Nora is a captivating character in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. She swings between extremes: she is either very happy or immensely depressed, prosperous or completely desperate, wise or naive, impotent or purposeful. You can understand this range in Nora, because she staggers between the person she pretends to be and the one she someday hopes to become. Throughout the play, Nora is portrayed as subordinate to her male counterpart, Torvald. As most other men during this time, Torvald believed that women were not capable of making difficult decisions, or thinking for themselves.
As the play progresses, Nora faces a life changing decision to abandon her duty as a wife and mother to find her own individuality. Even though Torvald is responsible for partial deterioration in their marriage, it is Nora’s feministic beliefs, passion for life, thoughtlessness, and spontaneity that stimulate her ultimate plan to break away and shatter all that remained pleasant in Torvald’s “perfect little dollhouse”. Nora, the protagonist, has been treated as a “play thing” by her father and then her husband, Torvald. She is thought to be fragile and incapable of resolving any serious problems.
The pet names like “lark”, “squirrel”, and “songbird” (pg. 27) further diminish her status. He also neglected to give significance to her job as a homemaker. Yet her compassion and intelligence must be masked by her childish and supplicating behavior due to the expectations of her society. At the beginning of the play, Nora is still a child in many ways, listening at doors and guiltily eating forbidden sweets (macaroons) behind her husband’s back. She has gone straight from her father’s house to her husband’s, bringing along her nursemaid to emphasize the fact that she’s never been on her own. She’s also never gained a sense of self.
She’s always accepted her father’s and her husband’s opinions. And she’s aware that Torvald would have no use for a wife who was his equal. So she would act like a child and manipulate Torvald by pouting or by performing for him. She uses her own being as a lure for the things she wants in life. Her drive to reach her goals are far more powerful than her desire to care for the family, and life, that she created. When her secret is revealed, the reality of her status in their marriage awakens her.
Although she may suspect that Torvald is a weak, petty man, she clings to the illusion that he’s strong, that he’ll “advise and protect her” (pg. ) But at the moment of truth, he abandons her out of disgust over her ablilty to keep something that important from him for so long. You can hear his resentment towards Nora when he exclaims,”you are ill, Nora” (pg. 63). She is shocked into reality and sees what a masquerade their relationship has been. She becomes aware that her father and her husband have seen her as a doll to be played with, a figure without opinion or will of her own. She also realizes that she is treating her children the same way. Her whole life has been based on illusion rather than reality.
The believability of the play hinges on your accepting Nora’s sudden self-awareness. Perceiving the situation differs as she might feel that she has been a child so long she couldn’t possibly grow up that quickly. Or she might feel that she is already quite wise without realizing it, and that what happens is credible. A common reaction would be one of sadness for Torvald’s loss. He’s a straight-laced, proper man, who has worked his whole life to support her and their family. At first, he seems genuinely in love with Nora, even if he does tend to nag and preach a bit.
But as the play progresses, you discover more disturbing parts of his character. Like anyone who doubts his own power, Torvald tries to frequently prove it. He keeps firm authority over who comes to his study and whom he converses with at work, and over everything affecting Nora’s life at all. He even holds the only key to their mailbox. As you can Imagine this is just another thing that drives Nora crazy, especially right before her secret about the loan is almost revealed. During the third act, you see Torvald’s need for dominance increase. His fantasies always have Nora in a submissive role.
He is happiest when treating her as a father would a child. This gives an incestuous tinge to their relationship, which Nora comes to realize and abhor at the end of the play. His every touch begins to make her nauseous and much resentment begins to form. She hates the middle-class mold her family has become and yearns for a better life, and better love. She was sick of living in a fantasy world filled with lies, false hopes, and the scandalous consumption of her most favorite sweet. He became odious enough at the end for her to break all ties and leave immediately upon discovering his true self.
She loved him in her own sense. She loved him for loving her. But she didn’t love her life and did the only thing she felt she could to change it. Torvald also represents a “type” of thought and behavior that contrasts with Nora in several effective ways. He represents middle-class society and its rules, while Nora represents the original and peculiar. He stands for the world of men and “logical male thinking,” while Nora’s thinking is more intuitive and sensitive. They ultimately appeared to be too different and conflicting to share the same life.
For example, Nora can’t really see how it is wrong to forge a name in order to save a life, but Torvald would rather die than break the law or borrow money. This difference in thinking is what traps Nora. It is obvious that Nora’s duty to know herself is more important than her female, wife and mother role in life. In the end, Torvald was defeated by Nora’s need to be free and away from all her aggravations. Certainly at the play’s start, Torvald appears to be in command, contrasting Nora’s weakness. But by the end of Act Three their roles have been reversed: he is the weak one, begging for another chance, and Nora has found strength.
This notion suggested that ideas of male supremacy and middle-class respectability were changing. More female were feeling liberated enough to escape their boundaries and move on to more fulfilling lives. Your greatest duty is to understand yourself. At the beginning of the play, Nora doesn’t realize she has a self. She’s playing a role. The purpose of her life is to please Torvald or her father, and to raise her children. But by the end of Act Three their roles have been reversed: he is the weak one, begging for another chance, and Nora has found strength.
I have it in me to become another man” (pg. 70), he exclaims as he pleads for another chance. She replies with thoughtlessness to anyone’s feelings but her own by telling him that neither he nor their children were allowed to write to her. By the end of the play, she discovers that her “most sacred duty”(pg. 68), is to herself. She leaves to find out who she is and how she can become gratified with her life. The sound of the door shutting as Nora leaves Torvald (pg. 72) exemplifies the end of her role as his beloved “doll” wife.