A Doll’s House Study Guide
A Doll’s House Study Guide
Act I: Kevin Gao The setting is on Christmas Eve, in the Helmer’s Household. There is the aspect of the contrasting temperature, in which inside the house it is warm, symbolic of security and safety, whereas outside it is harsh and cold, symbolic of the real world and how cruel it is. These details are important in that they set the stage for the rest of the story. The people who live in the house are obviously very well-off people. They have money, yet they are frugal, not very lavish. The title “A Doll’s House” suggests that their home is very decorative.
There is a bookcase, fine China, and other neat little ornaments. The characters are all described as dressed in nice clothing. Nora has all kinds of things on her like money and sweets. Money is very important in the play in that it seems to directly influence the kind of lifestyle they live. I’ve noticed that the gifts are very tacky, showing poor taste, and are very unnecessary and needless objects. In my opinion, only the rich people seem to be able to afford macaroons and other sweets. The macaroons are characteristic of lavish lifestyles, for people who have time to kill.
Nora Initially seems like a silly, naive woman, indicated by her playful attitude (noticeable when she says things like “Pooh! ” and “Just a tiny wee bit”). Her appearance in Act 1: she is very pampered and spoiled by her husband, yet later she reveals her slightly rebellious side, showing that she does not need to be treated as such by Torvald. I predict she will later develop a more independent lifestyle from Torvald. I notice that she is constantly asking for money. It’s as if she wants to do things by herself, with her “own” money. Mrs. Linde is Nora’s childhood friend. Mrs.
Linde is like Nora’s foil in that her life of poverty seems to underscore Nora’s wealthy and privileged life. Nora isn’t being honest to Torvald. She is obviously lying to Torvald about eating the macaroons, and she is described as being “rather uneasy”. Nora adores her own children, her most prized possessions. She shows herself as a genuinely loving mother. Torvald delights in his position of authority as a husband in the house. He believes that it is a man’s job to protect and guide his wife. Torvald treats her like a child, which was described as like her father would, and is name calling (little squirrel, little lark) is like he masking his authority with tenderness, and that he sees her as a simpleton who will succumb to his bantering. He constantly reminds Nora not to be a thrift spender. He does not see Nora as an equal, and his teasing, his referrals to her as “a girl”, and his uses of pithy phrases suggest that Torvald doesn’t take her quite seriously. Krogstad is a lawyer who went to school with Torvald. He is essentially the antagonist of the play. He was employed by Torvald, but he might lose his job.
He constantly torments Nora with financial issues; he once loaned to her, but he blackmails her because he knows she forged her dad’s signature on their contract, even though he also committed the same crime. His actions aren’t characteristic of his good intentions and his sympathy for her. Unlike Torvald, who desires to get respect for his own selfish satisfaction, Krogstad wants that respect for the sake of his own family. Krogstad and Mrs. Linde used to be lovers, but she left him because of his immoral behavior and because she wanted to marry someone with more money.
Dr. Rank is one of Torvald’s friends. Rank seems to be obsessed with talking about the diseased natures of all the people he is acquainted with, even himself. Nora and Torvald do not think very highly of Dr. Rank; he is simply unimportant to them and everyone else. He does not rank very high in their thoughts, hence the irony in his name. Act II: The setting takes place on Christmas Day. The space around the tree is very messy, indicating that they had a Christmas celebration. The room and the tree have been removed of all signs of festivities.
The costume is what Nora has to wear to the Stenborg’s ball; however it is in need of mend. This is representative of how Torvald wants to dress Nora as one would dress a doll. The letter Torvald sent to Krogstad shows his complete narrow-mindedness, as he is not changing and as understanding as the other main characters. The maid hands Nora Krogstad’s visitor card and tells her that Krogstad will not leave until he has spoken with her about the issue. Krogstad’s letter is used to inform Torvald of the forgery committed by Nora.
He uses this as blackmail for Nora to get a better position in the bank. Dr. Rank plays the piano in accompaniment, showing that he is still the supporting character and unimportant, as in the first act. Again, there are recurrent aspects of the “rich-family” theme, with the champagne and the macaroons at the dinner party. Nora has been thinking about leaving her family, specifically, she is contemplating suicide. However, she is hesitant about doing so because she is worried that her kids will miss her, and she thinks it will be difficult for her kids to adapt to life without her.
