Analysis Pages

Character Analysis in A Doll's House

Ibsen uses actions and stage directions rather than lengthy descriptions to illustrate the disastrous effects that strict, confining societal expectations have on his characters. The actions of the characters emphasize the disconnect between the complex internal desires and motivations of the characters and the powerful pressures of society to fit into a rigid set of socially acceptable norms. Nora feels that she must be the perfect “doll-like” housewife and mother, but this requires that she “play pretend” to be less intelligent and capable than she is. Torvald must assert his authority by perceiving Nora as a helpless “little lark,” even though he is attracted to her independent, bold side when she dances. The highly self-sufficient, widowed Mrs. Linde seeks contentment via a new husband, as she feels lost in society without playing the role of wife or mother. Generally, the characters’ actions are continually governed by their social setting, but ever at odds with their personal needs and aspirations. It is only by breaking down these social constraints, Ibsen suggests, that the individuals can truly understand themselves.

Character Analysis Examples in A Doll's House:

Act I

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"Aha! so my obstinate little woman is obliged to get someone to come to her rescue?..."   (Act I)

Not only does Torvald demean Nora, he also seems to enjoy the idea of her being a damsel in distress who needs saving. Nora plays into this idea by pretending to need his help. However, it is ultimately Nora who saves Torvald by getting the money to go to Italy. This action disrupts the false narrative that Torvald and Nora both perform, hinting that Torvald’s reaction to being “saved” will be less positive than Nora hopes.

"Does my little Nora acknowledge that at last? ..."   (Act I)

This line encapsulates Nora and Torvald’s relationship and showcases the idealized way they view each other. While Nora thinks of herself as capable and intelligent, Torvald sees her as “silly and insignificant.” Meanwhile, Nora views Torvald as a gallant gentleman who would do anything for her. She maintains her “little squirrel” persona around him in order to feed his desire to be her hero. This line showcases that their perceptions of each other are built on fantasies.

"[hiding the packet]. Hush! Hush! Hush! [HELMER comes out of his room, with his coat over his arm and his hat in his hand.]..."   (Act I)

Nora’s personality changes depending on the people she is around. Around Torvald, she plays the part of the sweet, spoiled wife who always behaves well and follows his instructions. However, around Doctor Rank and Mrs. Linde, she swears, eats forbidden pastries, and exchanges witty banter. Doctor Rank seems to understand this and indicates that even if Nora cannot say certain things around Torvald, she can say them around her friends. Doctor Rank accepts Nora for who she is, whereas Torvald loves her for the part she plays.

"Besides, I was the one responsible for it...."   (Act I)

Nora’s characterization as a “spendthrift” is subverted here, as Ibsen informs readers of the real reason she is constantly short on money. Rather than asking for the money from her husband, she instead takes responsibility and pays off the debts herself.

"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...."   (Act I)

Nora correctly predicts the outcome of Torvald discovering her actions, but she fails to foresee the cause for the upsetting of their “mutual relations.” In Nora’s mind, Torvald will be so grateful that he will feel indebted to her. This will result in him respecting her more and the gender dynamic of their marriage shifting. Nora is proud of her actions and believes that Torvald will be proud of her too. Mrs. Linde offers the first hint that Nora’s assumptions are incorrect.

"You are proud..."   (Act I)

Pride is an important concept in A Doll’s House, existing in varying degrees in all of the primary characters. Of particular note, however, is the difference between masculine pride and feminine pride. Mrs. Linde’s sacrifices for her mother and brothers are a source of pride, just as Nora’s sacrifices for her husband are. Despite being looked down on by men and society, both Nora and Mrs. Linde are proud of their hard work. By contrast, Torvald’s pride and Krogstad’s pride are based on public reputation and respectability.

"You are just like the others. ..."   (Act I)

This scene hints at the undercurrent of frustration that Nora feels towards the way people react to her. Rather than being taken seriously by anyone, she is seen as Torvald’s silly, spendthrift wife. Nora seems to take particular offense to Mrs. Linde assuming she is childish since in her view another woman ought to be able to understand her struggle.

"No, indeed; I only feel my life unspeakably empty. No one to live for any more...."   (Act I)

Mrs. Linde has been cast in the role of caretaker all her life, first for her mother and brothers and then for her husband. Now that she does not have anyone to take care of, she feels empty. On a deeper level, Mrs. Linde is bitter that she gave up her chance at happiness only to find herself not needed anymore. She married her husband out of obligation to her family, but now that he is gone and her family no longer needs her, she finds herself old, tired, and without children or any of the comforts that a good marriage should have provided.

"So you are quite alone. How dreadfully sad that must be. I have three lovely children...."   (Act I)

Nora comes across as rather thoughtless in her conversation with Mrs. Linde, unable as she is to stop herself from speaking about her own good fortune.Though she tries to focus on Mrs. Linde, Nora ends up talking about her children, her husband’s new job, and how happy she is. These are all things that Mrs. Linde does not have access to, characterizing Nora as childish and even somewhat thoughtlessly cruel.

"Nothing at all, then...."   (Act I)

Widows in Victorian Europe had three options: remarry, move in with their children, or pick up a trade. For Christine, whose husband left her no money and no children, the first two options are unavailable since she has little to offer a future husband and no children to support her. Nora’s questions emphasize how dire Christine’s situation is: as a childless widow with no inheritance, she essentially has “nothing at all.”

