Character Analysis of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll House

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A character analysis of Ibsen’s, “A Doll House”, reveals one main challenge
facing Nora and women of today: men tend to misjudge women. Men assume that
women are innocent and weak, merely because they are female. Nora Helmer, whom
is considered childlike, is an example of women that live in a metaphorical “doll house”.
On the other hand, towards the end of the story, Nora exhibits the independence and
drive to be a real woman; this is another characteristic that many women display. Nora’s
metamorphosis is a clear-cut representation of how modern-day women gained the
freedom and rights they have today. In order to successfully dissect the character of
Nora Helmer, we must talk about the struggles of women during her time. According to
Elaine Fortin, the role of a wife in the 19th century was to “complement her husband,
reflecting credit on himself and herself” (Fortin). The author clearly captures this
concept by creating a character such as Nora. Her introduction, personality, motivation,
struggles, and ultimate lesson learned will be thoroughly examined.
Nora Helmer is introduced to the audience as the wife of banker, Torvald Helmer.
The play begins with her being concerned with hiding the Christmas tree from the
children, as indicated in this dialogue: “Hide the Christmas tree carefully, Helene. Make
sure the children don’t see it till it’s decorated this evening”(Ibsen 892). There is also a
slight indication of her financial status by her telling the Porter, “Here’s a krone. No,
keep the change” (Ibsen 892). She displays normal interactions that a well-to-do woman
of the 19th century. However, her vulnerability is evident in her interaction with Torvald in
reference to spending more money: “Pooh, we can borrow until then”(Ibsen, 892).
Emma Goldman describes Nora as “light-hearted and gay, apparently without depth.
Who, indeed, would expect depth of a doll, a squirrel, a song-bird” (Goldman). As we
examine Goldman’s comments, it is clear that the perception of Nora, differs from what
she really is. Perhaps this is the author’s method of making her a believable character.
Nora’s personality can be initially labeled as childlike or immature. Wade Bradford
describes her as “behaving[s] playfully, yet obediently in his presence, always
coaxing favors from him instead of communicating as equals”(Bradford). It is a
possibility that she might be using this as a coping mechanism to forget her past
transgressions. Another critic has the same opinion as Bradford and Goldman, by