The reason she wants to commit suicide is because of her forgery crime on the contract for the money, but she wanted to do this because she knew it was a choice to save either Torvald, or her dying father. Nora is afraid that if Torvald find outs about her crime, he will sacrifice himself and take all the blame onto himself (a fantasy she has concocted in her mind) and go to jail, which would be great but terrible at the same time; this is the terrible thing she hopes and fears for. Nora does not persist with her request for Dr.
Rank because she is disturbed by how he feels about her, as she has stated that “there are some people one loves best, and others whom one would almost rather have as companions”. Nora wants Christine to be her witness in case she goes mad over the crime she committed, or if something happens to her (presumably, her suicide) and her credit is dishonored. To make matters more complicated, Torvald had written a letter notifying Krogstad of his dismissal. Nora tries to stop him by saying that Krogstad has power with the press to bad mouth Torvald.
That’s when Torvald makes the connection between him and her father: that she fears for Torvald as much as she used to fear for her father, but that he is, unlike her father, not in any legal trouble, which makes him safe from all threats. He tells Nora that he doesn’t want to take back the dismissal letter, as it would show his weakness and that he is easily swayed by his own wife. This shows his belief that a wife has no authority in a household or in business; he thinks she knows nothing of the business world and that her opinions have no real intent.
This, in turn, shows that he does not know anything about his wife at all, which might lead some to believe that their marriage is nothing but a charade, an act without meaning or purpose. However, it is his “knowledge” of her that Nora tries to use to her advantage. By calling herself “little skylark” and “little squirrel”, she is trying to manipulate him into doing what she wants. However, Torvald’s pride is persistent, as well as his stubbornness. He thinks that he must dismiss Krogstad to keep his own appearance of a strong man who is not easily stifled.
Also, in my, opinion, Torvald’s view of social life has stemmed from his very stubbornness. For example, he believes that Nora does things, like warning him of Krogstad’s power over the newspaper, simply because she loves him, as a “typical wife” would, and that he must show her that she has nothing to fear (this is that “strong manly husband” fantasy). Christine agrees to help Nora with her dress because she wants to help her make a good impression with Torvald.
Christine, claiming her to be more mature and more experienced than Nora, tries to figure out some of Nora’s problems, specifically, to look out for Dr. Rank and to end her friendship with her; Christine does not leave because she is suspicious of Nora, and she knows that she is hiding something from her. When Christine reappears, she tries to help Nora understand the fact that her marriage is not what she thinks it really is; it is not perfect and she isn’t really happy with it. Christine agrees to be Nora’s witness to testify that Nora did that whole act on her own, and that Torvald was not connected to it at all.
She agrees because she wants her to continue her endeavor to save Nora’s marriage; she gives Nora the courage and reassurance. Krogstad is pretty much described as a nuisance to Torvald; he is “morally diseased” to Torvald because he did not confess to his crime of forgery and that there was no justice done onto him. Torvald is disgusted with Krogstad because, since they used to be friends, he calls Torvald by his first name. Torvald would prefer if he showed him more respect as a superior.
Krogstad is so desperate because he wants to gain as much respect as he can, and to achieve a high position in the bank, higher than Torvald. He does this in order to take care of his children. He threatens to use the forgery contract as blackmail to have influence over her and to make her get his job back. He says that he is willing to keep it all a secret as long as Torvald promotes him to a higher position. We learn the Dr. Rank is ill from syphilis, that he received it from his father (who was sexually overindulgent), and that he does not have much time left.
This shows Ibsen’s tragically flawed philosophy that morals are hereditary, for example, Nora’s naive belief set, that any action is acceptable as long as it benefits her loved one; also, another trait is that Nora’s father always made excuses, and later “passed it down” to Nora. Dr. Rank confessed that he loves Nora. Nora is surprised because they have been best friends for a long time, and that she feels that his confession is basically a misinterpretation of her affection toward him.
