Form and Content (Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series, Supplement)
A Doll’s House, a realistic three-act play, focuses on late nineteenth century life in a middle-class Scandinavian household, in which the wife is expected to be contentedly passive and the husband paternally protective. Nora Helmer, however, has subverted this model. At that time, a woman could not sign a legal contract alone; thus, when her beloved husband, Torvald, became ill, Nora secretly obtained a loan by forging her father’s signature so that they could travel to a warmer climate. As the play opens, Torvald is about to become manager of the bank and Nora has almost repaid the loan through odd jobs and scrimping on the household expenses. Nora discloses her actions to her friend Kristine Linde and exults in her accomplishment.
The structure of the play is linear; after the exposition, the action becomes complicated with the appearance of Nora’s debtor, Nils Krogstad, a man disgraced by crimes that he committed to protect his family. Insecure in his position at the bank, he threatens to expose Nora’s loan and forgery unless she pleads his case to Torvald. In her ignorance, Nora had not fully understood that forgery is a criminal act.
The major conflict of the play, concerning honesty in marriage, arises from this situation. Nora cannot discuss the blackmail with her husband, since her role in their relationship is that of a charming child; thus, she must plead for Krogstad. Torvald, however, refuses to hear her plea,...
(The entire section is 505 words.)
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Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
Helmer house. Home of Torvald Helmer, a successful bank manager, and his wife, Nora. The dwelling contains comfortable and stylish furniture and such items as a china cabinet, a bookcase with well-bound books, and a piano on carpeted floor—all of which demonstrate a stable financial situation. However, the house is a mere container, or doll’s house, for Nora, who spends her time entertaining or nervously accommodating (as her nickname “the squirrel” implies) her demanding husband—rather than decorating, designing, or even “taking charge of” her own life.
Sitting areas in the house realistically capture the limitations on Nora’s growth as a woman. For example, in these staged sitting areas, Nora secretly eats macaroons to escape her husband’s upbraiding; she has threatening conversations with Krogstad, concerning his reinstatement at her husband’s bank; and she prepares her costume and practices the tarantella for a Christmas ball she must attend with Torvald. All of these situations in closed rooms psychologically and emotionally demonstrate the manipulation and oppression of this doll in the house, filled with rooms of deception and corruption.
When Nora finally decides to leave her husband, she goes out of the house and slams its downstairs door shut. In so doing, she physically, mentally, and spiritually enters a new space: the unknown. For here she can truly “find herself” now and discover what she wants to do as a woman without Torvald’s rules and codes of behavior.
Helmer’s office. Torvald’s efficiently furnished banking office, which is an emblem of his kingdom—the room in which he makes the rules of conduct for his home and for his little doll, Nora. Ibsen’s social realism is evident as in his studio many despotic decisions that further emphasize the theme of female injustice are made. For example, in act 2 Torvald writes a letter dismissing the bookkeeper Nils Krogstad, who has been blackmailing Nora since she forged her dying father’s signature to a bond at the bank, when she needed money to take Torvald to Italy when he was seriously ill.
Questions and Answers: Act I
Questions and Answers: Act II
Compare and Contrast
Topics for Further Study
What Do I Read Next?
Bibliography and Further Reading
Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
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 entire section is 273 words.)