The Perception of Nora in A Doll's House
In the Victorian age many woman were thought of as mere objects. Most
woman has no real social status and were not allowed to express themselves
freely. A Doll's House, a play by Henrik Ibsen, has brought controversy to the
conclusion in which Nora leaves her family. Nora perceived in many different
ways is the catalyst that forces Nora to leave her family. Many people had
found it difficult to understand how Nora could dessert her husband and children.
In the Victorian Age it was not only unheard of to walk out on your loved ones
but unethical as well. There are many incidents that inch by inch helps Nora
come to the conclusion that she must leave her home and family. As Nora states "
My first duty is to myself" (Ibsen 68 ). Her husband, Torvald, treats Nora more
as a possession then an equal partner. He uses, manipulates and molds her to
fit perfectly into his facade. Krogstad, a morally diseased man who works for
Torvald, also uses Nora to gain a higher position at work. He believes herto be
an easy target for blackmail. Nora's best childhood friend, Christine Linde,
helps her realize that a woman can think, act and live independently for herself.
As Nora realizes that she must find her true self, the ways in which Krogstad,
Christine and Torvald perceive her dramatically change.
Christine Linde, a woman who has had to live independently since her
husband died, suddenly comes back to visit Nora and finds Nora has not changed
from her childish ways in high school. Nora for an instant does not recognize
her old friend because of the time that has passed since the last time she saw
her. Christine tells Nora of her husband's passing and how he did not leave her
any money or "even any sorrow or grief to live upon" (Ibsen 6). She tells Nora
how she had to marry him because of her ailing mother and two younger brothers.
She needed someone who could take care of her and her family financially. Now
she is on her own and looking for a job to support herself. Nora expresses her
sympathies and promptly brags about Torvald's promotion at the bank. She is so
excited at the importance of his job and more importantly the money that will
begin to start pouring in. Nora thinks it will be wonderful not having to worry
about money and being able to shop at any time for anything. "Nora, Nora,
haven't you learnt any sense yet? In our school days you were a great
spendthrift" (Ibsen 8). Christine tries to point out to Nora that there are
more important things in life to worry about besides money. "Christine, a woman
who has been forced to live in a hard world starts out patronizing Nora" (Rogers
83). She believes Nora is living in a dream world, one that nothing can go
wrong, instead of living in the real world where everything is not always so
perfect. Christine understands that Nora has led a sheltered life for she was
always taken care of, first by her husband and then by Torvald. Nora has never
had her freedom like Christine; she always depended upon someone else.
Christine on the other hand never really had life easy. "She had to marry a man
she did not love for the sake of money - in other words she too had her doll
house" (Hornby 99). For most of her life, Christine was responsible for someone.
She never had the luxury of depending upon anyone and therefore became more
cynical of the world.
As Christine gets better acquainted with Nora she begins to realize that
Nora is not what she seems; Instead her true inner feelings and thoughts are
smothered by Torvald's domineering views. When Nora tells Christine about the
money she borrowed, Christine does not understand because a woman is not allowed
by law to borrow money. Nora answers "humming and smiling with an air of
mystery, Couldn't I? Why not?" (Ibsen 12). Christine is shocked at this
information and can not believe that Nora would defy her husband. "Christine
too is inclined to treat Nora as a kitten that has never known trouble. Not
unnaturally Nora is piqued into revealing that she is not such a child after all.
Seven years ago she saved her husbands life by borrowing money" (Ibsen and
Strindberg 139). "You are just like the others. They all think that I am
incapable of anything really serious" is Nora's response to Christine's comment
(Ibsen 11). Nora is sick and tired of everyone treating her as though she is
incompetent. She wants them all to realize that she is a woman who is more than
Torvald's "little squirrel" to manipulate (Ibsen 5).
When the doctors tell her that Torvald will die if he does not live in the
south; she first tries to work her wiles on him and uses tears and begs but he
will not go. She knows she must save him at any cost. Nora did what she
thought the only solution was; she borrowed the money and told Torvald that it
was a present from her father. Nora's borrowing gave her a sense of worth. It
made her feel like a man and made her feel more powerful. Christine's first
thoughts of Nora's forgery change as she realizes that Nora did it out of love
and not deceit. Christine begins to understand more and more that Nora is
forced into a role that Torvald wants filled but not one that Nora wants to play.
