue a life of freedom.

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The Tarantella Symbol Timeline in A Doll's House

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Tarantella appears in A Doll's House. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act Two
Love and Marriage Theme Icon
Gender Theme Icon
Deceit Theme Icon
...her that Torvald wants her to go as a Neopolitan fisher lass and dance the tarantella, which she learned while she was in Italy. She shows her the costume that Torvald... (full context)
Love and Marriage Theme Icon
Gender Theme Icon
Money and Work Theme Icon
Deceit Theme Icon
Individual vs. Society Theme Icon
...happy, remarking that she looks like a frightened dove. He suggests she run through the tarantella while he is in his study with both doors shut so he can’t hear anything.... (full context)
Love and Marriage Theme Icon
Gender Theme Icon
Individual vs. Society Theme Icon
...him not too, but he persists. Nora begins to play the opening bars of the tarantella on the piano. Torvald stops to listen. Nora tells him that she won’t be able... (full context)
Love and Marriage Theme Icon
Deceit Theme Icon
Individual vs. Society Theme Icon
...the dining room, leaving Nora a moment alone. Nora counts out the hours until the tarantella and until midnight the next evening, eventually pronouncing: “Thirty-one hours to live.” Torvald calls from... (full context)
Act Three
Love and Marriage Theme Icon
Gender Theme Icon
Individual vs. Society Theme Icon
Mrs. Linde interrupts Krogstad, saying that she can hear the tarantella. She explains this means the dance is about to end and that he must go.... (full context)
Love and Marriage Theme Icon
Deceit Theme Icon
Individual vs. Society Theme Icon
...if there is anything he can do he will do it. Mrs. Linde hears the tarantella ending and tells Krogstad to go. He says he will wait for Mrs. Linde downstairs,... (full context)
Love and Marriage Theme Icon
Gender Theme Icon
Individual vs. Society Theme Icon
...sorry he didn’t let her stay longer. Torvald recalls the evening, saying Nora danced the tarantella well and was wildly applauded, although the dance was perhaps too realistic. He explains that... (full context)
Love and Marriage Theme Icon
Gender Theme Icon
...at his “most treasured possession.” He says that he can tell she still has the tarantella in her blood and that makes her even more desirable. He delivers a speech explaining... (full context)