"I assure you, Christine, I meant ever so often to write to you at the time, but I always put it off and something always prevented me...."   (Act I)

After marriage, 19th-century Norwegian women traditionally moved in with their husbands, often moving away from their friends and families. Since women rarely traveled alone in the 19th century, they typically maintained contact with their families and friends by writing letters. Nora’s excuse for never writing to Christine is lackluster, characterizing her as someone who has neglected her friend’s distress in favor of enjoying her happy life.

"[smiling]. But there was precious little result, Nora...."   (Act I)

Despite her three weeks of work on the gifts and ornaments, Torvald is dismissive of Nora’s efforts, calling them “dull.” He teases her about the cat wrecking her work and seems to view the entire endeavor as a waste of time. Rather than appreciating his wife’s hardworking nature, Torvald is condescending and asserts that it is better for her to entertain him than waste time working.

"And I would not wish you to be anything but just what you are, my sweet little skylark...."   (Act I)

This statement is hypocritical on Torvald’s part. Though he claims that he doesn’t want Nora to be anything other than what she is, he continually criticizes her behavior. He also bans her from going to the confectioner, thus putting a physical limitation on her. Rather than wanting Nora to be exactly who she is, Torvald wants her to continue being the perfect wife and mother that she pretends to be.

"That is a very sensible plan, isn't it?..."   (Act I)

Nora appeals to Torvald’s ego by asking him to validate her plan. Rather than confidently asserting anything, Nora begs and asks questions, deferring to Torvald’s judgment and allowing him to feel like he is in control of the conversation.

"For myself? Oh, I am sure I don't want anything...."   (Act I)

This line emphasizes Nora’s intelligence and her ability to manipulate her husband. She knows that if she seems reluctant to ask for something, Torvald will push her and she will come across as modest rather than overeager. It also emphasizes the way she idealizes her marriage, willingly playing the role of the spoiled wife who wants for nothing.

"And here are dress-lengths and handkerchiefs for the maids; old Anne ought really to have something better...."   (Act I)

Though Nora is characterized as a “spendthrift” who is irresponsible with money, everything she has purchased so far has been for someone else. Rather than being greedy or living beyond her means, it appears that she is simply a naive person with a generous spirit. This characterization is emphasized by her overtipping of the porter.

"[counting]. Ten shillings—a pound—two pounds! Thank you, thank you, Torvald; that will keep me going for a long time...."   (Act I)

Two pounds in 1879 would be worth around 230 pounds, or 300 US dollars, today. Nora, as a woman, does not have direct access to family finances, so Torvald is essentially giving her an allowance. This characterizes the relationship between Nora and Torvald as an inequitable one, wherein he handles the money and she must ask before making purchases. Their dynamic more closely mirrors the relationship between a father and daughter than it does a married couple, with Torvald acting like an indulgent parent.

"to have something in reserve..."   (Act I)

Though readers should feel sympathy for Nora's predicament, it's important to point out that Nora's holding something "in reserve" is in itself a benign form of manipulation. If she's waiting to tell him until he's tired of her, then she intends to leverage her sacrifice against him as emotional blackmail.

"no credit..."   (Act I)

For someone originally characterized as having little regard for money, Nora uses a great deal of financial terms, like "credit," in casual conversation. In this sentence, credit means both a credit in an account and a credit to her character, in the sense that she claims or "gets" credit for saving her husband's life.

"something to be proud and glad of..."   (Act I)

Nora refers to her debt as both an "important" thing and a cause of trouble, suggesting that her pride has come at a considerable cost. This seems like a particularly important revelation for her and marks the beginning of a shift from believing that she's happy to realizing that there might be problems in her marriage.

"You ought not to be so superior...."   (Act I)

Notice how Nora balks when Mrs. Linde calls her a child, despite not protesting when Torvald similarly condescends to her. Her reaction suggests that Nora does find such remarks demeaning, but that she puts up with them from Torvald. When Torvald calls Nora a child, he acts the way a husband in 19th century Europe is expected to, emphasizing and upholding gender roles. However, when Mrs. Linde calls Nora a child, Nora is offended because Mrs. Linde is another woman claiming superiority over Nora.

"backwater..."   (Act I)

The word "backwater" refers to a small and not very well-known place that isn't connected to the bigger metropolitan areas. This kind of setting would've made it very difficult for Mrs. Linde, a widow, to find reasonable work or make meaningful social connections. Hence, her visit to Nora, with whom she hasn't been close in nine years.

"pretty little hands..."   (Act I)

In the 19th century, when this play was written, women of Nora's social station weren't allowed to "work." Nora wouldn't have done much of her own cooking and cleaning, thus sparing her "pretty little hands." Their softness is a source of pride to Torvald and a symbol of her inability to manage her own affairs.

"as a matter of course..."   (Act I)

Torvald's stiffness is manifested in his speech, which seems old-fashioned and more than a little presumptuous. It simply never occurs to him that Doctor Rank would have a life outside of their social circle, which says as much about the Doctor as it does about Torvald.

"such little persons..."   (Act I)

Ibsen's use of adjectives like "little" and nouns like "spendthrift," "skylark," and "squirrel" diminish Nora, making her not just smaller but younger, like a cartoon character flitting about their little house.

"I borrowed fifty pounds to-day..."   (Act I)

Though there have already been many mentions of money in the play, this line marks the first mention of borrowing or debt. That Torvald can only think of this as a hypothetical rather than as a reality separates him from Nora ideologically, because she's all too comfortable with the idea of borrowing under the right circumstances.

" bag of macaroon..."   (Act I)

In this first scene, Ibsen characterizes Nora as self-indulgent and financially irresponsible, as indicated by her bag of macaroons and the large tip she gives the porter. However, the macaroons also offer a glimpse at Nora’s rebellious and independent nature, since she buys them against her husband’s wishes and then lies about it. Rather than mindlessly obeying Torvald’s wishes, she exerts her agency in small ways.

"naturally Torvald has never been willing to do that..."   (Act I)

Taken in the context of Torvald's profession as a barrister (lawyer), the "unsavoury cases" referred to in this line are cases in which the innocence of the defendant is questionable or shady dealings are involved. Ibsen's use of this line to characterize Torvald foreshadows his later inability to abide being associated with people of weak morals.

"Is that my little lark twittering out there?..."   (Act I)

This phrase typifies the interactions between Nora and her husband Torvald, who treats her like a child incapable of understanding the importance of money. Such interactions were typical of marriages in the 19th century, in which women were considered subservient. Ibsen appears to be playing this up for dramatic effect.

"Well, I had to turn my hand to anything I could find—first a small shop, then a small school, and so on. The last three years have seemed like one long working-day, with no rest. ..."   (Act I)

Mrs. Linde represents all the women in the 19th century who, for one reason or another, had to fend for themselves. In this sense, Mrs. Linde is very lucky not to have children to provide for or a family to support; however, the same cannot be said for Nora.

"more reckless now..."   (Act I)

Torvald's use of the word "recklessly" in the line above is meant in a disapproving way, but Nora picks up on the idea of being reckless as fun and childish. It is in her character to want to enjoy finer things, but this desire should indicate to the reader that money has been even tighter than the Helmers let on.

"It was I that wrote papa's name...."   (Act I)

The way Nora delivers this comment shows not only how impetuous Nora is, but it also supports the idea that she has no respect for the 1800s law which prohibited women from taking out a loan.

"the place will only be bearable for a mother now..."   (Act I)

Torvald's statement shows the audience that Torvald has little time for his children. True to the social expectations of the 1800s, he believes they are the sole responsibility of a woman, his wife. Such an attitude further distances himself from his children and wife, causing him to remain ignorant of their feelings.

"she is frightfully anxious to work under some clever man, so as to perfect herself..."   (Act I)

Nora appeals to Torvald Helmer's ego when she pretends Christine is desperate to find a man to mentor her and help her professionally.

"Five o'clock. Seven hours till midnight; and then four-and-twenty hours till the next midnight. Then the Tarantella will be over. Twenty-four and seven? Thirty-one hours to live...."   (Act II)

Nora’s heightened awareness of time builds tension during the transition into act III. There is now a determined timeline of how long she has left “to live” rather than a generalized sense of dread. This line also makes it clear that whether the death is literal or figurative, Nora’s life as she knows it will drastically change once Torvald reads the letter. If the “wonderful” thing happens and Torvald attempts to cover for her, Nora plans to commit suicide to protect him.

"Far from it, my dear fellow;..."   (Act II)

Despite Nora’s erratic behavior and Doctor Rank’s questioning, Torvald dismisses the idea that Nora could be bothered by anything other than nerves. Torvald does not view Nora as capable of serious business, so he assumes that anything bothering her must be “childish” and insignificant enough to ignore.

"We will have champagne, Helen...."   (Act II)

Nora orders champagne and macaroons with dinner, luxuries for those of the Helmer’s station who are not “extravagant” in their wealth. Combined with her morbid acknowledgement of the fact that she is “dancing as if for [her] life,” this reads as Nora planning her last meal, as if she were a prisoner awaiting execution.

"You must give yourself up to me entirely this evening. Not the tiniest bit of business—you mustn't even take a pen in your hand. Will you promise, Torvald dear?..."   (Act II)

In a bid to prevent Torvald from checking the letter box before Mrs. Linde has had a chance to talk to Krogstad, Nora begs Torvald to help her practice the Tarantella the entire night. Most of Nora’s requests have been ignored or brushed off, but since the dance is Torvald’s chance to show off his wife’s beauty and talent, he takes a vested interest in making sure she performs well. Furthermore, if Nora were to dance poorly during the party, it would reflect negatively on Torvald. Thus Nora’s move is well calculated.

"Yes, a wonderful thing!—But it is so terrible,..."   (Act II)

The “wonderful” and “terrible” thing Nora refers to is her belief that Torvald will step in and take responsibility for her actions. It is “a wonderful thing” in the sense that it will give Torvald the chance to rescue her and uphold the gender dynamic of their marriage. However, it is also “terrible” because Nora does not want to implicate Torvald in a scandal based on actions that “[she], and [she] alone” undertook. It is also possible to read Nora’s conflict as being rooted in her burgeoning independence. Though the forgery has caused a lot of trouble, Nora is still proud of having saved her husband’s life. For Torvald to take credit would undermine her pride and ingenuity.

"Believe me, Nora, that's the best thing for both of you...."   (Act II)

Mrs. Linde acts as Nora’s moral guide throughout the play, urging her to be honest with Torvald and to end the romantic affairs that Mrs. Linde believes she is having. This conversation highlights Nora’s trust in Mrs. Linde and also her mounting desperation as she calls on Mrs. Linde to be her “witness.” However, Nora is more concerned with protecting Torvald’s reputation than herself, continuing to play the protector rather than the damsel in distress.

"KROGSTAD: Most of us think of that at first. I did, too—but I hadn't the courage. NORA: [faintly]. No more had I. KROGSTAD: [in a tone of relief]. No, that's it, isn't it—you hadn't the courage either? NORA: No, I haven't—I haven't. KROGSTAD: Besides, it would have been a great piece of folly. Once the first storm at home is over—...."   (Act II)

Krogstad does not want Nora to hurt herself and does not seem to hold any genuine ill will towards her, reinforcing the fact that he is not the type of one-dimensional villain found in the popular melodramas of the 19th century. He is relieved that she “hadn’t the courage” for the “something worse,” which in this case is suicide. He begins to comfort her by saying that it gets better “once the first storm at home is over,” but he stops mid-sentence after remembering why he is there. Though he continues attempting to blackmail Nora, he ensures that he does so in a way that discourages suicide, protecting her life even if he is threatening to ruin her reputation.

"KROGSTAD: If you had it in your mind to run away from your home— NORA: I had. KROGSTAD: Or even something worse—..."   (Act II)

Recall that Krogstad was involved in a similar scandal to the one Nora is facing—one which severely damaged his reputation. Much like Nora, he resorted to illegal and underhanded dealings because society prohibited him from finding respectable work. This exchange showcases the similarities between Krogstad and Nora and draws Krogstad out of his villainous role. Though he is the antagonist of the play, Ibsen makes sure to emphasize that Krogstad is not an irredeemable villain but rather a complex character with motivations of his own.

" It would not be the least like our dear Torvald Helmer to show so much courage—..."   (Act II)

Krogstad’s assessment of Torvald’s character differs from that of the rest of the cast. In Nora’s opinion, her husband is strong and courageous. Torvald himself has claimed that he has the strength to withstand any allegations. However, Krogstad paints a different picture, implying that Torvald would not have the courage to call Krogstad’s bluff if he were aware of Nora’s forgery. Recall that Krogstad and Torvald were once good friends. Krogstad knows exactly how much Torvald cares about appearances, and he believes that Torvald’s reaction will differ from the reaction Nora hopes for.

"But surely you can understand that being with Torvald is a little like being with papa—..."   (Act II)

Nora’s concept of love is based on her devotion to her father rather than the idea of mutual love and respect. Though she claims to love Torvald, the fact that she prefers Doctor Rank’s company suggests that she and Torvald may not have as good a relationship as she pretends. She also acknowledges that Torvald is more of a father figure than a husband, “moralising” and leaving her out of important decisions. By contrast, Doctor Rank talks to her like an equal.

"[rising]. You are a greater rascal than I thought...."   (Act II)

Notice that Nora is behaving towards Doctor Rank in the way she normally acts around Torvald. She describes her mood as “silly” and she augments her words with exaggerated movements like covering her ears and initiating physical contact, as indicated by the stage directions. In response, Doctor Rank begins to treat her more as Torvald does, calling her a “rascal” just as Torvald calls her a “rogue” or “squirrel.” Despite the fact that Doctor Rank speaks plainly to her, Nora defaults to her usual habits as she prepares to ask him for a favor, indicating that she is not accustomed to be taken seriously when making requests of men.

"Helmer's refined nature gives him an unconquerable disgust at everything that is ugly;..."   (Act II)

In asking Nora to keep Torvald away from his sickbed, Doctor Rank acknowledges Torvald’s superficiality. Torvald, who aspires to appear refined and respectable, cares deeply about appearances. The revelation that his wife signed an illegal loan is likely to precipitate an “ugly” backlash and damage Torvald’s reputation, foreshadowing the appearance of his “unconquerable disgust.”

"[with a sigh of relief]..."   (Act II)

Doctor Rank reveals to Nora that he likely does not have very long to live. He describes himself as “the most wretched of all his patients,” implying that his physical condition has deteriorated significantly. Unlike Torvald, who prefers to shield Nora from talk of work and illness, Doctor Rank is honest with her and treats her like a rational adult capable of discussing serious topics. However, Nora misinterprets his prediction that they don’t have much time left together and assumes that he knows about her troubles. Thus she breathes a “sigh of relief” upon realizing he is referring to his own issues.

"You will see I am man enough to take everything upon myself...."   (Act II)

Nora’s greatest fear and biggest hope is that Torvald will play the part she expects him to and take all of the trouble caused by her forgery on himself. Nora’s reaction to Torvald’s declaration is conflicted. On the one hand, she desperately wants to return to their old dynamic and the pretense of happiness, which Torvald coming to her rescue would allow for. However, she is also horrified at the thought of her mistake impacting him, creating a contrast between her desire to maintain their dynamic and her sense of personal responsibility.

"incubus..."   (Act II)

In this context, the noun “incubus” refers to a source of anxiety or difficulty. Torvald reveals that his reasons for firing Krogstad do not stem from Krogstad’s moral shortcomings, but rather from Torvald’s own embarrassment regarding their past friendship. Since Torvald and Krogstad were once close friends, Krogstad continues to address Torvald familiarly despite their difference in rank at the bank, which Torvald finds disrespectful. Torvald puts a lot of emphasis on appearances, underscoring his petty and superficial nature.

"Yes—yes, of course...."   (Act II)

This exchange hints at Nora’s family’s torrid history and also showcases Nora’s abilities as a liar. Torvald indicates that Nora’s father was the target of scandalous rumors but assures her that he is a respected public official and therefore above suspicion. Nora, who latches on to Torvald’s excuse for her behavior, implies that he saved her father’s job. Whether this is true or simply meant to flatter Torvald is left as a matter of speculation.

"If your little squirrel were to ask you for something very, very prettily—? ..."   (Act II)

Notice that whenever Nora asks for something from Torvald, she adopts a childlike persona. Torvald and Nora’s marriage is not one between equals, since Torvald controls the money and expects Nora to obey him. Rather than having an honest conversation with Torvald or asking him for anything directly, Nora must “do all her tricks” and “play the fairy” to try and convince him to give in.

"Nice?—because you do as your husband wishes? Well, well, you little rogue, I am sure you did not mean it in that way...."   (Act II)

Torvald seems amused by the idea that Nora would go against his wishes, affectionately calling her a “rogue.” The noun “rogue” refers to a person who behaves in an unpredictable or objectionable manner but still appears charming or attractive. However, note that A Doll’s House is translated to English from its original Danish, meaning that attempts to analyze vocabulary are contingent. The suggestion that Nora deserves credit for doing what he asks is met with mockery, indicating that Torvald doesn’t view Nora, or women in general, as capable of independent thought or action.

"Torvald can't bear to see dressmaking going on...."   (Act II)

In Norwegian culture, dressmaking has traditionally been considered a feminine skill. Though homemade clothes were less common as department stores gained popularity, most 19th century women still knew how to sew and mend dresses at home. Fabric was expensive, so it was often repurposed in order to keep up with the fashions of the day without spending extra money. Torvald’s refusal to engage with his children and his inability to “bear” the sight of dressmaking paints him as someone who enforces traditional gender roles. He refuses to associate himself with anything that might be perceived as feminine, just as he refuses to allow Nora to participate in anything deemed masculine, such as work or finances.

"And can tear it into a hundred thousand pieces,..."   (Act II)

A “bond” is a legal document that lays out the conditions of a loan. The person who issues the loan keeps the bond in order to ensure the borrower pays them back. Once the conditions of the loan are met, the document is returned to the borrower. Notice that Nora uses the same language to describe what she wants to do to the dress and the bond. Her desire to tear the bond “into a hundred thousand pieces” suggests that Nora wants it to disappear so she can return to her happy, carefree life. Torvald bought the dress for her during their trip to Italy, the reason Nora took out the loan. This links her stress over the loan to the dress.

"you are not your father's daughter for nothing. ..."   (Act II)

Notice the parallels drawn between Torvald and Nora’s father. Both of them expect her to maintain a “dainty and attractive” house. Nora was raised by the nurse, implying that her mother was not around. This means that once Nora was old enough, the duties of maintaining the house would have fallen to her. Note that this does not entail tasks like cooking or cleaning, which would have been done by maids, but rather tasks like entertaining guests and responding to her father’s whims. The implication is that both her husband and father controlled her life.

"I should like to tear it into a hundred thousand pieces...."   (Act II)

This line is indicative of Nora’s declining mental state as well as her increasing disillusionment with the role she plays in her marriage. She paces around the stage, talks to herself, and panics every time someone comes to the door. Her desire to tear the dress up reminds readers that the trip to Italy is the source of her current predicament. It also suggests that her idealized fantasies about her marriage and the role she plays within it are dissolving. She has serious financial and legal concerns to deal with that put her at odds with her usual cheerful persona.

"Silk stockings...."   (Act II)

Note that, as Rank suggests, showing someone’s stockings was quite an intimate thing to do during this time. Consider how the flirtatious comments that Nora made previously, such as telling Rank to imagine that she is dancing for him, contribute to the flirtatious tone of this scene. The tone of conversation between Nora and Rank is drastically different from the tone of Nora and Torvald’s conversation just before. This change in tone encourages us to compare Nora’s relationship with Rank to her relationship with Torvald. Nora’s movements are less confined around Rank; she is playful, even “humming to herself.”

"You can do nothing for me now. ..."   (Act II)

Nora was going to ask Dr. Rank for a favor, which we can infer was probably to lend her the money to pay Krogstad back. However, her plans are interrupted when Dr. Rank professes his love for her. Nora no longer feels comfortable asking Rank for the money after this confession. We might reason that this could be because it would make the loan feel inappropriate—she would no longer be asking a good friend for money, but a professed admirer.

"changed his mind at his wife's bidding—..."   (Act II)

Torvald suggests that part of his unwillingness to change his mind about firing Krogstad is because it will reflect badly on his reputation. At this time in history, a man who could be swayed by his wife’s (or any woman’s) opinions in business would have been considered weak. Torvald feels obligated to his decision, at least in part, because he is worried that his coworkers would view him as weak or less “manly.”

"But I often talk about such things with Doctor Rank, because he likes hearing about them...."   (Act II)

Torvald does not like to hear about Nora’s past in the same way that Dr. Rank does because Torvald becomes very jealous of other people in Nora’s life. Dr. Rank offers Nora the freedom to express herself—to reflect on her past in a way that Torvald never does. This is another instance of Torvald’s tendency (whether intentional or not) to confine Nora.

"Tarantella..."   (Act II)

The “Tarantella” is a lively and incredibly fast-paced Italian dance. Torvald is deeply attracted to Nora when she dances the Tarantella as it requires that Nora allow herself to be more free and spirited than in the home. Torvald keeps her under strict confines in the home, but he is captivated by her uninhibited side, a contradictory quality that might speak to the role of women in marriage at the time. Women were “supposed” to be refined child rearers, but also alluring when their husbands wanted them to be.

