Role play seems to be a great theme in Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. The main characters in this play continuously pretend to be someone who others would like them to be, instead of being their true selves. One character that is distinctly different from most whose role is to the point where it seems she lives two different lives is Nora. As first introduced, Nora is Torvald’s loving and childish wife, and unknowingly, a strong, self-sufficient woman. Nora has achieved huge leaps as a character to transform throughout the play and shows just how independent she is. Despite any bump in the road or criticism, Nora doesn’t let anything stop her in the play. Through the plays progression, Nora’s persona alternates from that of the everyday playful and childish trophy wife seen by Torvald and friends, to that of an empowering, willful woman.
Nora is first introduced to the play as obedient, money-loving,and childish. In act one, Nora seems to only want money from her Torvald her husband, who is a banker. The first confrontation with Torvald was after showing him what she had just bought the kids for christmas presents. Immediately after she doesn’t hold herself back in asking for money. Even when asked what she would like for Christmas, she replied money. It is impressive how Torvald addresses Nora as she was just a little girl, or even his pet, “my little lark mustn’t droop her wings like that. What? Is my squirrel in the sulks” (Ibsen 975)? It seems as if he is talking to a little child. Torvald acts as if he was Nora’s money, which creates the interchange between the two seem almost of a grown grandparent giving money to his precious young grandchild. All of which makes Nora seem more like a prized belonging rather than an equal spouse in marriage. This is the way that Ibsen first introduces Nora to the audience, as a simple minded, obedient trophy-wife. Even though she is a mother and a wife, Nora still acts like a little child whenever Torvald is around. Little does the audience know, though, this is the role Nora plays in the household for most of the story. As the play progresses, the audience comes to learn that due to a sickness Torvald had in the past, Nora in order to pay for a hospital trip needed to save Torvald’s life was forced to take a loan from a rich man known as Mr. Krogstad. There is a little delicacy now, Nora not only got this loan behind Torvald’s back , but in the legal outgrowth of obtaining it, she was forced, due to the circumstances, to forge a signature so that she could get the money in time to save Torvald’s life. It is impressive that Nora was able to get the loan by herself, as Nora’s friend, Mrs. Linden, declares, “a wife can’t borrow without her husband’s consent” (Ibsen 984). This implies that Nora is not completely a money loving friend who just follows every instruction given to her by her husband, but she is a willing and determined individual who does what is needed in the best interest of her loved ones.
The plot becomes increasingly interesting when the audience is pointed out that now Krogstad is one of the employees of Torvald, and Torvald has planned on firing Krogstad. Krogstad knowing now of the forgery, has threatened he is going to blackmail Nora on the condition that if she doesn’t persuade Torvald to not fire him, he would tell Torvald and everyone else that she forged her husband’s signature. In which case it would have legal consequences for Nora. Yet most significant to Nora, knowing Torvald’s abhorrence towards dishonesty and debt is her fear of ruining her family’s image. The announcement of the secret, to the audience completely changes the impression of who Nora truly is, or at least it leaves the audience in a state of momentary confusion without knowing how to label Nora. This secret exposes the strength of her role to carry a responsibility she shouldn’t have had to carry on her own in the first place. Not only is she paying back for a debt that shouldn’t be hers, but she has been paying back by preserving half of the money that she has been getting for her personal wants and by copying books. It is admirable what is now known of Nora. She has spent a great deal of her life paying back a debt by working jobs on the side without letting others know of the difficulties she has had. Especially the fact that the money she got she didn’t use for clothes or household goods, the money was used to save her husband when he was sick. Some may say it is cowardly of her to hide this truth from her husband, but is it really? The fact that she has chosen to face this debt by herself without the help of anyone is incredibly mind-blowing. Imagine a 1700’s woman with no stable income, two children, and having everyone constantly looking down at you. Instead of asking for help to pay back the debt and inform Torvald it was money used on him and for him, she takes the issue on the hard way by choosing to start working what little she can by earning whatever she can. This displays courage, determination, and will. All admirable traits of an integrous character.
Finally, at the moment when Torvald finds out about the debt and Nora’s forgery, and he erupts with madness at Nora for what she has done. It is then when Nora finally seems to come to an understanding of what the life she has lived and what is to be done with his reaction. The only reaction from Tolvald that Nora wanted was for him “that no matter what happens her husband will come to her rescue”(“Nora’s Identity”). She now understands that she hasn’t been herself throughout her entire marriage with Torvald. As she tries defends her position on her actions she states, “When I look back…I’ve supported myself by performing tricks for you, Torvald. But that’s the way you wanted it” (Ibsen 1030). It is clear to her now that she has been nothing more than a puppet of amusement to her husband as he would have her dance for him and such other nonsense. And Torvald, as much as he might have critiqued her in the end for her childish behavior, Nora points out that it is for performing those tricks he loved her. He loved the fact that she would do anything for him, even the very childish and outrageous tricks. She is tired of being someone she is not and taking actions such as lying to Torvald, “when he suspects them she lies” (Rosenberg 895), was just the beginning. Nora’s ultimate decision to get out of the house for good, she explains by asserting that she must learn about herself, that she “shall try to learn. I must make up my mind which is right” (Ibsen 1031). Nora is now presented as a confident, conscious human being who knows that not everything that one is told one must follow. She understands there are aspects of society and its conventional values that she might not agree with and might possibly be incorrect. Torvald then offers to teach her and she rejects him because she is conscious that she has to educate herself or at least away from him. Nora will not be able to learn about herself through someone else, it has to be her. She also points out that they never spoke of serious affairs, which could be the reason why she believes he isn’t capable to teach her. Along with the fact that he has been looking down on her since they’ve met.
In the end, Nora comes out as a strong willed, independent woman who knows what she wants. Nora is not only Ibsen’s vessel to display women’s strong character, but serves the purpose of displaying women as equal human beings . Nora also supports the fact that there might be some aspects of society which might be incorrect besides the perception that women are the less intelligent gender. It was such a different way of life back then and this was logical reasoning for any person. All of these are shown with Nora’s self-will of a closed book spirit, or secretive life. On the outside she appears as a beautiful, fun toy to her husband, father, and even to her friend Mrs. Linden, but it is only when they find out about her secret life when they start to appreciate her for more than a beautiful girl that she is. That second life of hers allows Nora to show that she can handle herself, that she can withstand enormous amounts of pressure, and that she is capable to achieve things when she is determined. When her secret got out and Torvald became upset and she then made up her mind, this was the point where she could finally be who she really is. She can finally teach herself about who she really is. It is this secret life that eventually steers her to finally being freed from that doll house, as she calls it, and ultimately allows her to part ways without being afraid to work at and learn about herself and society.