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 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.

This unit has three Supplementary AP Projects related to the theme of freedom and civil disobedience. In the first two projects, students will read multiple short documents and write a synthesis essay (similar to FRQ 1). Then, students will compose responses to the FRQ 3 essay prompt from the 2016 AP English Language and Composition Exam. The emphasis of this third project is students analyzing a variety of sources to develop an informed opinion on the topic of disobedience. To learn more about including these Supplemental AP Projects in this English 12 unit, please see our Guide to Supplemental AP Language and Composition Projects

Texts and Materials

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Core Materials

Supporting Materials

See Text Selection Rationale


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

Unit Prep

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 Grade 11 English Language Arts Unit 1: 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


  • A Doll's House — pp. 18-28

Analyze how Ibsen uses dramatic irony to develop the conflict of the play.


  • “Henrik Ibsen Biography”

Analyze Ibsen’s impact as a playwright.


2 days


Debate and defend your answer to the unit test question.

AP Projects

Common Core Standards

Language Standards
  • L.11-12.3 — Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.

  • L.11-12.4 — Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grades 11—12 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.

  • L.11-12.5 — Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.

Reading Standards for Informational Text
  • RI.11-12.1 — Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.

Reading Standards for Literature
  • RL.11-12.1 — Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.

  • RL.11-12.2 — Determine two or more themes or central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to produce a complex account; provide an objective summary of the text.

  • RL.11-12.3 — Analyze the impact of the author's choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama (e.g., where a story is set, how the action is ordered, how the characters are introduced and developed).

  • RL.11-12.4 — Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including words with multiple meanings or language that is particularly fresh, engaging, or beautiful. (Include Shakespeare as well as other authors.)

  • RL.11-12.5 — Analyze how an author's choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text (e.g., the choice of where to begin or end a story, the choice to provide a comedic or tragic resolution) contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact.

  • RL.11-12.6 — Analyze a case in which grasping point of view requires distinguishing what is directly stated in a text from what is really meant (e.g., satire, sarcasm, irony, or understatement).

Speaking and Listening Standards
  • SL.11-12.1 — Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 11—12 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

  • SL.11-12.3 — Evaluate a speaker's point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric, assessing the stance, premises, links among ideas, word choice, points of emphasis, and tone used.

Writing Standards
  • W.11-12.1 — Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

  • W.11-12.1.a — Introduce precise, knowledgeable claim(s), establish the significance of the claim(s), distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and create an organization that logically sequences claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.

  • W.11-12.1.b — Develop claim(s) and counterclaims fairly and thoroughly, supplying the most relevant evidence for each while pointing out the strengths and limitations of both in a manner that anticipates the audience's knowledge level, concerns, values, and possible biases.

  • W.11-12.1.c — Use words, phrases, and clauses as well as varied syntax to link the major sections of the text, create cohesion, and clarify the relationships between claim(s) and reasons, between reasons and evidence, and between claim(s) and counterclaims.

  • W.11-12.1.d — Establish and maintain a formal style and objective tone while attending to the norms and conventions of the discipline in which they are writing.

  • W.11-12.1.e — Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the argument presented.

  • W.11-12.5 — Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience.