A Doll's House highlights diverse experiences of the Norwegian married women. The context of the play is established at a period when Norway was characterized by male domination, and women lacked sufficient support and opportunities for self-fulfilment. The play went on to create significant sensations and an outrage of contention from the society and the media. In this play, the central personality Nora Helmer, and her character in the act fully illustrate not only her beliefs but also weaknesses and strengths. As such, this paper highlights Nora’s character traits and how they represent these aspects.
At the beginning of the play, Nora appears to be content with her marriage and home life. She seems to accept her place, roles, duties, and expectations in the family. In fact, when Torvald calls her petty names such as “little squirrel,” “little lark” and so on, she does not become offended and appears to enjoy the teasing (1.5-1.16). These names coupled with her response “…as you like Torvald” when discussing the issue of borrowing and debts outline one of her fundamental weaknesses of being subject to her husband’s wishes (Ibsen 4; Act 1). It also shows that she has accepted her submissive role including the fact that Torvald is always right and he can say whatever he wants. Looking closely at the conversation between Nora and Torvald, Nora’s weakness for money comes into play. Particularly, she tries to obtain more money from her husband when she asks for money as a present. She says that “you might give me money, Torvald …then I can buy myself something with it later” (Ibsen 6; Act 1).
Further, into the play, it is evident that the initial impression that Nora is a spendthrift dwindles. The first moments indicate her giving a large tip to a porter, the presence of Christmas presents and her thinking regarding borrowing money. Nova mentions to her husband that “I shouldn’t care whether I was in debt or not,” a statement that portrays her lack of understanding in financial matters (Ibsen 7; Act 1). In summary, the first act focuses on presenting Nora Helmer as a happily married woman whose character has weaknesses including love for money, submissiveness and poor understanding of commercial use. However, one strength that comes out at this part is her ability to accept her position and behaves well despite being in a male-dominated environment. She conducts her activities as required, responds to her husband politely and respectfully. For instance, she mentions that “I shouldn’t think of doing what you disapprove” (Ibsen 8; Act 1).
Her strengths begin to showcase as the play continues. Particularly, her perceived weakness concerning financial aspects become overshadowed by her actions which now show that she is indeed aware of business details. Particularly, Nora takes a loan in an attempt to help improve her husband’s health. The description of how she took the risk to borrow money for the sake of Torvald’s well-being shows not only her love for her family but also courage. Doctors had told her that, “We prescribe a yearlong holiday... but don't tell the patient that the holiday is a holiday. Yeah, we don't know how you'll do that either. So long, sucker.” Nora informs her friend Mrs. Linden that “We did …we had to go. Oh, it was a delicious journey! And it saved Torvald's life. But it cost a frightful lot of money” (Ibsen 14; Act 1). Her daring move of convincing her husband to go on a year-long vacation paid off as they came back healthy, all because of the brave act.
However, of all her strengths, the most prominent one is her ability to understand money matters and support herself and her family. Contrary to the first impression at the beginning of the play, it comes to light that Nora has also indulged in money-making activities to sustain her family. Notably, she tells Mrs. Linden that, “we have both had to work.” She adds that she did “light fancy work; crochet, and embroidery, and things of that sort, and other work too” (Ibsen 13; Act 1). Her intelligence becomes fully explicated in this part of the play, and the presence of intelligence and capacity to do other things beyond the ordinary housewife chores become apparent. Furthermore, the fact that she took it in her interest to work secretly in an attempt to clear her debts. Portray not only her high ambitions but also determination to the extent of breaking the law.
At some point during in the play, one of the prominent characters by the name Krogstad begins blackmailing Nora, and this is the event that turns her long-held beliefs and behavior towards a new one. One of her weaknesses eventually transforms her towards independence. All along, Nora secretively obtains a loan behind her husband’s back. All the time pretending to be a faithful wife. Upon this realization, Torvald reacts angrily and confirms her pretense by saying that, “Oh, what an awful awakening! During all these eight years-she who was my pride and my joy-a hypocrite, a liar-worse, worse-a criminal” (Ibsen 107; Act 3). The reaction from her husband triggers an awakening in her that she has been living an unfulfilled life with unappreciated capabilities. Her experience shifted her beliefs and when Torvald says that “Before all else, you are a wife and a mother, she “blatantly replies: “That I no longer believe” (Ibsen 117; Act 3). Her independence becomes illuminated, and she quips that “I have been performing tricks for you, Torvald” to express her pretentious life, to lie and to put on a show just to please him and adhere to the society’s expectations (Ibsen 114; Act 3). She tells her husband, "Our home has been nothing but a playroom. I have been your doll-wife, just as at home I was papa's doll-child" (3.286). Her need for independence fuels her rebellion, and Nora eventually walks out on her husband.
What makes Nora interesting and compelling is her slow but sure metamorphosis from a timid, dutiful, respectful and obedient “doll” housewife to a fully-fledged independent woman. The process of her transformation slowly progresses through her interactions with others like Mrs. Linden, her family-life and also the society’s expectation of her. What makes this character even more fascinating is the first impression that she is and will remain dutiful and submissive to her husband to the end. However, the change of events and her awakening change everything, and it is remarkable to observe this evolution. Additionally, her journey towards independence is something that relates to real events in the society at the time. Her story exudes both convincing and enthralling happenings that are thought provoking concerning the plight of women before and how they moved towards self-sustenance.