In Henrik Ibsens, A Dolls House, the character of Nora Helmer goes through the dramatic transformation of a kind and loving house wife, to a desperate and bewildered woman, whom will ultimately leave her husband and everything she has known. Ibsen uses both the characters of Torvald and Nora to represent the tones and beliefs of 19th century society. By doing this Ibsen effectively creates a dramatic argument that continues to this day; that of feminism.
We are introduced in Act I with Nora returning from Christmas shopping. Ibsen utilizes this time for dramatic purposes of the Christian holidays and to show the struggle between a middle class marriage. Nora plans on having a big holiday bash, while Torvald would rather refrain since there is a rather limited cash flow. “Nora: Oh yes, Torvald, we can squander a little nowpiles of money” (1506). Torvald follows up with, “But then it is three full months till the raise comes through” (, 1506).
Nora at this point in the play is nothing more than a child, careless in her action and not thinking ahead of possible consequences. Nora sees nothing wrong in spending big on Christmas. Granted this is a righteous cause, since the holidays are about giving to others, but still a parent should know the limit of happiness they should bring.
At this point Torvald begins to act as “society” and unknowingly begins to use condescending terms towards Nora. “Are you scatterbrains off again?” (1506), “my dear little Nora.” (1507), (Youre an odd little one” (1507). Torvald sees nothing wrong in these little pet names he gives Nora. He is absolutely right there is nothing wrong with pet names. Unfortunately when the pet names are also a part of the larger scheme that woman are inferior, only then do they become evil and no longer childish. “Yes, very-that is if you actually hung onto money I give you, and you actually used it to buy yourself something.” (1507).
Later in Act I, her friend Mrs. Linde visits Nora. Even in their conversation Mrs. Linde comments on Noras childish behavior. “Well my heavens – a little needlework and such Nora, youre just a child.” (1511). Nora quickly defends herself, in some sense to regain her standing within her own ranks. “Ive also got something to be proud and happy for. Im the one who saved Torvalds life.” (1511). By doing this Nora is secretly undermining society and providing for her husband. In contrast to society beliefs at the time, shouldnt a wife provide for her husband in his sickness? Thus creating an interesting paradox passed upon wedding vows. Apparently not or Nora would have confided in Torvald sooner. “Mrs. Linde: And youve never confided” (1512).
Towards the end of Act I, Krogstad enters. Krogstad is the man whom Nora borrowed the 4,000 crowns to finance the trip to southern Italy. Nora continues to act as a child. “Shall we play? What shall we play? Hide and seek?” (1577). Krogstad asks a favor of Nora. “Would you please make sure that I keep my subordinate position in the bank?” (1518) By doing this Krogstad tries to utilize the famine influence that women who are married to men of power often have, yet another role society demands of women. Krogstad, as a typical male of the time assumes she has no head for business. Listen Mrs. Helmer youve either got a very bad memory, or else no head for business.” (1519)
Once Krogstad leaves we notice a definite change in Nora. Noras children ask her to play with them and she replies; “No not now.” (1521) Nora begins to talk to herself. “Ill do anything to please you, Torvald. Ill sing for you, dance for you-” (1521) this is the beginning of the unraveling of Nora. Her world as she knows it no longer exists.
At the very end of Act I, Torvald and Nora are talking. Torvald comments about Krogstad’s criminal act. “Helmer: Forgery. Do you have any Helmer: Plenty of men have redeemed” (1522) Torvald talks about forgery the crime, with which his wife is quilty of, since she forged her fathers signature on the agreement between herself and Krogstad. Torvald continues on to say, “Im not so heartless that Id condemn a man catorgorically for one mistake” (1522) Torvald literally says that he is capable of forgiving a man, a complete stranger, for the act, but he still wont forgive his one wife?
Act I ends with Torvald again showing up the 19th century stereotype of women. “Almost everyone who goes bad early in life has a mother whos a chronic liar.” (1523) Ironic and interesting, because there is no basis for this assumption and unknowingly Torvald is condemning both his wife and his children.
Act II opens with Nora unraveled some more. “Someones coming! No theres no oneWhy I have three small children” (1523) She is becoming more and more manic in her action. The anticipation of something evil being committed by Krogstad is too much for her.
Again Mrs. Linde comes to visit and condemns her again of acting like a child. “in many ways you are still a child” (1525)
Nora continues her barrage on Torvald to keep Krogstad. This time she is more aggressive and panicky. “If your little squirrel begged you” (1526) Torvald demands obedience in the bank and is afraid if he shows favoritism towards Krogstad there will be decision against him there. “And I hear hes quite efficientmy place in the bank unbearable.” (1527) Nora questions Torvalds authority on the subject and he becomes outraged, acting like a typical 19th century male. “Nora: Because these are such.” (1528) By doing this she has seriously undermined her husband, a big social taboo. He immediately snaps back with a sarcastic; “There, now little Miss. Willful” (1528) The sarcasm of Torvald rips off the page.
Later we see how desperate Nora is. “Nora: And what if I asked you now for-? No-Nora: I mean – for an exceptionally big favor-” (1530) Nora attempts to ask Dr. Rank for the remainder of the money to pay back Krogstad. Previously Nora would never of attempted such a shear act of desperation. Again showing the transformation of Nora into a desperate woman.
Krogstad later returns and both he and Nora argue about the money. Krogstad asks what she has thought about doing. “Krogstad: So if youve been thinking.Nora: I was thinking of that? (1533) In this exchange of dialogue Nora truly does acts as a child instead of as an adult. She thinks of running away from her problems instead of facing them, a classic example of childishness.
Once both Torvald and Nora return home after the masquerade, Torvald reads the 1st letter that was written by Krogstad explaining the events between both him and Nora. All of the social stereotypes and beliefs of society towards women are spilled forth by Torvald in this scene. Prior to Torvalds reading of the mail, he refers to Nora as: “young beauty” (1542), “songbird” (1544), and “my darling wife” (1544). Right before Torvald returns, Nora braces herself for his verbal onslaught. “Never see him again. Never, never” (1545) At this point Nora is almost finished her transformation from child to new age women.
Torvald returns in an outrage. “Nora: It is true. Ive lovedHelmer: Ah, none of your slippery tricks” (1545) Torvald is blinded by his madness and fails to see that she only took the loan out of love for him. Society fails to see the love and compassion that a sympathetic woman could have. “Now youve wrecked all my happinessand you repay me like this” (1545) “Ill be swept down miserably into the depths on account of a featherbrained woman.” (1545) Both of these quotes show how Torvald is totally disregarding the fact that this women is not only his wife, but his “songbird” (1544).
Later another letter arrives from Krogstad explaining how the debt is off. “Helmer: Nora! Nora! Wait-betterHelmer: You too of course.” (1546) Again Torvald is interested in his own salvation, completely forgetting about his wife. Torvald attempts to reconcile with Nora, but to no avail. Nora has graduated from little girl to a feminist power. Nora realizes; “You never loved me. Youve thought it fun to be in love with me thats all.” (1547) Nora decides to leave Torvald and her children, because nothing is hers. According to society (Torvald) its all the mans. Torvald brings up her wedding vows and her responsibilities to him and to her family. “So youll run out like this on your most sacred vows” (1548) Nora recalls that her self worth is more important. “I believe that, before else I am a human being, no less than you” (1549)
In Noras transformation from loving housewife to a women who sees the truth in her relationship, Ibsen managed to awaken or give strength to the feminist movement.