"had no other mother but me. ..."   (Act II)

This line reveals that Nora was raised by the same nurse who now helps raise Nora’s own children. though we are not given any information detailing why Nora’s birth mother was not around. Consider that Nora expresses concern that the nurse is no longer in contact with her own daughter, whom we can infer the nurse gave up for adoption in order to raise Nora. Note that the complete absence of fathers in this conversation might be a commentary on the caretaking role that society forces women into.

"if she went away altogether?..."   (Act II)

Consider why Nora might ask the nurse this question. Since Krogstad has blackmailed Nora to persuade Torvald to let Krogstad keep his job at the bank, and Torvald has refused, Nora is planning for the worst. When Nora asks what might happen to her children if she “went away altogether,” she might be contemplating fleeing or even suicide, judging by the nurse’s startled reaction to this question.

"Someone is coming now!..."   (Act II)

Nora interrupts her own dancing and “drops the cloak” when she fears that someone is approaching the door. Nora’s action suggests that she believes the “someone” is Krogstad and that he has arrived to reveal Nora’s secret to Torvald. Nora is understandably worried about this.

"I can correct her better then. ..."   (Act II)

Nora is constantly constrained by the social norms of her time. However when she dances, she is able to “let her hair down,” so to speak. Here, Nora is impervious to Torvald’s demands and “instructions” in a way that she cannot be when she is not dancing.

"But can't we live here like brother and sister—?..."   (Act III)

In a reversal of positions, it is now Torvald who begs Nora for something. He sees that he can’t convince her to return to her former role in their relationship, so he asks if she will continue to live with him in a more platonic way. Torvald comes across as rather childish here, whining as Nora “takes his doll away from him.” By one reading, this is indicative of his genuine feelings for Nora, as he is unable to bear the thought of her leaving. By another reading, he is so desperate to keep up appearances that he would rather live “like brother and sister” than try to fix their marriage. Most likely, the reality is a combination of the two.

"Maybe. But you neither think nor talk like the man I could bind myself to...."   (Act III)

Rather than denying her childishness, Nora acknowledges it. She realizes that she lacks life experience and that she has let herself become a “doll-wife” rather than a “reasonable human being.” However, she also denounces Torvald’s flaws, enforcing the idea that they are mutually complicit in the dissolution of their relationship.

"I am afraid, Torvald, I do not exactly know what religion is...."   (Act III)

Torvald uses a variety of rhetorical tactics to convince Nora to stay with him, citing social conventions, morality, and religion. Rather than change her mind, Nora calmly refutes Torvald’s persuasive tactics. Throughout her life, she has let other people tell her how to think and feel, burying her own opinions so as not to displease anyone. She acknowledges this fact and seeks to remedy it by separating herself from Torvald’s influence.

"I will take nothing from you, either now or later...."   (Act III)

In order to be fully independent, Nora must separate herself from Torvald both physically and financially. By promising to take nothing from him “now or later,” she indicates that she is not looking for a short-term separation to clear her thoughts, but rather a more permanent dissolution of their relationship. It was difficult for 19th-century Norwegian women to support themselves financially, as seen in Mrs. Linde’s situation, so Nora’s rejection of Torvald’s present and future interventions shows her resolve.

"Alas, Torvald, you are not the man to educate me into being a proper wife for you. ..."   (Act III)

Rather than acknowledge that the problems in the Helmers’ marriage stem from inequity and mutual idealization, Torvald suggests he can fix things by “educating” Nora. This reaction indicates that Torvald continues to view himself as Nora’s intellectual and moral superior and that he believes she is the only one who needs to change. In response, Nora rejects this notion, positing that Torvald will not be the one to educate her. Nora strove to be everything Torvald wanted, acting like his “little squirrel” and playing ignorant. Now, she admits that she has a lot to learn and that she wants to educate herself about the world. Torvald, despite his claims, is too ignorant about what a “proper” marriage looks like to teach Nora anything.

"You have never loved me. You have only thought it pleasant to be in love with me...."   (Act III)

Nora’s concept of love undergoes a transformation when she realizes that neither she nor Torvald truly know the other. Torvald never bothered to understand Nora, as showcased by his unwillingness to listen to her talk about her friends and family. His love for her was performative, based on expected gender roles rather than trust or respect. Similarly, Nora allowed herself to be Torvald’s “little squirrel” because she believed that he was the strong, selfless protector he pretended to be. By realizing that they have been performing fantasies, Nora also realizes that they have only been performing love.

"we have never exchanged a word on any serious subject...."   (Act III)

Torvald and Nora have both idealized their relationship and have used each other to act out their fantasies. In many ways, they do not know one another, and they have never had a serious discussion about what they wanted out of their relationship. Rather than talking about anything seriously, Nora lies about things, like the macaroons from act I. The fact that the Helmers have never talked about anything like equal adults accounts for much of the deceit that permeates their relationship.

"Torvald, this is a settling of accounts...."   (Act III)

Nora has taken off her costume and now approaches Torvald, arguably as an adult for the first time. In financial terms, a “settling of accounts” is the payment of a debt owed, typically with the intention of closing the account permanently. Idiomatically, it means to put an end to an argument or seek revenge for misdeeds. By using financial terminology, Nora asserts her intelligence and her desire to speak to Torvald as an equal. Idiomatically and figuratively, Nora is saying that she is going to close her account with, or leave her relationship with, Torvald.

"And I?..."   (Act III)

Nora’s disillusionment with Torvald becomes complete in this moment. In an act of narcissistic self-absorption, he prioritizes his own reputation over her legal standing. As a financially dependant woman and the forger of the document, Nora has far more to lose than Torvald. However, Torvald still thinks only of himself when he reads Krogstad’s second letter, showing just how self-centered he is.

