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In the work A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen, Nora Helmer is the protagonist of the play. Having never lived alone, going immediately from the care of her father to that of her husband, Nora is inexperienced in the ways of the world. As a result of this sheltering, Nora is impulsive and materialistic. She is the wife of a pride-driven Torvald Helmer and the mother of three small children. Initially, Nora appears to have a perfect life. She seems completely content with her surroundings and her place in society as a wife and mother. Nora responds affectionately to Torvald’s teasing, speaks with excitement about the extra money his new job will give them, and takes pleasure in the company of her children and friends. Nora seems like a playful, naïve child who does not mind her doll-like existence in which she is coddled, patronized and pampered. However, as the play moves forward, she comes to see her position in her marriage with increasing clarity and finds the strength to free herself from her oppressive situation.
As A Doll’s House progresses, Nora reveals that she is not just a “silly girl” or “stupid child”, as Torvald calls her. (p. 14, 0) When she confides in Mrs. Linde about having saved Torvald’s life by secretly procuring a loan, Nora’s understanding of business details related to her debt indicates that she is intelligent and possesses capacities beyond mere wifehood. Her description of her years of secret labour undertaken to pay off her debt manifests her fierce determination and ambition. As well, the fact that Nora was willing to break the law in order to ensure Torvald’s health shows her courage.
Krogstad’s blackmail and the conflict that follows do not necessarily change Nora’s nature; they simply open her eyes to her unfulfilled and under appreciated potential. “I have been performing tricks for you, Torvald” she says during her climatic confrontation with her husband (p.6). Nora comes to realize that in addition to her literal dancing and singing tricks, she has been putting on a show throughout her entire marriage. She has pretended to be someone she is not, in order to fulfill the role Torvald, her husband, and society expect of her.
The character that best proves to be a foil to Nora is Nora’s old school friend, Kristina Linde. Mrs. Linde’s aged, experienced persona is the perfect foil for Nora’s childish manner. Mrs. Linde’s hard life is used to contrast the frivolity and sheltered aspects of Nora’s life. Nora’s optimism and belief in miracles and things improbable is contrasted with the rationality and down-to-earth mentality of Mrs. Linde. From their very relationships to their ideals of love, Nora and Mrs. Linde prove to be opposites. While Nora believes that a marriage must be based on love and equality, Mrs. Linde believes that love is based on equality, though marrying for convenience rather than for love is sometimes necessary. The rekindling flame between Mrs. Linde and Krogstad is a direct contrast to the burning down of Nora and Torvald’s “doll’s house”.
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Nora does not share Dr. Rank’s feelings of love towards Nora, though she does use her knowledge of his infatuation to her advantage. When Nora needs something, she flirts with her old friend in an attempt to get whatever it is she desires. This occurred when Nora “flipped” Dr. Rank with her stocking. Nora had always known of Dr. Rank’s feelings and “Then I used to imagine that a rich old gentleman had fallen in love with me…and that he died, and when they read his will, there it was, as large as life ‘All my money is to go to the lovely Mrs. Nora Helmer � cash down.’” (p. 16)
Nora’s relationship with her family is best revealed in a quote from herself on page 6, “But our home has been nothing but a play-room. I’ve been your doll-wife here, just as I was Papa’s doll-child. And the children have been my dolls in their turn. I liked it when you came and played with me, just as they liked it when I came and played with them. That’s what our marriage has been, Torvald.” Though Nora once was convinced that she loved her husband, she realized that “for eight years I’d been living here with a strange man, and that I’d borne him three children. Oh! I can’t bear to think of it � I could tear myself to little pieces” and that in their marriage, Nora and Torvald had never “had a serious talk together” (p.0, 5) Nora does love her children, contrary to popular belief. She does not want to spend time with them because she is afraid of corrupting them. Most of Nora’s relationships are based on control. Torvald controlled Nora, as Nora’s father controlled her before that, and as Nora began to control her own children. “It’s true, Torvald. When I lived at home with Papa, he used to tell me his opinion about everything, and so I had the same opinion. If I thought differently, I had to hide it from him, or he wouldn’t have liked it. He called me his little doll, and he used to play with me just as I played with my dolls. Then I came to live in your house � “ (p. 5, Nora)
Torvald’s severe and selfish reaction after learning of Nora’s deception and forgery is the final point of Nora’s awakening. But, even in the first act, Nora shows that she is not totally unaware that her life is not true to her real personality. She defies Torvald in small yet meaningful ways � by eating the macaroons and then lying about them for instance. She also swears, apparently just for the pleasure she enjoys from the minor rebellion against societal standards.
Nora proved to have a major role in allowing Ibsen to portray his message in the play. A Doll’s House’s central theme of secession from society was made to be critical of society’s view on women and marriage. Ibsen used Nora’s secessions as an example to illustrate that society’s expectations of a woman’s role in society and marriage were incorrect. Her final decision to leave her family and the life she was accustomed to was the exclamation point on Ibsen’s critical view of society.
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