Nora is probably in her late twenties or early thirties. She was raised by her father according to the bourgeois conventions of the day, which means that she was expected to absorb his opinions, ideas, and tastes rather than forge her own and was made to believe that she would find her greatest fulfillment in becoming a wife and mother. Unfortunately, she was not even properly trained to do that. Because she was pretty and amusing, her father never took her seriously but treated her like a doll or plaything. As a result, she grew up "fit for nothing" except being an ornament and a distraction. She became a wife and mother, but not a woman or an individual. It would be a mistake to think that she is therefore powerless, however. Nora has power over her husband when she performs in exactly the way that he expects her to perform. He expects her to be a pretty, silly, chattering spendthrift with no head for business, no knowledge of the world, and only a child's sense of right and wrong. She knows that he likes when she behaves like this, because then his superiority is proved and her dependence on him feels complete. By fulfilling his low expectations, she flatters him, gives him confidence in the rightness of his ideas regarding the nature and role of women, and in the end gets what she wants. The most striking dramatization of this occurs when she frenetically dances the tarantella in order to keep Torvald from reading Krogstad's letter.
Nora's consciousness changes as the play progresses, however. She suffers a series of shocks that jolt her into progressively deeper states of awareness about her degraded position in her home and in society. She slowly comes to realize, first, that her whole married life has been a tissue of lies, illusions, and self-deceptions, and second, that she is not a person, a self, a woman, or an individual but a thing, a toy, a doll. She feels sinned against, victimized by the two men who have owned her, played with her, and made her utterly dependent. And she has an inkling that her duties to herself must be as or more important than her duties to her husband and children, if the latter duties are to mean anything at all. After these realizations leave her world in pieces, she has nothing left but an inner reserve of strength and resolve, which propel and carry her away to start building herself again from scratch.
Torvald is a (stereo)typical nineteenth-century bourgeois male. He is smug, pompous, self-righteous, hypocritical, selfish, and a bit thick. He has worked very hard to provide for his family and to rise to his present comfortable place in the social hierarchy. His greatest fear is losing that place, and thus he is inordinately concerned with appearances, with maintaining a spotless reputation and an untarnished veneer of respectability. He thinks he loves his wife, but what he loves is an idea of his wife, an idea of her as a pretty doll that he can play with or a child whom he can manage and protect. The more Nora depends on him, the more important he feels; the more fragile, silly, and childlike she behaves, the stronger and wiser he thinks he must be. His sexual fantasy is that she is once again his shy, young virgin bride-someone he can take possession of and then put in her place.
When he reads Krogstad's letter and discovers that his wife not only risked everything to save his life but has spent the past seven years scrimping and suffering in secret as a result, he responds neither with gratitude and love, nor with (as Nora had hoped) a heroic determination to take her sufferings upon himself. He gets angry instead, and reveals that what he cares most about is his own reputation. He is completely unaware of the smallness and unjustness of his response and of its cataclysmic effect on Nora; when the danger seems to have passed he is ready to carry on just as before. He is utterly surprised, then, by her decision to leave him. He cannot begin to fathom her reasons; he is almost too shocked to fight. All he can do is appeal to the bourgeois ideals that she now knows are bankrupt: religion, conventional morality, the duties of a wife and mother. His last words reflect his bewilderment and disbelief.
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Act 1, Part 1
Act 1, Part 2
Act 2, Part 1
Act 2, Part 2
Act 3, Part 1
Act 3, Part 2
Act 3, Part 3