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Quotes in A Doll's House

Quotes Examples in A Doll's House:

Act II

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"HELMER: My dear darling Nora, you are dancing as if your life depended on it. NORA: So it does...."   (Act II)

To Doctor Rank and Torvald, this line reads as hyperbole. However, for Nora and readers, it takes on a more literal meaning. Nora is dancing in order to prevent Krogstad’s letter from disrupting her idealized life. This line takes on a literal meaning when read in the context of Nora’s earlier conversation with Krogstad, wherein she threatened suicide. The gulf between the perceptions of Doctor Rank and Torvald and the hidden truth of Nora’s words produces dramatic irony; readers know that Nora plans to commit suicide rather than let Torvald take the fall, but Doctor Rank and Torvald remain ignorant.

"HELMER: I would gladly work night and day for you, Nora—bear sorrow and want for your sake. But no man would sacrifice his honour for the one he loves. NORA: It is a thing hundreds of thousands of women have done...."   (Act III)

This exchange highlights the difference between masculine pride and feminine pride. Torvald balks at the idea of sacrificing his public reputation while Nora asserts that women do so all the time. For Torvald, his career prospects and standing in society are determined by public perception. For his “honor” to be undermined would reduce him to Krogstad’s status: ineligible for promotion and socially ridiculed. However, women were subject to the reputations of their husbands. Feminine pride was meant to be found in domestic service and sacrifice: keeping a fine house and having children. Women were meant to suppress their personal interests and instead devote themselves to serving their husbands and children.

"I believe that before all else I am a reasonable human being, just as you are—or, at all events, that I must try and become one...."   (Act III)

In chapter 23 of Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel Jane Eyre, Rochester compares Jane to a “wild, frantic bird” hurting itself in its attempt to escape benevolent confines. Jane responds by saying: “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being, with an independent will; which I now exert to leave you.” Similarly, Nora asserts that rather than being defined by her status as a wife and mother, she is a “reasonable human being” above all else. Both situations give rise to radical declarations of female agency. In Nora’s case, she admits that there are gaps in her knowledge, but she is no longer content to sacrifice her happiness in order to uphold her societally imposed duties as a wife and mother.

"NORA: I have other duties just as sacred. HELMER: That you have not. What duties could those be? NORA: Duties to myself. HELMER: Before all else, you are a wife and a mother...."   (Act III)

Women in 19th-century Norway had very little agency. From birth until marriage, they were under the protection of their fathers, and once they married, they belonged to their husbands. Motherhood was considered the ultimate achievement for women, whereas working was viewed as an unfortunate circumstance. Women like Mrs. Linde were pitied for having no family to take care of. For Nora to assert that she has duties to herself is to admit that women have desires and interests beyond being wives and mothers. This was a revolutionary concept in 1879, and Ibsen’s play sparked a great deal of controversy as a result. Nora’s decision to leave her husband and children led to accusations that Ibsen was undermining marriage and the traditional family, which were seen as holy concepts.

"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.

"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.

"—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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