Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
In A Doll’s House, Nora Helmer returns home on Christmas Eve with a Christmas tree that must be hidden from the children until it is trimmed. Indeed, hiding is a major theme in this play. Later in the first act, Nora plays hide-and-seek with her children, and she hides the macaroons that her husband, Torvald, has forbidden her to eat. A more dangerous secret is the fact that, years earlier, she had borrowed a large amount of money to pay for the sojourn in Italy that enabled Torvald to recover from a serious illness. She had borrowed the money illegally from a usurer named Krogstad, and she has secretly been repaying the loan out of the small sums that she is able to earn by copying documents or to save from her household budget. To spare her dying father, who was to have been her cosigner, she even forged his signature on the contract.
That something is wrong with the Helmers’ marriage quickly becomes evident in the first scene: Torvald treats Nora more like a favorite child than a wife, and to please him she seems perfectly willing to pretend to be his little “skylark” or his “squirrel.” In other words, she is content to live in a dollhouse. Nora’s old school friend, Mrs. Linde, is one of those Ibsen characters who has married for money, not for love. The man she did love—and jilted—was Krogstad. Now a penniless and childless widow, she would be very happy to settle down in a dollhouse, but necessity forces her to beg Nora to...
(The entire section is 701 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
On the day before Christmas, Nora Helmer busies herself with last-minute shopping, for this is the first Christmas since her marriage that she does not have to economize. Her husband, Torvald, is made manager of a bank and after the New Year their money troubles are over. She buys a tree and plenty of toys for the children and even indulges herself in some macaroons, her favorite confection, although Torvald does not entirely approve. He loves his wife dearly, but he regards her very much as her own father did, as an amusing doll—a plaything.
It is true that she does behave like a child sometimes in her relations with her husband. She pouts, wheedles, and chatters because Torvald expects these things; he would not love his wife without them. Actually, seven years earlier Nora demonstrated that she had the courage of a mature, loving woman. Just after her first child was born, when Torvald was ill and the doctor said that he would die unless he went abroad immediately, she borrowed the requisite two hundred and fifty pounds from Krogstad, a moneylender. She forged to the note the name of her father, who was dying at the time, and convinced Torvald that the money for his trip came from her father. However, Krogstad was exacting, and since then she devised various ways to meet the regular payments. When Torvald gives her money for new dresses and such things, she never spends more than half of it, and she finds other ways to earn money. One winter she does...
(The entire section is 862 words.)
The play opens on the day before Christmas. Nora returns home from shopping; although her husband is anticipating a promotion and raise, he still chides her excessive spending. In response, Nora flirts, pouts, and cajoles her husband as a child might, and, indeed, Torvald addresses her as he might a child. He hands her more money but only after having berating her spending. Their relationship parallels that of a daughter and father and, indeed, is exactly like the relationship Nora had with her father. Early in this act, the audience is aware that the relationship between the Helmers is based on dishonesty when Nora denies that she has eaten macaroons, knowing that her husband has forbidden her to do so.
Nora is visited by an old friend, Kristine Linde. Mrs. Linde tells Nora that she has had some difficult problems and is seeking employment. Nora confesses to Mrs. Linde that she, too, has been desperate and recounts that she had been forced to borrow money several years earlier when her husband was ill. The money was necessary to finance a trip that saved her husband's life, but Nora forged her father's signature to secure the loan and lied to Torvald that her father had given them the money. Thus, she has been deceiving her husband for years as she worked to repay the loan. She tells this story to Mrs. Linde to demonstrate that she is an adult who is capable of both caring for her family and conducting business....
(The entire section is 810 words.)
Summary and Analysis
Summary and Analysis: Act I
Nora Helmer: a housewife who seems to have a carefree marriage without concerns, but who has a dark secret
Torvald Helmer: Nora’s husband, who has recently been promoted to bank director
Mrs. Kristine Linde: a friend of Nora’s, now a widow, who suddenly appears after having no contact with Nora for about ten years
Nils Krogstad: a former suitor of Mrs. Linde and a clerk at Torvald’s bank who blackmails Nora
Dr. Rank: a friend of the Helmers who is terminally ill with syphilis he inherited and who is secretly in love with Nora
The play’s action occurs in a tastefully furnished room, comparable to a modern-day living room. The décor is indicative of a family that is comfortable and not hard up financially. Nevertheless, the interior design, as Ibsen clearly states, is not lavish; the room is typical of a professional-class, patriarchal family in Norway during the latter half of the nineteenth century.
Having just returned from shopping for gifts on Christmas Eve, Nora enters the room, giving orders to the maid and an errand boy who is carrying a Christmas tree; the tree is to be hidden from the children until it is lit that evening.
Nora surreptitiously eats a couple of macaroons after determining that her husband, Torvald, is in his den. Nora eats the macaroons on the sly because Torvald does not want her...
(The entire section is 2471 words.)
Summary and Analysis: Act II
On Christmas Day, Nora is alone, pacing and fretting over Krogstad’s threats. Anticipating shame, and considering abandoning her family, Nora briefly discusses with the nanny, Anne-Marie, the possibility of no longer being around her children. Nora tries to distract herself but remains jumpy, as if Krogstad could appear at any minute to ruin her.
Mrs. Linde drops by at Nora’s request to help mend a dress for a fancy ball the next evening in the apartment upstairs. In order to please Torvald, Nora is to dress as a Neapolitan fisher girl and dance the tarantella, a traditional southern dance.
As Mrs. Linde helps with the mending of the dress, the two women gossip. Nora discusses Dr. Rank’s malady, alluding to inherited syphilis. Although the malady mentioned is “spinal consumption,” there is a strong consensus among critics that this is a euphemism for syphilis, especially considering the cause of the illness; Dr. Rank’s father was dissolute and had many mistresses.
As a result of the conversation about Dr. Rank, Mrs. Linde falsely assumes that it is he who lent Nora the money for the trip to Italy. Nora denies it, although at one point, she implies that she has power over Dr. Rank. Since the subject of the loan has been raised, she asks Mrs. Linde for confirmation that one gets an IOU back after a loan is paid in full; she is close to paying off the loan to Krogstad and desperately wants to...
(The entire section is 2385 words.)
Summary and Analysis: Act III
The evening after Christmas Day, Mrs. Linde sits alone waiting for Krogstad while music can be heard from the party upstairs. After he appears, the two have a heart-to-heart talk to clear up misconceptions about their split. Years ago, Kristine wrote Krogstad a letter, ending their affair. She intentionally made the break very clear in order to destroy his affectionate feelings towards her. According to her, this was for his own good, so he could get on with his life. However, Krogstad was deeply hurt and felt that she had simply accepted an offer from a more prosperous suitor.
As we learned early in the play, Mrs. Linde felt compelled to enter a loveless marriage in order to help support her mother and brothers. Krogstad felt betrayed and utterly ruined by the course of events. And now, Mrs. Linde is to replace him at the bank. Mrs. Linde surprises him by announcing that she really came to town to renew contact with him; she never truly forgot him. She wants to team up and share her life with him. Krogstad is flattered that, despite his reputation, she still wants him. Although neither mentions the word “love,” it is clear that the two once loved each other and now want to give life together another chance.
Mrs. Linde’s offer is sincere and independent of the situation involving Nora. In fact, she has recently decided that Krogstad should not ask for the letter back. Having witnessed the Helmers’...
(The entire section is 2400 words.)