"You will still remain in my house, that is a matter of course...."   (Act III)

Torvald never asks Nora why she did what she did. He does not ask her any clarifying questions. Instead he jumps straight into accusations and damage control. Even after the revelation, Torvald does not address Nora as an equal or an adult, but rather as a disobedient child whom he must punish. Instead of taking her toys away, he takes away her access to the children.

"The unutterable ugliness of it all!..."   (Act III)

Doctor Rank sought to hide his death from Torvald due to Torvald’s revulsion towards anything “ugly.” Now that the truth about Nora’s circumstances are revealed, Torvald shows his disgust and contempt over the prospect of having his reputation made “ugly” rather than play the knight in shining armor.

"Then it must have been the children—..."   (Act III)

Nora uses her children as an excuse for why the lock has been tampered with, recalling the metaphor of the “dolly-children” who only exist to serve their parents’ purposes. Torvald in turn tells Nora to correct their behavior rather than attempting to do so himself, thus placing the care of the “dolly-children” on his “dolly-wife.”

"[quickly and searchingly]. Certainty? ..."   (Act III)

Recall Nora’s conversation with Doctor Rank in act II, in which he confided in her that he was dying and that he would only perform one more examination on himself. In this conversation, Nora and Doctor Rank confirm that he is dying and say their goodbyes using coded metaphors. Nora asking about the “scientific investigation” is her inquiring after the doctor’s health while still upholding his wishes that Torvald not know. The “certainty” they refer to is Doctor Rank’s impending death. Just as Nora ordered champagne and macaroons for her final meal, Doctor Rank’s high spirits at the party were an attempt to enjoy his last night before locking himself away to die.

"Am I not your husband—?..."   (Act III)

19th century western feminism was the first major cultural movement to challenge the idea that all sex in marriage was automatically consensual. Throughout most of the world, It was thought that married people, especially women, could not be assaulted or sexually coerced by their spouses since sex was viewed as an obligation of marriage. Torvald’s surprise at Nora’s rejection of his amorous advances reflects this view, as does his earlier mockery of the idea that Nora could act contrary to his wishes. In his mind, the fact that he is her husband should be enough to make her to do whatever he wants her to.

"I make believe to myself..."   (Act III)

Readers have watched Nora weave fantasies about Torvald and their marriage throughout the play, and now Torvald does the same thing. While Nora fantasizes about Torvald being a selfless gentleman who protects her, Torvald fantasizes about Nora being a shy young bride on her wedding night. Even in the more sexual parts of their relationship, Torvald still envisions Nora as young and helpless, seeming to find such a characterization seductive.

"Why shouldn't I not look at my dearest treasure?—at all the beauty that is mine, all my very own?..."   (Act III)

Torvald claims ownership of Nora throughout the play, using the possessive pronoun “my” to refer to her. He does not view her as a person so much as a possession or “treasure.” Even her beauty is “his.” Torvald uses Nora as a status symbol, showing her off for his friends at parties and then making a quick exit before the “beautiful apparition” disappears. Nora wants to stay and socialize, but Torvald seems to worry that overexposure will make her seem less impressive. After all, it is her beauty he hopes to display, not her character.

"Do you know, you ought to embroider...."   (Act III)

Torvald gives unsolicited advice to Mrs. Linde, saying that she should embroider rather than knit since embroidery is “more becoming.” Not only is this line indicative of Torvald’s preoccupation with appearances, but it also reveals his view of women. Knitting is meant to create new items that are functional and useful, such as blankets, socks, or scarves. Embroidery is purely decorative, meant to add colorful designs or monograms to existing items. Rather than valuing Mrs. Linde’s ability to create something useful, Torvald insists that she should focus on making things look nicer. Combined with his disparaging remarks about Nora’s homemade ornaments and gifts, this exchange suggests that Torvald views women themselves as decorative rather than functional or capable.

"a black domino..."   (Act III)

A “black domino,” in the context of clothing, refers to either a set of hooded robes most often worn at masquerades or a simple black mask that covers the eyes. Both items are associated with the concealment of identity. Torvald, who is concerned with appearances, must wear a costume in order to maintain his image. Notice that he eventually takes the domino off and throws it onto a chair. Symbolically speaking, removing costumes and masks is associated with honesty and authenticity, foreshadowing the exposure of Torvald’s true self.

"Nils, a woman who has once sold herself for another's sake, doesn't do it a second time...."   (Act III)

Mrs. Linde likens her first marriage to the act of “selling herself for another’s sake,” further emphasizing the loveless nature of the match and her self-sacrificing nature. However, despite criticizing Nora for being childlike, Mrs. Linde will not sell herself to protect Nora. Instead, she makes her feelings known to Krogstad in the hopes of recapturing some of the happiness that was taken from her by the necessities of her youth.

"You seemed to me to imply that with me you might have been quite another man...."   (Act III)

Mrs. Linde has acted as a moral compass for Nora throughout the play, establishing herself as a woman with a traditional code of ethics. Krogstad made his “unhappy marriage” after Mrs. Linde left him, eventually becoming a widow and falling into disgrace. Had Mrs. Linde married Krogstad from the beginning, it is very likely that she would have provided a moral center for him, making him “quite another man.”

