Nora Helmer has been married for eight years. Her husband, Torvald, has assumed the typical male role of his age; namely, that of his wife’s guardian, protector, and provider. On one occasion Nora has acted independently, however. Early in their marriage, Torvald was ill and could save his life only by spending some time in a mild and dry climate. Nora, who was aware of this fact, forged her father’s signature in order to borrow money for a trip to Italy (at the time, women were barred by law from contracting debts on their own). Nora is proud of her action, however illegal, for she regards it as her life’s sole expression of individuality.
As the play begins, Torvald Helmer has just become the manager of a local bank. The family’s future (there are by now three children) is bright. Then Krogstad, a known embezzler from whom Nora had borrowed the money, presents himself. Excluded from polite society on account of his crime, he now hopes to rehabilitate himself by obtaining a position in Helmer’s bank. He threatens Nora with exposing her forgery if she does not use her influence with Helmer in his behalf.
When Nora is unable to persuade her husband to offer a position to Krogstad, the latter writes a letter informing Helmer of Nora’s forgery. This touches off a discussion which constitutes the central scene in the play, and where the theme of women’s emancipation becomes most clearly visible. Helmer condemns Nora severely, and she becomes fully conscious of the fact that she has no chance of becoming an individual as long as she remains Helmer’s wife. At the end she leaves her husband and children in order to find herself.
Downs, Brian W. Ibsen: The Intellectual Background. New York: Octagon, 1969. Contains preface, chronology, and index, and makes multiple references to A Doll’s House. Downs argues that the “disagreement” upon which the drama turns is not between a wife and husband as much as it is between woman and society.
Hornby, Richard. Patterns in Ibsen’s Middle Plays. Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 1981. A readable, helpful, and interesting discussion of A Doll’s House in one chapter. Indicates that the play’s underlying idea is the “ethical leap” that informs the technical and aesthetic development of the play.
Mencken, H. L. Introduction to Eleven Plays of Henrik Ibsen. New York: Random House, 1950. Mencken’s prose is worth reading for itself and especially so in this case for anyone interested in Ibsen. Mencken lauds A Doll’s House and declares that it represents the full measure of Ibsen’s contribution to the art of drama.
Meyer, Michael. Ibsen: A Biography. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1971. A well-organized, readable, illustrated source with an annotated index. Includes frequent references to A Doll’s House, especially in chapter 19. Meyer also discusses the continued focus on Ibsen’s view of women’s situation in a man’s world, on the outcry against A Doll’s House, and on the monetary return it brought the author.
Shafer, Yvonne, ed. Approaches to Teaching Ibsen’s “A Doll [sic] House.” New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1985. Useful for both nonspecialists and specialists. Provides section about materials available for a study of A Doll’s House and a section on approaches to teaching it. Provides insight for understanding and interpreting the play.