The central character in A Doll’s House, written by Ibsen, is Nora. She lives with her husband and her three children. She happened to take a loan with the forged signature of her father, which was kept very secret from her husband. With this forgery as the central plot, Ibsen exposes the hollowness of her marital life with Torvald Helmer. Nora gradually changes her attitudes as a woman and as a wife, only to emerge at the end of the play as a liberated woman. A character analysis of Nora, in order to bring out the various aspects of the changes she undergoes and their impact on her life, is the focus of this paper. In short, Nora is seen in this paper as a representative of femininity.
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At the beginning of the play, when Helmer calls her “lark”, “squirrel” and “songbird” (Ibsen), one gets the impression that Nora and Torvald form an ideal couple. But, slowly, Nora’s inner struggles as a woman get revealed as she talks to more characters like Mrs. Linde, Krogstad, and Dr. Rank. Only at the end of the play, she speaks out the depth of her suffocation with her gentle-looking husband. When she tells her husband “You don’t understand me, I have never understood you either. You never loved me” (Ibsen, Act. 111), the readers/spectators can easily guess how bitterly the long eight years must have passed between Nora and Helmer. Nora, at last, educates herself to be an independent woman. She now realizes that she was simply transferred from her Papa’s hands to her husband’s: “I have been a doll-wife” (Act 111). As the curtain falls, the sound of a door shutting on them can be heard.
Nora was motivated to do a serious fraud, forging her father’s signature for a bank loan, to save her husband’s health. This motivation came from her deep sense of commitment to her husband. He was so ill that the doctor had advised him to move away for a while. Nora narrates that “he had to make money every way he could, and he worked early and late; but he couldn’t stand it and fell dreadfully ill, and the doctors said it was necessary for him to go south” (Act 1). So, they planned to visit Italy for which she needed money. To serve, to make sacrifices for one’s husband, was the established way of being true to oneself as a woman during the days of Ibsen. Her plan was to borrow money and repay it by working hard. She had to keep it a secret from her husband in order to uphold male pride. Nora tells Linde, “Papa didn’t give us a shilling. It was I who procured the money” (Act, 1). A husband could not think of his wife raising money for his need: “a wife cannot borrow without her husband’s consent” (Act, 1). The playwright, therefore, is striking at the root of hypocrisy in family life, particularly found prevailing among men. Nora says, “how painful and humiliating it would be for Torvald, with his manly independence, to know that he owed me anything! It would upset our mutual relations altogether; our beautiful happy home” (Act,1). To some extent, Nora’s plans were effective, as she could get her husband’s health back. However, before she could repay the loan, Krogstad, who was instrumental in helping her to get the loan, comes and spoils everything. She realizes her miscalculations when he points out the consequences “if I produce this paper in court” (Act,1).
The central event in the play, Nora’s forgery and the discovery of it leads to changes in her character. This exposure is the cause of some frank discussion between her and her friend Linde, and later on with her husband, Torvald. It is Linde who insists that the letter written by Krogstad to Helmer containing the exposure of the forgery should not be kept away from Helmer. She tells Nora that Helmer should read it so that an end to the deception in the family will be made possible. She argues, “This unhappy secret must be disclosed; they must have a complete understanding between them, which is impossible with all this concealment and falsehood going on (Act,111).In a way, Linde is Nora’s guide and guru. She has, unlike Nora, seen suffering in life. Linde also understands that Nora needs to be relieved from her imprisoned life. At last, the secret is out and Nora is no more the same old “squirrel” to Helmer. He despises her. Nora realizes that her miscalculations started with the date she had put on the paper on which she forged her father’s signature. She also did not realize the true nature of Krogstad, who wants “to get into the Bank again, in a higher position. Your husband must make a place for me” (Act 11). The real miscalculation was her failure to understand her place in the family, as an equal to her husband.
The major scene in which Nora faces a serious crisis in her life is when Krogstad threatens her that he would disclose the secret to her husband. He asks her, “Have you forgotten that it is I who have the keeping of your reputation? (Act,11). He wants her to recommend his case to her husband, to get his job back in the bank. She knows that Helmer will never do it. However, the greatest moment of crisis is when Krogstad’s threat is in the letterbox. Nora delays the time by a long dance, which must have been the greatest period of rapid changes going on in her mind: “NORA dances more and more wildly “(Act, 11). She is torn between the conventional sense of devotion to her husband and the surging desire to free her from the perpetual male domination. Finally, she learns her place. She looks back and realizes what a slavish life she has been living. The significant revelation she experiences is that of her womanhood. The value of individuality and freedom is the sudden awareness that dawns upon her. She also puts Helmer in the right place he deserves. Nora declares: “There must be perfect freedom on both sides” (Act, 111).
One of the forces acting on the character, Nora, is money. It is a force behind the shaping of gender roles in society. Some prejudices acting behind the gender roles have taken firm positions in family life. They are responsible for the deceptive life which one is forced to live. A wife, according to Helmer, is only for beautifying his home, and for increasing his reputation. She should be an ornament to the house. In short, she is a “doll”. As a child, Nora was a doll to her father. Now she is the same as her husband. The surprise with which Helmer watches the new Nora can be seen in his words: “What a horrible awakening! All these eight years–she who was my joy and pride–a hypocrite, a liar–worse, worse–a criminal!” (Act,111). Ibsen attacks all these prejudices, deceptions, and appearances in family life. Linda’s role in changing Nora is remarkable. She takes a firm position even to Krogstad. The letter controls the story. He wanted to withdraw his letter, but Linde warns: “You cannot. Your letter is lying in the letter-box now” (Act 111).
The play, A Doll’s House, was written at a time when women lived a suppressed life. The social limitations did not permit a wife to “desert your home, your husband and your children” (Act, 11). Ibsen’s challenge to it through his characters, Nora and Linde, is tremendous. The courage with which she speaks out at the end must have inspired many suffering wives. Basically, Nora is a loving woman. The scenes are set in Nora’s living room. She is at the center of all events, though every other character is given as a contrast to Nora’s role. This play will continue to receive great reception as Ibsen has touched the very heart of the feminist problem, that of using a woman as a doll.
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Ibsen, Henrik. A Doll’s House. Web.