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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

between them.

 

     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

for her.

 

          "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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