Nora Helmer, Ibsen’s strong-willed heroine is far from being a typical victim of male domination. She is master of the domestic world, dedicated enough to nurse her husband through illness, courageous enough to forge a signature and confident enough to pay back all her debts even in the face of enormous difficulties.
But that is not what exactly sets her apart from convention—neither the energy or the initiative she exudes throughout, nor her decision to shatter her notions of marriage and seek independence. Rather, it is the intention or the motivation with which she carries herself throughout the text and more importantly the sub-text of the play that makes her different. Nora, despite her disenchantment and climactic decision, comes across as a less than innocent woman ambivalently portrayed, incredibly adept at manipulation and who does not, in the end, deserve the full sympathy that the thrust of the dominant narrative demands.
She walks into a comfortably and tastefully furnished room, as soon as the play begins, with a bunch of parcels and immediately asks for the Christmas Tree to be hidden “carefully”, pops a few macaroons into her mouth and then cautiously goes to her husband’s door and listens, eventually remarking
“Yes he is in.”
The reason for such cautious behaviour seems quite uncertain as her husband’s presence inside the room is immaterial to her secretive actions (that of eating macaroons) as he is clearly out of sight, which makes us conjecture that perhaps such stealth is part of her normal behaviour. When Torvald does appear however, something that becomes very noticeable is the way Nora uses her movement, repetitively, like an application, to alleviate Torvald’s argumentative tone.
For example, when her husband vehemently opposes the idea of borrowing,
Helmer: … and we will go on the same way for the short time longer that there need be any struggle.
Nora: (moving towards the stove) As you please, Torvald.
Helemer: (following her) Come, come, my little skylark must not droop her wings. What is this! Is my little skylark out of temper? (Taking out his purse.) Nora, what do you think I have got here?
Nora deliberately moves away from him, making Torvald uneasy of the emptiness, which results in his softening down and taking out the purse. Nora’s mood suddenly changes on seeing the bag. Remarkably, she repeats t...
... middle of paper ...
...g” could never happen which is also why she was so terrified of it.
She left blaming Torvald for something he wasn’t aware of, though he readily agreed to change himself for Nora, she left her children who loved playing hide and seek with her and took lodging at Mrs. Linde’s for the night.
Ironically, Nora is the one who asked Mrs. Linde,
“Tell me, is it really true that you did not love your husband? Why did you marry him?”
Nora therefore proves herself to be ambiguous and very unreliable and even though forfeiting her family and a decision to face the world seems quite a large step for a dependent woman like her, Nora’s motivations remain deceptive as she is forever caught between the world of pretense and reality.
Perhaps Nora realizes that, and when she does talk about “change” at the end of the play, she refers to herself being removed from the mask she is used to wearing.
Claridge, Laura. “Tess: A Less than Pure Woman.”
Havel, Vaclav. “Writing for the Stage”, 1986.
Ibsen, Henrik. A Doll’s House. trans. Farquharson Sharp. Bantam, 1958
Ingham, Patricia: “Fallen Woman as Sign”
Miller, Arthur: “On Social Plays”, 1955.
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