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Character Analysis – a Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen

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This paper will analyze the character of Nora from the play entitled ‘A Doll’s House” by Henrik Ibsen. We will do this by looking at act 1. The setting of this play is in the Helmer’s apartment in Norway. The events in the play occur against a background of limited feminine freedom.  My thesis is that successful marriages are products of two equal partners and true freedom comes through a discovery of self.

 Nora is a young female, possibly in her mid twenties and married to Torvald Helmer with three little children. Going by her husband’s description of her (“my dear, little Nora”, “my sweet little skylark”, etc.) we can gather that Nora is petite – she is dainty, has a small frame and a slim figure. Apart perhaps from occasional visits to the dentist, she is healthy, sprightly, and has no physical deformation or illness. She belongs to the middle class status going by descriptions of their house and her husband’s bank manager position. She fraternizes with the low like Mrs. Linde and the relatively well off like Dr. Rank and Krogstad. No mention is mentioned of their specific religious affiliation in this act, but we can surmise that they are Christians, possibly Catholic, judging from their preparations for Christmas day (Ibsen).

About her relations, her affection for the children – Bob and Emmy- is apparent, as the gifts she gives them, her conversation with them, and the games she plays with them illustrate. Moreover, her relationship with her husband seems to be cordial and she is totally devoted to him. She tells Krogstad “If you speak slightly of my husband, I shall turn you out of the house” (Ibsen) she also evidently enjoys good relations with her children’s nurse, Dr. Rank, Mrs. Linde, and the Stenborgs. She was brought up by her father who died. No mention is made of her siblings.

As the play begins we notice that Nora is kind-hearted. This is manifested by the shilling she gives the porter instead of the required sixty pence. Moreover, she buys good things for everyone but herself, she offers to intercede for Mrs. Linde to have Torvald offer her a job and she went at great lengths to secure an 800 cronen loan that she used to save her husband’s life. This also demonstrates her selflessness and conniving nature.

            We also learn that Nora is frugal. She saves most of the money given to her by Torvald so as to clear her debt and buys cheap stuff. As she says, “whenever Torvald has given me money for new dresses and such things, I have never spent more than half of it; I have always bought the simplest and cheapest thing” (Ibsen). Nora likes eating sweet things such as macaroons and confectionery and is neat and tidy. However, we also learn that she often prevaricates, as Mrs. Linde’s husband’s death demonstrated. She has a sense of style and loves good clothing as this remark shows: “it is delightful to be really well dressed, isn’t it?” She is also adept at “dancing and dressing-up and reciting” and likes to play the perfect hostess. Her life’s philosophy seems to be on leading a happy life.

To add on to this, Nora works hard as shown by the many hours she put in the copying work. She is also practical. Whereas she has suffered from whimsical flights of fancy in the past – like dreams of a rich man dying and bequeathing his will to her- she has got over it and found a way to pay off her debt. Further, Nora is admirably calm – she can arrange the Christmas tree even with the threats of Krogstad hanging heavily over her. She also displays calm and betrays no anxiety and worry due to the debt, a factor that helped her hide the debt from Torvald.

Despite her kindness, Nora occasionally comes out as insensitive as exemplified by her reaction to Mrs. Linde’s husband’s death. Instead of condoling with her, she says “Poor thing, how you must have suffered. And he left you nothing?”(Ibsen). She then proceeds to talk about her children and the fact that her husband has been made the bank manager, oblivious of the other woman’s feelings. Further, she goes on to chat incessantly about herself, her family, and Torvald. Perhaps this is an affirmation of her outgoing nature, but it clearly illustrates her dedication to her family. In this regard, Nora builds an idyllic life of herself and her family. She denies Torvald’s sickness despite the fact that Dr.Rank comes in regularly to see him. It is clear that her family means everything to her and she would go to any lengths to protect it. This is echoed by such remarks as “Torvald must have a good table”, “I couldn’t let my children be shabbily dressed”, and her reference to her children as “sweet little darlings” she obviously has a strong view of her matrimonial duties and takes them very seriously (Ibsen)

Nora is straightforward as her pointed questions reveal. Later on, she confesses to forging her father’s signature despite knowing too well that it would incriminate her and possibly imperil her marriage. Perhaps Nora’s most outstanding character is that she is naïve. She has a rather romanticized view of Torvald and the world and expects good motives to override the law. She believes that the law can be broken for the greater good and has no problem with telling lies, so long as good comes out of it. Her naïve nature is shown by her oversight when signing the loan agreement with Krogstad. She neglected to carefully read through the agreement and fill the agreement correctly. Finally, Nora has firm principles especially regarding family and love matters.

In this act, Nora’s objective is to raise as much money as possible. She wants to achieve this objective so that she can clear the debt she owes Krogstad. This will guarantee her freedom from Krogstad. To achieve her goal, she does copying work and asks for money from Torvald. However, Krogstad stands in the way of Nora attaining her goal as he comes with new demands. She threatens to expose Nora’s forgery of her father’s signature when she sought the loan unless she agrees to play as his advocate to Torvald. The long-range goal of Nora is to have a happy family where her relationship with Torvald is strong. By ultimately paying off this debt and terminating the relationship with Krogstad, her happiness with her husband will be better guaranteed because he will never know of it unless through Nora’s revelation. On the other hand, a discovery of the secret loan would sour relations between the couple and possibly mar Torvald’s reputation, spoiling his promising career.

Nora intercedes on Krogstad’s behalf, fervently begging her husband to let Krogstad keep his job but Torvald would hear none of it on account of Krogstad’s domineering attitude. The long range goal changes in the play. When Torvald finally becomes aware of the secret deal between Nora and Krogstad, he shows his true colors. He calls Nora all sorts of names, gives her a foul diatribe, accusing her of ruining him. He goes as far as stating that he would restrict her access to their children as she is not worthy of trust.

   By this time, Nora’s perspective on the matter has changed. She sees Torvald as he is – a selfish man who only sees her as a plaything. These changes are expressed in her attitude towards him, and also by her removal of the fancy dress. The changes are also reflected in her speech to him, denigrating his erstwhile views of her immediately after the danger posed to him passes. The speech is serious, devoid of the earlier playfulness of past conversations. Additionally, her leaving their home demonstrates this change. Her philosophy of happiness being found in the home changes and she now believes that it can only come through self discovery. Her long-range goal changes as now her desire is to fulfill her duties towards herself. Nora feels no more affection or regard for her husband. She feels little playfulness she had previously reserved for her children. Her relationship with Mrs. Linde however remains unchanged, becoming possibly stronger. Torvald feels that Nora is foolish, even delirious, but still has love for her.


Nora came across as a hardworking, selfless, affectionate, honest, naive and principled woman whose greatest joy was in serving her husband and family. The act chosen demonstrated these through her copying and knitting work, the loan she took to pay for Torvald’s treatment, her gifts to her children as well as her intercession on Mrs. Linde’s behalf to get her a job. Her kindness was also shown by her payment to the porter and relations with Dr. Rank. Her affectionate nature is shown by her games with the children. Forgery of her father’s signature shows her naivety.

  Even though she would have been free from the bondage imposed by Krogstad’s debt, Nora wouldn’t have realized true freedom in her home, despite her hard work at making the family a success. This is because Torvald’s views of Nora as her “skylark” available to sing his every song remained unchanged.  In the end, she found true freedom, not from Krogstad’s bondage but from leaving her husband’s ‘jail’. The marriage was not successful because one partner, Nora, was subordinate.


Ibsen, Henrik. 2001. A Doll’s House.  Project Gutenberg. (Trans. Et dukkehjem).

Available at: http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/2542

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