Henrik Ibsen play “A Doll House,” written in 1879, focuses on a story of a disparaging
role of women in Victorian society through his doll motif, played out in Nora’s sudden distaste
for her home. Throughout the play there are many examples of Nora’s husband Torvald treating
Nora in an insulting manner because she’s a woman. Torvald calls her little pet names, and states
that she’s frail. Nora does things according to what Torvald wants. Everything is done by his
standards. He also doesn’t allow her to have much freedom. He doesn’t let decisions to be made
by Nora. Torvald makes comments that suggest Nora could never understand anything, just
because she is a woman. These examples show that feminism is a theme throughout the story.
Torvald treats Nora almost like a child. He never actually talks to her like an adult. Almost as if
Torvald thought that Nora wasn’t intelligent, or mature enough to have a conversation that had to
deal with serious matters.
He also has a lot of pet names for Nora.
Whenever Torvald speaks to Nora he usually calls her “my little squirrel”, and “little lark” as you would call a child. Torvald also calls her a spendthrift whenever she asks for money. He never really calls her Nora, unless
it is when he is serious, however any other time, he will call her by one of his pet names.
Torvald also never speaks to Nora about anything important. He only talks to her about spending
money, and about things of leisure, like the ball.
Nora, in Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House”, is a modern
woman limited by a traditional society which denies women power and autonomy.
The central mystery and challenge of “A Doll’s House” is obviously the character of
Nora. The story starts on Christmas Eve. Nora makes preparation for Christmas. While she eats
macaroons, Dr. Rank and Mrs. Linde enters. Rank goes to speak with Torvald while Linde
speaks with Nora. Linde explains that her husband has died and that she needs to find a job.
Nora agrees to ask her husband to give Linde a job at the bank. Nora tells her about borrowing
money to pay for the trip they took to Italy. She explains that Torvald doesn’t know that she paid
for it. Rank leaves the study and begins to speak with Nora and Linde. He complains about the
moral corruption in society. Krogstad arrives and goes to the study to talk to Torvald about
keeping his job. A few minutes later, he leaves and Rank comments that Krogstad is one of the
most morally corrupt people in the world. Rank and Linde leave, and Krogstad re-enters. He
tells Nora to ask her husband to keep Krogstad at the bank, or else. If she doesn’t, he will reveal
Nora’s crime of forgery to him. Krogstad leaves and when Torvald re-enters, Nora asks him not
to fire Krogstad. Torvald says that he must fire him because of his dishonesty and because he
gave Krogstad’s job to Linde. The nurse, Anne-Marie, enters and gives Nora her ball gown.
Anne-Marie explains that she had to leave her children to take the job taking care of Nora. Linde
returns and begins to help Nora with stitching up her dress. They talk for a while about Dr.
Rank. Torvald enters and Linde leaves to the nursery. Nora asks Torvald again not to fire
Krogstad and he refuses. He gives Krogstad’s pink slip to the maid to be mailed to Krogstad.
Rank re-enters and tells Nora about his worsening illness. They talk and flirt for a while. Rank
tells Nora that he loves her. Nora said that she never loved Rank and only had fun with him.
Rank leaves to the study and Krogstad enters. He is angry about his dismissal and leaves a letter
to Torvald explaining Nora’s entire crime in the letter box. Nora is frightened, and tells Linde
about the matter and Linde assures her that she will talk to Krogstad and set things straight.
Linde leaves after Krogstad and Rank and Torvald enters form the study. They help Nora
practice the tarantella. After practice, Rank and Torvald exits and Linde enters and tells Nora
that Krogstad left town, but she left a note for him. Nora tells her that she’s waiting for a miracle
to happen. That night, during the dance, Linde talks to Krogstad in Helmer’s apartment. She
explains to him that she left him for money, but that she still loves him. They get back together
and Krogstad decides to forget about the matter of Nora borrowing money. However, Linde asks
Krogstad not to ask for his letter back since she thinks Torvald needs to know of it. Both leave
and Torvald and Nora enter from the dance. Torvald checks his letter box and finds some letters
and two business cards form Dr. Rank with black crosses on them. Nora explains that they
meant that Rank is announcing his death. After the bad news, Torvald enters his study and Nora
prepares to leave. However, before she can get out the door, she is stopped by Torvald who read
Krogstad’s letter. He is angry and disavows his love for Nora. The maid comes with a letter,
Torvald reads the letter that is from Krogstad. It says that he forgives Nora of her crime and will
not reveal it. Torvald burns the letter along with the IOU that came with it. He is happy and tells
Nora that everything will return to normal. Nora changes and returns, she tells him that they
don’t understand each other and she leaves him.
Joan Templeton wrote a critical piece of “The Doll House Backlash: Criticism,
Feminism, and Ibsen.” Templeton states “Whatever propaganda feminists may have made of A
Doll House, Ibsen, it is argued, never meant to write a play about the highly topical subject of
women’s rights; Nora’s conflict represents something other than, or something more than,
woman’s. In an article commemorating the half century of Ibsen’s death, R. M. Adams explains,
“A Doll House represents a woman imbued with the idea of becoming a person, but it proposes
nothing categorical about women becoming people; in fact, its real theme has nothing to do with
the sexes” (416). Over twenty years later, after feminism had resurfaced as an international
movement, Einar Haugen, the doyen of American Scandinavian studies, insisted that “Ibsen’s
Nora is not just a woman arguing for female liberation; she is much more. She embodies the
comedy as well as the tragedy of modern life.”” (28). Joan Templeton had cited “All female, or
no woman at all, Nora loses either way. Frivolous, deceitful, or unwomanly, she qualifies neither
as a heroine nor as a spokeswoman for feminism. Her famous exit embodies only “the latest and
shallowest notion of emancipated womanhood, abandoning her family to go out into the world in
search of ‘her true identity;” (Freedman 4)” (30).
Nora Helmer makes the right decision to free herself form the social and traditional
commitments and obligations of the Victorian Era and becomes an independent individual. She
lived in a world of pre-determined social and societal constraints that made her deprived of her
own freedom and happiness. The society in which she lived wanted people to live according to
the rigidly set norms and standards of the Victorian Society. Subjugation and oppression was the
theme of the Victorian Society. Men and women were supposed to play the role that was
assigned to them. Nora found herself in such a world of suppression. She was supposed to live a
quiet life in a world that was dominated by her husband Torvald and the alike. She was however,
totally dissatisfied with the life of subjugation. She could no longer surrender to the constraints
of the society. The made her brake from the captivity and enters a new world of freedom. Nora
Makes the right decision to free herself from the social and traditional commitments and
obligations and become an independent individual. Nora is indeed a classical hero during her
time of Victorian Society. She was hiding her character and personality throughout the play
under the pretense of the ideal 19th century wife who completely abides to her husband. The
character of Nora is quite tough to interpret, as she is made out of a combination of different
traits, childish, and even selfish. Even though she is found to be playful and silly, she appears
different in other places being practical and astute. She is indeed a hero as she was successful in
showing that she is a supporting wife, and mother. Nora was expected to be content with the life
she had, though it wasn’t in any way fair or equal. When she expresses her hope that Torvald
would have taken the blame for her crime upon himself, Torvald says that “there’s no one who
give up honor for love.” (875) and Nora replies that “millions of women have done just
that.”(875). When Nora shut the door behind her, she wasn’t just a woman leaving her family.
She was a woman seeking independence from the strictures of society and the rule of men which
was placed upon her because of gender.