She on the other hand is waiting for Torvald to love her as she loves him. She
wants him to sacrifice his reputation to prove his love for her is as great as
hers for him. Christine ends up interfering in their relationship by holding
Krogstad from retrieving the letter because she believes the truth must come out
in order for them to save their marriage.
Krogstad is a man who is treated and treats with contempt. He is Torvald's
employee at the bank who is about to loose his position for lack of morals.
Torvald will fire him not because he forged someone's name on a bond but because
he did not take his punishment instead he "got himself out of it by a cunning
trick, and that is why he has gone under altogether" (Ibsen 27). Krogstad is
angry and vows revenge so he goes to Nora, whom he has been lending money, to
reveal that he has discovered Nora's own forgery. He hopes to use this against
her to retain his position at the bank. He thinks Nora will be an easy target as
he says "Oh you can't frighten me. A fine, spoilt lady like you" (Ibsen 43).
He does not believe Nora will display the courage to defy him. This information
is important to Krogstad because he now wants to rehabilitate himself. He needs
Torvald to give him a higher position in the bank so that people will respect
him. Respectability is important because he is tired of being depicted as a
villain. The irony is that he wants to become a better person but to do this he
will blackmail Nora and destroy a marriage without feeling any guilt. Instead
of rehabilitating himself he is becoming more and more villainous.
Thinking that Nora could use her influence on her husband he tells her to
make sure that he is able to keep his job. Nora knows this is impossible
because her husband will never listen to her pleas for Krogstad's sake. He
scares her with threats that he will tell Torvald about the forgery. "Nora
condemns Krogstad's behavior as shameful, brutal, and nasty. He retaliates by
making her look in the mirror. He manipulates her into thinking that her crime
was just as bad as his" (Durbach 79). A disagreeing Nora naively tells him that
the law will see that her crime was different because it was out of love whereas
his was out of greed. "Nora would rather die then tarnish Torvald's honor. She
would rather die then put him to the test" and that is why she tells Krogstad
she will do anything for him in exchange that he keep her secret (Hornby 101).
Nora pleads with him to take money instead but Krogstad wants more than money
instead of his position at the bank. He instead has decided that he will use
Nora to influence Torvald to promote him to second-in-command who actually runs
the bank. When he does not get his promotion but rather a dismissal, out of
anger and revenge sends a letter to Torvald explaining Nora's forgery and lies.
Krogstad's turning point comes when his old flame, Christine, comes to him
to reconciliate. She wants someone to love and someone to take care of and
Krogstad fits the description. She explains that she had to jilt him not
because she did not love him but to marry someone with enough money to support
her family. Krogstad confesses that her rejection was the beginning of his
downfall. Krogstad is hesitant at first to trust her love but Christine's
suave words about "two shipwrecked people joining forces having a better chance
than each on their own" and the fact that she could live with him even knowing
his past history made up his mind to trust her love (Ibsen 56). When Christine
pledges her love to Krogstad, that love gives him the strength to turn over a
new leaf over and really want to rehabilitate himself. Christine changes
Krogstad because she was the only one who has ever loved and cared for him. Due
to this quickly, blossoming love, Krogstad realizes that the most important
things in life are not money and respectability but rather love and trust. This
realization helps him to understand that blackmailing Nora was wrong. He wants
to relieve Nora's fear and make everything right in their marriage. Christine
who has seen Nora's struggle tells Krogstad that the letter must be read. She
believes that the truth must come out so they can have a complete understanding
Nora and Torvald's marriage seems like the perfect marriage to everyone
including Nora and Torvald. What no one saw is the facade Torvald is living in
including Nora. Torvald had just been made manager of the bank, a position that
holds prestige and includes a bigger salary. Now that he is in the spotlight he
wanted a perfect home life. He believes that Nora should not work but stay home
and raise the children. He also believes that a wife should obey her husband
and not argue with his decisions. In effect he transfers Nora into his own
poppet to maneuver. "Once married, the women find they have a clearly defined
and essentially subordinate role in relation to their men, whose property they
legally and socially become" (Thomas 177).
