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Your question is a key one that lies at the very heart of this interesting play, which challenged the notions of gender roles in its time. In A Doll's House, the position of females in Ibsen's time is examined and he presents his hope for feminism and equality through the character of Nora and her realisation of her situation and her choice to embark on a search for her own identity.
At the beginning of the play, the relationship of Nora and Torvald is examined. It is clear that their relationship has more in common with a father and daughter relationship than with a husband and wife, and we discover that Nora relates to her husband and is treated exactly the same way that she related and was treated by her father. In response to her husband's insulting comments and patronising remarks, Nora cajoles, begs and acts like a child (or even a "doll"). Torvald even says: "Has my little sweet tooth been indulging herself in town today by any chance?" Nora responds using childish phrases: "Oh. Pooh!" It is clear that Torvald possesses Nora and regards her as nothing more than a belonging to make him look good.
Nora, too, at the beginning of the play, is caught up in this "Doll's House", as we can see in her definition of freedom which she gives to Mrs. Linde: "Free. To free, absolutely free. To spend time playing with the children. To have a clean, beautiful house, the way Torvald likes it." She is unable to perceive her situation as being caged inside her "Doll's House" and plays a part of the perfect wife according to her husband's wishes.
Of course, the action of the play, and in particular the realisation of Torvald that Nora has deceived him and his response, triggers the epiphany that Nora needs to realise the truth of her situation and give her the desire to escape this "Doll's House". In his response to this realisation, Torvald shows himself to Nora for who he really is: a self-centred, petty man who is concerned only about keeping up the facade of marriage: "From now on, forget happiness. Now it is just about saving the remains, the wreckage, the appearance." It is this unmasking that gives Nora self-understanding of her situation. She says to Torvald, "I've been performing tricks for you Torvald. That's how I've survived. You wanted it like that. You and Papa have done me a great wrong. It's because of you I've made nothing of my life." By the end of the play then, she becomes a stronger, tougher more independent individual, determined to make her own life free from the constricting gender roles that have been imposed upon her.
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