“A Doll’s House”
Click here For the Sparknotes breakdown of the play
Nora Helmer, the protagonist in the play “A Doll’s House” by Henrik Isben, is essentially a doll living the life of luxury. She is initially spoiled by her father as a child, and later, spoiled by her husband, Torvald Helmer. Torvald refers to Nora as things such as “…my little [twittering] lark…”(424), and “…poor little girl”(427). This is the initial image pained of Nora as the play opens.
There are other key clues to who Nora truly is right from the opening of the play as well. “She is laughing to herself, as she takes off her hat and coat. She takes a pocket of macaroons from her pocket and eats one or two; then goes cautiously to her husband’s door and listens” (424). This implies that she is willing to do things displeasing to her husband (behind his back) in order to gratify her own pleasure.
It is also clearly revealed in the opening of the play that Nora took out a loan of “two hundred and fifty pounds” (429) in order to pay for a “wonderfully beautiful journey” to Italy that “saved Torvald’s life” (429). This further illustrates Nora’s willingness to do things displeasing to her husband, for he made if starkly clear that he does not approve of frivolous spending or borrowing money. In this particular instance however, Nora does not do so in order to gratify herself, but rather to save the life of her husband.
Before act one is over it is already clear that Nora is sly, and even somewhat manipulative, but she also seems to be vastly dependant on her husband (or at least his approval). When Mrs. Linde asks if Nora has told Torvald about the loan she replies “Good Heavens, no! How could you think so? A man who has such strong opinions about these things! And besides, how painful and humiliating it would be for Torvald, with his manly independence, to know that he owed me anything! It would upset our mutual relations altogether; our beautiful happy home would no longer be what it is now” (432). This implies that she is willing to go to great lengths to keep her husband in good health, but she also is not willing to tell him the truth, lest it disrupt their perfect dollhouse.
Nora cannot be thought of as ignorant to her situation of being just a doll in Torvald’s house. On page 432 after Mrs. Linde asks if Nora will ever tell Torvald of the loan, Nora says “Yes—some day perhaps, after many years, when I am no longer as nice-looking as I am now. Don’t laugh at me! I mean, of course, when Torvald is no longer as devoted to me as he is now; when my dancing and dressing-up and reciting have palled on him; then it may be a good thing to have something in reserve…” This clearly indicates that Nora is aware that Torvald thinks of her as merely a trophy, a toy, a doll, for the purpose of nothing more than his amusement. He does not think of Nora as his wife, and she knows this. “[I]t may be good to have something in reserve..” indicates that when she is no longer attractive, she will still have some sort of a hold over Torvald, further illustrating her sly and devious nature.
It is also clear in act one that Nora is more of a playmate (doll) to her children than she is a mother. “Come, let us have a game! What shall we play at? Hide and Seek? Yes, we’ll play Hide and Seek. Bob shall hide first. Must I hide? Very well, I’ll hide first (She and the children laugh and shout, and romp in and out of the room; at last Nora hides under the table, the children rush in and look for her, but do not see her; they hear her smother laughter, run to the table, lift up the cloth and find her. Shouts of laughter. She crawls forward and pretends to frighten them)”(437). It is apparent the children don’t view her as a mother, more of an interactive toy.
During act two, Nora’s “perfect life” is disrupted by her anxiety over the loan she took out. Krogstad tells her she committed a crime by forging her father’s signature on the loan and essentially uses this information to blackmail her. Nora, being so anxiety ridden, tries to plead Krogstad’s case to Torvald, who wants nothing to do with Krogstad or Nora’s pleas on his behalf.
Torvald does not take Nora seriously at all. On page 443 after Nora’s confrontation with Krogstad, Torvald says “Didn’t you tell me no one had been here? (Shakes his finger at her.) My little song-bird must never do that again. A song-bird must have a clean beak to chirp with—no false notes!” By referring to Nora as animal names, it becomes clear that Torvald does not even view Nora as a human being.
During act three, the culmination of each seeming small detail in the previous acts finally causes Nora to identify with who she really is; a strong willed woman buried under the shadow of men who don’t take her seriously. Nora’s decision to leave Torvald and her children might initially seem selfish, however once each aspect of her life is examined, it becomes clear that she is doing only what is necessary for her survival. Nora is no more a mother to her children than she is a wife to Torvald. To each she is merely a toy serving as nothing more than cheap entertainment.
Nora’s decision to leave was not selfish; it was completely justified. Nora finally found herself after years of being buried. It was clear from the beginning that she knew who she was, and what people had turned her into. In the end, she did only what she felt was necessary and should not be looked down upon for it.
Tags: A doll's house, Character Analysis, Dependance, imperfection, Nora Helmer, perfection