"Well, I am like a shipwrecked woman clinging to some wreckage—no one to mourn for, no one to care for...."   (Act III)

The parallels between Mrs. Linde and Krogstad are made explicit in this line, as Mrs. Linde reminds Krogstad that she is also a widow from an unhappy marriage. She did not leave him out of heartlessness or greed, but rather practicality and obligation. They are both people who have made sacrifices for their families and are now left “shipwrecked.” Krogstad’s reputation is in shambles due to his shady dealings and Mrs. Linde feels unfulfilled and listless without anyone to care for. She extends Krogstad’s metaphor and suggests that since they are both shipwrecked, they ought to combine their wreckages and help keep each other afloat.

"a heartless woman jilts a man when a more lucrative chance turns up...."   (Act III)

Mrs. Linde married her husband because she needed to support her mother and younger brothers. Women had very few economic opportunities in 19th century Norway, so a lucrative marriage was oftentimes the only viable way for a woman to be financially stable. Nora mentions earlier in the play that barristers, or lawyers, like Torvald and Krogstad oftentimes do not make very good money. Particularly as a young lawyer, Krogstad would not have been wealthy enough to help Mrs. Linde care for her family, but he still holds the decision against her.

"our home has been nothing but a playroom..."   (Act III)

Nora compares her relationship with Torvald to her relationship with her late father. Nora states that her father saw her as his “doll-child” and Nora tells Torvald that she has been his “doll-wife.” The connection between Nora’s father and Torvald is integral here because it suggests that this is an issue that extends beyond both of these men to society as a whole. Ibsen uses Torvald and Nora’s father to illustrate the pervasiveness of the objectification of women—and Nora points out what a great “sin” this is.

"What do you suppose brought me to town?..."   (Act III)

Mrs. Linde tells Krogstad that he was her reason for coming to town in the first place. Recall that in Act I, Mrs. Linde told Nora that she felt like her work was done after her husband died and that it made her uneasy. Mrs. Linde suggested the same to Krogstad when she stated previously that she had “no one to mourn for, no one to care for.” We can look at Mrs. Linde and Krogstad’s relationship as a foil for Nora and Torvald’s. Mrs. Linde wants to care for someone as she grows older—in other words, she wants to be in exactly the same position that Nora is struggling to get out. Mrs. Linde is an independent and capable woman, but she does not know how she fits into her society if she is not a caretaker or someone’s wife. However, Krogstad acknowledges Mrs. Linde’s intelligence and capableness in a way that Torvald does not for Nora.

"The most wonderful thing of all—?..."   (Act III)

The last line of the play alludes to Nora’s reply to Torvald’s question asking if he could ever be “anything more than a stranger” to Nora. She replies that “the most wonderful thing of all would have to happen.” Nora suggests that Torvald does not really know her at all; he only knows her as the doll that he has made her out to be. “The most wonderful thing” then, would be for Torvald to be able to see Nora as she really is—as a human being that is smart and capable. Nora suggests that this is nearly impossible, that Torvald cannot change. Ibsen leaves that up to the audience, as this last line implies that Torvald might be willing to change. We are left wondering though, if Torvald would be able to.

"[coldly and quietly]. Yes. ..."   (Act III)

Nora’s short, dispassionate replies to Torvald’s numerous angry insults and accusations illustrates that she has begun to detach herself from the situation and from her marriage. She accepts his insults coldly and without feeling, and because of this we get the sense that she does is somewhat impervious to them.

"I have often wished that you might be threatened by some great danger, so that I might risk my life's blood, and everything, for your sake..."   (Act III)

Here, Ibsen calls attention to Torvald’s desire to save the “damsel in distress,” so to speak. Torvald wants to be a hero, and we can see this reflected in his actions towards Nora throughout the play. Consider his tendency to imagine her to be helpless—he views her as childish. For example in Torvald’s eyes, Nora is incapable of managing finances, but we know that she is actually quite capable of doing so. By highlighting this character flaw, Ibsen makes a larger commentary on how society, at this time, perceived women as being helpless and men as being the ones to save them.

"little Nora talking about scientific investigations!..."   (Act III)

We have no reason to believe that Torvald knows any more about medicine than Nora does, but he views Nora’s comment as silly. Ibsen illustrates Torvald’s blindness to his wife’s intelligence. Torvald sees his “little Nora” as his “doll” and dolls do not have the capacity to contemplate “scientific investigations.”

"The chief thing is, she had made a success—she had made a tremendous success...."   (Act III)

Torvald says that Nora’s dance was “a trifle too realistic” and not “strictly compatible with the limitations of art.” However he then states that it doesn’t matter after all because Nora’s performance was such a “success.” We often gauge a performance’s successfulness by the audience’s reception. Torvald cares not that Nora genuinely enjoyed herself, but rather that the audience liked her performance. He is concerned with her appearance to others above all.

"This unhappy secret must be disclosed..."   (Act III)

Krogstad voices his concern that Mrs. Linde has been compelled to rekindle their relationship as a favor to Nora. Mrs. Linde admits that this was originally the case, but she has since changed her mind. Krogstad wants to go take the letter back before Torvald reads it, but Mrs. Linde is the one who stops him because there is too much “concealment and falsehood going on” in Nora’s and Torvald’s marriage.

"—I am a shipwrecked man clinging to a bit of wreckage..."   (Act III)

Krogstad uses this metaphor (a comparison without using the terms ‘like’ or ‘as’) to describe how he felt when Mrs. Linde chose to marry her late husband instead of him. Mrs. Linde replies that she had her mother and younger brothers to look out for and she needed financial stability, which Krogstad could not offer her. When Krogstad says that he is “clinging to a bit of wreckage” he might be suggesting that he is still in love with Mrs. Linde.

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