A Doll's House

Students dive into the novel A Doll's House, exploring this social critique of middle-class Victorian society including issues of gender roles, freedom, and appearance versus reality. Students also investigate the genre of dramatic realism.



Unit 2

12th Grade

Unit Summary

Originally written and performed in Norway in 1879, A Doll’s House, by Henrik Ibsen, shocked nineteenth-century audiences with its critique of the treatment of women in Victorian society. Ibsen’s play has gone on to withstand the test of time, continuing to be one of the most widely performed plays in the world. 

In this unit, students will delve into Ibsen’s social critique of his era by exploring the norms and values of middle-class Victorian society. Issues of gender roles and freedom will be a particular focus. The social norms of Victorian society that kept women in the sphere of domesticity are questioned by Ibsen through his portrayal of Nora and the other characters of the play. In addition, he focuses on developing the theme of appearances versus reality in Victorian society through the microcosm of Helmer and Nora’s lives. Students will read this text with these related and interwoven themes in mind, analyzing how Ibsen uses one to develop the other.

In addition to analyzing A Doll’s House as social commentary, students will investigate the genre of dramatic realism that many credit Ibsen with creating through this and others of his plays. Through his use of the format of “the well-made play” common in the nineteenth century and his rejection of the use of verse form, Ibsen created a new genre that has come to be known as realistic drama. In fact, it is the genre that is most common in the plays, television shows, and movies of our own time.

This unit plan is compact and dense, relying on students doing at least some of the reading outside of school. Teachers should use their judgment and adjust the pacing to move more slowly if necessary.

Texts and Materials

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Core Materials

Supporting Materials


This assessment accompanies Unit 2 and should be given on the suggested assessment day or after completing the unit.

Key Knowledge

Intellectual Prep

Intellectual Prep for English Lessons

  1. Read and annotate the play and this unit plan.
  2. Read the following article on A Doll’s House as a well-made play: A Well-Made Doll's House: The Influence of Eugene Scribe on the Art of Henrik Ibsen on Screentakes.
  3. Read the paired works of fiction and nonfiction.

Intellectual Prep for AP Projects

Essential Questions

  • Gender Roles: How does the oppression of women impact everyone in a society? Can one group be truly free when others are kept down?
  • Appearances vs. Reality: What is the danger in keeping up appearances that mask reality? For an individual? For a society?

Writing Focus Areas

The writing in this unit is designed to give students practice with the type of writing and thinking they might be expected to do on the AP English Language and Composition Exam for Free Response Question 3. Students will craft an argument and use some aspect of A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen as evidence to support their own unique argument.

Spiraling Literary Analysis Writing Focus Area

  • Thesis: Compelling and sophisticated
  • Analysis: Demonstrates nuanced logic and independent thinking
  • Cohesion: Strategically uses transitions or connecting words to clarify relationship to help reader follow argument/topic


Literary Terms

setting, characterization, realism, dramatic irony, analogy, allegory, realism, Romanticism, conflict, theme, motif, juxtaposition, “well-made play” formula, spiritual awakening, double entendre, trope (Inside the Victorian Home, p. 215)

Roots and Affixes

ami- (amicably), venge- (vengeance)


Note: hypocrisy (iii), sentimental (iii), romanticism (iii), naivete (iii)
Act 1: extravagantly (1, 3), economize (2), incredulously (7), obliged (9), contemptuously (11), imprudent (11), zealously (15), unassailable (20), dissimulation (27), deprave (28)
Act 2: disheveled (29), tactless (32, 34), prevaricate (32), rogue (33), obstinacy (34), scurrilous (34), incubus (35), vengeance (36), inexorable (38), amicably (43), expedient (43), folly (44)
Act 3: jilt (52), prudently (52), capricious (56), apparition (56), unscrupulous (62), consternation (64), heedless (70), wedlock (72)

Other: Domesticity (Inside the Victorian Home)

Idioms and Cultural References

“as a matter of course…” (5), plucky (6), appointment (20), rubbish (29), tarantella (31), consumption (31), “Capri – maiden” (56)

Content Knowledge and Connections

  • Victorian Era
  • Realism/Realistic drama
  • Victorian womanhood

Previous Fishtank ELA Connections

  • The Glass Menagerie in 11th Grade ELA - The Glass Menagerie is also a realistic drama and deals with themes of womanhood and gender.
  • Plays by Shakespeare that students have read serve as examples of drama written in verse, which is an important contrast to the realistic drama of Ibsen.

Future Fishtank ELA Connections

  • While this play is set in the Victorian era and deals specifically with issues of gender and women’s rights in the Victorian period, it is also a story of human rights. Drawing parallels to oppression and liberation as depicted in other works students have read will deepen their understanding of the play and of future works.

Lesson Map

AP Projects

Common Core Standards

Core Standards

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Unit 1

Invisible Man


Unit 3

The God of Small Things

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