Calling Nora names such as "little skylark" and "spendthrift" indicate that
Torvald sees Nora on a level below him (Ibsen 6). To him Nora is not equal to
him for she is a woman and does not have the intelligence or competence to
think as well as a man. "When Nora wants something from him, she flatters and
manipulates instead of asking directly, as an equal. Concealing her competence
and strength, Nora makes every effort to appear the twittering lark Torvald
believes and wants her to be" (Rogers). Torvald treats Nora like a child
because that is how he manipulates her into thinking that she is an inferior
creature who needs a strong man to lean on. She tries very hard to please her
husband because that is all she knows how to do.. "She can wheedle and cajole
but can never speak to him frankly and has therefore had to take a number of
serious decisions on her past life in secret and entirely on her own" (Thomas 2).
When Torvald talks to Nora he talks about silly things; he never converses
about anything serious because he thinks she lacks the intelligence. Nora
amuses Torvald when she brings up scientific investigations with Dr. Rank. He
laughs and says "Just listen- little Nora talking about scientific
investigations!" (Ibsen 56)
Nora real purpose to Torvald is that of a "doll-wife". Torvald needs Nora
to act every inch the lady. He wants everyone to be jealous of his wife and
home life. He wants to control her every action and thought. "Nora herself is
trying to keep from being reduced. She wants to curse like a man, sign loans,
have male friends, and enjoy some personal power, not because she wants to be a
man but because she wants to express herself more than society allows" (Deer 89).
Torvald has Nora perfect the Tarantella before the ball because he wants her to
leave a spellbinding effect on everyone at the dance. His wish is for everyone
to admire her beauty and perfection and in effect be jealous of him. After the
dance he whisks her away suddenly because as he states "Do you think I was going
too let her remain there after that, and spoil the effect?" (Ibsen 53) Torvald
did not really know Nora or even really care to know her, all her needed and
wanted was someone to be molded into a perfect doll.
As Nora secret is revealed, Torvald is angered at her lies and deception to
him. He does not give her time to explain but merely converts her from being
his little skylark to criminal and hypocrite.
When he finally learns of Nora's forged note, he acts true to form.
This sort of thing Nora expected. She accepts it calmly and is even resigned to
committing suicide by jumping into the river. But almost immediately
Helmer's facade crumbles. It turns out that he is more interested with his
own career than with Nora's moral character (Hornby 95). As Nora tries to
explain that she did it for love, Torvald is quickly thinking up a plan on
how to save his reputation. He decides that Nora may stay in the house but
may not raise the children. He thinks her lies and deception will poison the
children. "Nora discovers how limited her romantic role-playing has been, how
it was not only imposed on her by society, but willingly accepted by her" (Deer
2). She begins to realize that she must find out who she really is before she
can be a wife and mother.
Just as soon as Torvald begins to calm down, he receives the returned bond
from Krogstad. He is ecstatic and yells "I am saved!" (Ibsen 67). Suddenly
everything in Torvald's eyes is alright again. To him they can go back to the
way their marriage was before. He forgives Nora and tells her that he now
understands that she did it out of love for him. Nora on the other hand has
finally come to the end of her straw. To her "Torvald proved to be not a
courtly hero, but a frightened and mean-spirited little man who is more worried
about his reputation than his wife" (Thomas 2). When Torvald reveals the note,
Nora wanted him to take the blame on himself and protect her to prove his love
"Torvald's rejection of Nora when he read Krogstad's first letter
closes off their relationship. In effect he dismissed her from
the human race, since he denies her the only roles permitted her
those of wife and mother, thus ironically pushing her toward
finding new ways to relate to society. When moments he later
receives Krogstad's second letter and restores her to her
status as delicate possession she recognizes the he is once again
trying to cut off her change to grow and become involved in the
world (Hornby 100).
In effect Torvald alienates Nora into leaving her home and her family.
The ways in which Torvald, Christine and Krogstad perceive her all had a
direct effect on Nora's leaving Torvald. Christine at first thought Nora to be
childish but then realizes it was just an act she played to fit in Torvald's
facade. She learns that even though Nora always had someone to take care of her
she has had to struggle internally with who she really is and how she acts.
Krogstad along with Torvald both use and manipulate Nora for their own
advantages. Both cared nothing about her thoughts or feelings. Throughout the
play Nora begins to realize that she no longer wants to play Torvald's role
anymore. Torvald's failure to take the blame on himself is when Nora finally
realizes she must find herself because she can not continue to live in the
facade world that Torvald put her in.
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