Act 1 establishes the nature of the Helmers' marriage, which feels off-balance from the start. Torvald has a habit of referring to Nora with odd pet names, such as his "little skylark" and his "little squirrel." Despite being treated as his subordinate, Nora seems intent on pleasing Torvald and deflects...
his insulting comments. When Dr. Rank visits later in the scene, Nora offers him a macaroon; he questions this treat, recalling that macaroons are "forbidden" to Nora. As Helmer approaches, Nora hides the packet, and it becomes clear that she must hide the true nature of herself in order to keep peace in her marriage.
It later becomes evident that Nora is hiding more significant secrets from her husband. In order to finance much-needed treatment for an illness Torvald suffered from, Nora had secretly forged her father's signature on a loan. She then saved every bit of money from her "allowance" from Torvald to repay a loan he doesn't know about:
Whenever Torvald has given me money for new dresses and such things, I have never spent more than half of it; I have always bought the simplest and cheapest things. Thank Heaven, any clothes look well on me, and so Torvald has never noticed it. But it was often very hard on me, Christine—because it is delightful to be really well dressed, isn't it?
Krogstad is aware of this crime and points out that Nora has committed forgery.
The mood is therefore suspenseful. Torvald assumes that his wife is unable to manage money and insults her efforts to manage their household finances:
HELMER.You can't deny it, my dear little Nora. [Puts his arm round her waist.] It's a sweet little spendthrift, but she uses up a deal of money. One would hardly believe how expensive such little persons are!
NORA.It's a shame to say that. I do really save all I can.
HELMER.[laughing]. That's very true,—all you can. But you can't save anything!
In reality, Nora has risked her own freedom in order to obtain the money Torvald refused to borrow; this loan likely saved his life. Krogstad then expects Nora to use her influence with Torvald to help him get a job at the bank:
KROGSTAD.Then it is because you haven't the will; but I have means to compel you.
NORA.You don't mean that you will tell my husband that I owe you money?
KROGSTAD.Hm!—suppose I were to tell him?
Since Krogstad knows about her legal indiscretions, this seems a likely source of ongoing conflict. Nora's secrets and her relationship with her husband seem most likely to propel the plot as the first act closes.