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describing Nora as, “sensitive, sensible, and completely unaware of her own worth until
the last act of the play” (“A Doll’s House”). Several examples in the play, confirm the
critics’ comments. For example, her husband always refers to as “little skylark”, or “little
squirrel” (Ibsen 891-937) and she is content with his antics. A woman of today, would
most likely be offended at his comments. The fact that Nora accepts this type of
treatment, gives the impression that she either has low self esteem, or is ignoring it all
together.
The flipside of Nora’s personality indicates that she is more mature than we think.
The author introduces the reader to her dark past as seen in her conversation with Nils
Krogstad, points toward the fact that she forged her dead father’s name (Ibsen 912).
Marshall Chisholm describes her change as a departure from the housewife mindset,
and an emergence of an individual (Chisholm). Was this the real Nora making a guest
appearance? People tend to conform to their situation and environment. Although Nora
seemed ditsy, she may have been acting this way, to buy time, and pay off her debt. In
addition to becoming aware of Nora’s criminal activity, we also see a new woman
emerge. In her husband’s apparent melt down, as seen here, “You little fool, do you
know what you have done” (Ibsen 945). Chisholm accredits Nora’s transformation to her
husband’s behavior by saying “The realization for change is realized by Nora after her
husband snaps at her, and she comes to terms with the fact that he is the stigma in her
life (Chisholm). As the critic states, Nora seemed to gain a sense of truth; perhaps she
always felt this way. However, she was comfortable in her situation, and ignored a
myriad of signs, that indicated the she was in a bad relationship. This situation was
brought to light when Nora has an epiphany, as seen here:
He called me his doll-child, and he played with me just as I used to play
with my dolls. And when I came to live in your house—I mean that I was
simply transferred from papa's hands into yours…When I look back on it,
it seems to me as if I had been living here like a poor woman--just from
hand to mouth. I have existed merely to perform tricks for you, Torvald.
But you would have it so. You and papa have committed a great sin
against me. It is your fault that I have made nothing of my life (Ibsen 949).
According to Kimberly Powell, Nora’s realization was not very popular with readers. As
she states “At the time when the play was written such a callous ending was frowned
upon, thus the ending has often been altered in various plays, but what makes this play
so amazing is that it is based on a factual story”(Powell). Another negative comment
comes from Wade Bradford, “Nora Helmer's last words are hopeful, yet her final action
is less optimistic…Some argue that Nora leaves her home purely because she is
selfish. She does not want to forgive Torvald. She would rather start another life than try
to fix her existing one”(Bradford). Apparently, the concept of a woman leaving her
family was not an accepted one. However, by comparison to western civilization, this is
a growing trend. Nora realizes that she is not ready for married life, and raising
children, as she states to Torvald in this passage:
I don’t believe that anymore. I believe that first and foremost I’m a human
being, just as you are—or at least, that I have to try to become one. I know
very well Torvald, that most people would agree with you, and that
opinions like yours are in books, but I can’t be satisfied anymore with what
most people say, or what’s in books. I have to think things through for
myself and come to understand them (Ibsen 950).
Another side of Nora Helmer, is her desperate side. When Nils Krogstad, vowed
to tell her husband about the forgery she committed, her whole demeanor changed.
Bradford describes the questions she began to ask herself, “She begins to question her
own morality, something she has never done before. Did she do something wrong?
Were her actions appropriate, under the circumstances? Will the courts convict her? Is
she an improper wife? Is she a terrible mother? (Bradford). In his opinion, this is a
person that is paranoid, and wishes she had the right answers. She feared reprimand
from her husband, jail, and defaming her family’s name, so much, that she
contemplated suicide (Ibsen 929). This side of Nora can be called the dark side. Her
actions from this point are driven by fear.
My analysis of Nora begins with noting the struggles that plagued her life.
Imagine being locked in a cage for eight years, and then you will have a better
picture of Nora. The cage is not concrete, but more of a cage of the mind. Nora went
from being treated like a doll-child to a doll-wife.(Ibsen 949). All her life, she was
labeled as, never having a mind of her own. Did she fit the prototype of a woman in the
19th century? Women of her time, were not held in high regard; so the answer to this
question is yes. During the 1800’s, they were not known for being as bold as Nora.
Elaine Fortin describes the roles of women as being “based on the practicality of
performing them. For example, women were forced to remain at home because their
husbands were expected to go out into the world, and someone had to manage the
house and care for the children”(Fortin). She made an unpopular decision to leave her
husband, and even worse, her children(Ibsen 953). According to Webster’s Dictionary,
the definition of a wife is “a woman acting in a specified capacity” or “a female partner
in a marriage” (“Wife”). Nora upheld every aspect of being a wife. She even went above
and beyond the role, and risked the chance of going to jail for forgery (Ibsen 929). Nora
sacrificed her freedom, to save her husband (Ibsen 900). As Emma Goldman depicts,
“In her eagerness to serve her husband, and in perfect innocence of the legal aspect of
her act, she does not give the matter much thought, except for her anxiety to shield him
from any emergency that may call upon him to perform the miracle in her behalf. She
works hard, and saves every penny of her pin-money to pay back the amount she .
What would have been the cost? Obviously, she felt her actions were justified. Keep
in mind that she had three children. If we put ourselves in Nora’s shoes, could we hold
up?
The author does not fully describe Nora, but I think she in thin, has long black
hair, and beautiful brown eyes. When we think of a doll, we think of elegance, and
unmatched attractiveness. As far as her mental state, I believe that she started off
happy, became scared, suicidal, and finally angry. Her main goal changed from being a
model wife, to being a person determined to find her identity. She is family-oriented, and
has a strong sense of religion.(Ibsen 892 ). She went through so many phases of
her life, that it seems like the author is being cruel to the protagonist initially. It was
amazing how Nora was able to bottle up her thoughts and make the reader think she
was narcissistic and otherwise, not very smart. After her husband decided to down-talk
her by saying, she “destroyed all of my happiness” and was a “feather-brained
woman”(Ibsen 945).The things that her husband said to her, diminished the feelings of
love and sacrifice. I am sure that this type of action, Nora had never seen before.
However, she seemed that she was prepared for a time when her house would be
shattered.
Today, women are more independent, are allowed to vote, and have all of the
rights that men have. Is it safe to say that this play opened doors to females having a
voice, and gave women a new outlook on life?. Yes and no. Many countries did not
readily accept this play, due to its strong plot line. Many men would most likely watch
this play, under the impression that it’s about a submissive female, who marries a rich
man. However, they are blind-sided when Nora’s transgressions appear, such as her
telling a lie about buying macaroons (Ibsen 892), concealing information from her
husband, and committing the crime of forgery(Ibsen 929). The Nora entered the story as
a weak, playful, and immature woman; she exited as a strong-willed, female, that was
ready to take on the world.
In conclusion, society is considered male-dominated. The same was true in the
Eighteenth century, and the fact is true today. The difference between two, is that
women have more rights. Henrik Ibsen, seemed to have used Nora as an example for
all women. This is not say, that women should leave their husbands and children. In
addition, this is not to say that women should commit forgery, or any crime. The main
point, is the fact that women should be willing to sacrifice for their children or husband. I
would agree that Nora had a sincere love for her husband, and would go to any
lengths to support him. The play should be a lesson for males, to treat your spouse
with dignity and respect no matter of the circumstances. The lesson for females is to be
real, and find out what is suitable for yourself first and foremost.



Works Cited

"A Doll’s House: Character Analysis." Drama for Students. Ed. Marie Rose
Napierkowski. Vol. 1. Detroit: Gale, 1998. eNotes.com. January 2006. Web. 7
May 2011.
Bradford, Wade. “Nora Helmer: The Protagonist of “A Doll’s House.” About.com. The
New York Times Company. n.d. Web.7 May 2011.
Chisholm, Marshall. “Necessity for Change, A Doll House.” Literary analysis: A Doll
House, by Henrik Ibsen.10 April 2010. Web. 7 May 2011.
Fortin, Elaine. “Early Nineteenth Century Attitudes Toward Women and Their Roles as
Represented By Literature Popular in Worcester, Massachusetts”.
TeachUSHistory.org. n.d. Web. 7 May 2011.
Goldman, Emma. "The Social Significance of the Modern Drama: A Doll's House."
Berkeley Digital Library SunSITE. Boston Press.1914. Web. 07 May 2011.
Ibsen, Henrik. “A Doll’s House.” Backpack Literature: An Introduction to
Fiction, Poetry, Drama, Writing. Ed. X.J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. 3rd Edition.
New York: Longman, 2010. 891-953. Print.
Powell, Kimberly. "The Tyrant in A Doll House." Associated Content fromYahoo!
Associatedcontent.com. 14 Dec. 2005. Web. 07 May 2011.
“Wife”. Merriam-Webster Dictionary and Thesaurus. Merriam-Webster Online. n.d.
Web. 7 May 2011.


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