She does not continue with her request because she feels that he would think of it as exploiting his love for her, since he knows now that Nora will reject him. Unlike the other two, Dr. Rank is pretty much ‘the help’, as he states it. He has not changed much from the first act in that he is still nothing but a supporting character; he remains unimportant in anyone’s thoughts. Krogstad, unlike Torvald, is working for respect to support his family as well as establish an appearance/personality for him to others.
Dr. Rank is not like Torvald in that he is only one Nora feels she can express herself fully in front of, something she wouldn’t dare try to do with Torvald. Act III: The setting is in the Helmer’s household. There is dance music upstairs. The table is in the center of the room with a lamp burning on it, surrounded by chairs. The lamp is like Nora’s realization; at first, there was nothing in the room, but as time went on, a spark grew in her mind, with its own ideas, independent from that of Torvald’s.
The dress is great, but it shows how possessive Torvald is of Nora, and the costume he dresses her in is from his own choosing, as one would do when dressing a doll. The mailbox is like a cage; no outer forces can penetrate it, and it holds Nora captive in the way that she is trapped by the letter inside the mailbox. The door slam at the end is like Nora has finally woken up and has realized that her life for the past 8 years has been an act, nothing more.
She closes the door on Torvald, suggesting that she no longer wants Torvald’s guidance; that she needs to do things on her own from now on. Nora doesn’t want to come back into the house because she will never be understood in her house. Torvald will never treat her like an independent woman, that she will always be a child. She leaves what she describes as a ‘stranger’s’ house. Nora’s dance, the tarantella, is an Italian dance. Her dancing is so flustered, and it is constantly full of uncertainty in the moves, which is like Nora’s character.
The dance expresses the idea that an ugly truth, though it might be harmful, is the only way to mend Nora’s marriage with Torvald; it is Nora’s last chance to be Torvald’s little doll, to amuse and satisfy him. She says “Never to see him again. Never! Never!…. ” indicates that she is leaving Torvald and her children, because she still thinks that he will step in and take the blame, and she does not want him to do this. This is also shown in the phrase “You shan’t save me, Torvald”. After the second letter, Nora becomes frozen, all quiet and puzzled.
Nora suddenly realizes the truth about their marriage: that Torvald only cares about aesthetics, and that he would do anything for a seemingly happy marriage. The “most wonderful thing” it, to its fullest, a marriage that is not tied down by any social bindings. What Nora wants is a marriage that is purely feeling, unconditional love, without duty or responsibility. Torvald’s imaginings indicate that he is very self-protective, and that he is worried too much about what others think of him.
His reaction to the letter suggest that he does not care about Nora, but that he only cares about himself and whether or not his “reputation” will be destroyed or not. These selfish reason are based on his desires for appearances; also, he forgets that the only reason Nora committed the crime was to save him, which further underlines his selfishness. by He mentions Nora’s father as a way of saying that it is not his fault, it is Nora’s father’s fault, and ultimately, her fault as well, which is very different from what Nora thought he would do (to take the blame upon himself).
He repeats the most wonderful thing of all because he has no idea what it is, showing how blinded he is by his own fantasy of a “real” marriage. The story opens with Christine and Krogstad as a way to set the stage for the background story. From the phrases that the two exchange, it is obvious that they were once lovers, but that Christine left Krogstad for someone else with more money. It is also apparent that Christine often regrets throwing him out of their home, and that she justifies it by saying that she had to take care of her own family and siblings. Deep down, she always wanted to stay with Krogstad.
Christine is Nora’s foil in that Christine’s poor, cruel, and bitter lifestyle seems to underscore Nora’s lifestyle, and her actions, such as living prudently, underscores Nora’s wasteful and lavish lifestyle. The quote “but now I am quite alone, my life so empty and I fell forsaken. There is not the least pleasure in working for oneself” suggests that Christine wants to get back together with Krogstad. Krogstad and Christine’s relationship is like a foil to Nora and Torvald’s marriage in that their broken and “shipwrecked” marriage underlines Nora and Torvald’s successful and ‘happy’ marriage.
University/College: University of Arkansas System
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 27 September 2016
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