Acts I and II of A Doll House contain early dialogues between Nora and Torvald.  What changes in Nora does a comparison between the two dialogues reveal?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Act One, Nora passively plays the role Torvald expects of her in their dialogue. She accepts his condescending pet names and snide comments with a smile, scurrying about to do as he wishes. Consider some of his early comments in Act One:

Helmer: Is it my little squirrel bustling...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

In Act One, Nora passively plays the role Torvald expects of her in their dialogue. She accepts his condescending pet names and snide comments with a smile, scurrying about to do as he wishes. Consider some of his early comments in Act One:

Helmer: Is it my little squirrel bustling about?

...

Helmer: Has my little spendthrift been wasting money again?

...

Helmer [wagging his finger at her]: Hasn't Miss Sweet Tooth been breaking rules in town today?

In numerous exchanges in this act, Helmer insults Nora, accusing her of wasting his money, when actually she has borrowed enough money to save his life and is working to pay it back secretly. Nora plays the role he expects, following his lead, smiling and almost never remotely standing up for herself. She does make several comments that are almost more for herself than her husband, such as this one:

Nora [smiling quietly and happily]: You haven't any idea how many expenses we skylarks and squirrels have, Torvald.

However, this smattering of passive comments have no effect on her husband, and he typically insults her further.

In Act Two, things are shifting a little. Nora begins to find her voice, and even uses the pet names to describe herself in order to further her own goals:

Nora: If your little squirrel were to ask you for something very, very prettily—?

...

Nora: Your skylark would chirp about in every room, with her song rising and falling—

...

Nora: I would play the fairy and dance for you in the moonlight, Torvald.

Nora uses the way her husband sees her as a means of manipulating him. Since she is his pretty little squirrel, his chirping skylark, and his dancing fairy, her husband should honor her requests regarding Krogstad's potential dismissal. She also finds some new strength in their exchanges, beginning to assert her own opinion much more than she could in Act One:

Nora: Torvald, I don't believe you mean that.

Helmer: Don't you? Why not?

Nora: Because it is such a narrow-minded way of looking at things.

Helmer: What are you saying? Narrow-minded? Do you think I am narrow-minded?

This isn't yet the confident Nora of Act Three, but she is making progress in that direction, openly criticizing her husband's actions and no longer in a way that he can ignore.

Nora is finding her voice. It will take her some time to fully find the confidence she needs to make her husband truly see her value, but she is on her way.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The early dialogues between Torvald and his wife Nora seem to be frivolous ones in which a patronizing husband speaks with condescension to his wife, whom he considers a "spendthrift" a silly thing who knows nothing of the value of money. In fact, he gives her credit for very little,  When Nora asks him for a monetary gift for Christmas, Torvald is completely unsuspecting of her motives.  So, when she says that if she receives money for Christmas, she will "have time to decide" what she most needs. But, her husband merely smiles and informs her that the moeny would be good if she bought something for herself,

HELMER But if you spend it all on the housekeeping and any number of unnecessary things, then I merely have to pay up again...That's the truth, dear little Nora, and you know it. My wastrel is a little sweeheart, but she does go through an awful lot of money awfully fast.

Further, Torvald patronizes Nora by dismissing her serious remarks. He tells her that she is just like her father, a spendthrift. But Nora begins to assert herself:

NORA  In that case, I wish I had inherited many of Daddy's qualities. 

Yet, when Torvald asks her about eating macaroons, she still feels the need to deceive him, saying

NORA You know I wouldn't do anything to displease you.

Here Nora indicates that she still wishes to please her husband. However, events start to unfold that reveal more of her character. For instance, as she talks with Dr. Rank she begins to rebel against him in eating again some macaroons, exclaiming "Who cares?" and even cursing when Rank asks what it is that Nora would like her husband to hear. So, when she next speaks to Torvald, Nora begins to ask things of him, but in a subtle fashion while she asks him to help her decide what she will wear for a Christmas party. Then, as her husband is unsuspecting, she inquires about what Krogstad has done to be fired at the bank. Her husband tells her that the lawyer has forged papers and brought shame upon his family. As he leaves, Nora worries whether her husband will accuse her of corrupting her children as he does Krogstad.

In Act II, however, Nora's conduct toward her husband becomes less acquiescent.  Instead, she heartily seeks to persuade him to rehire Krogstad out of her fear that the man will reveal to her husband what she has done in securing a loan years before so that he could regain his health in Italy.

Further on, she finds fault with his attitude, calling it "petty."

HELMER What!Petty? You think I'm being petty!...By God, I'll put an end to this right now!

He sends the letter out to Korgstad, defying the wishes of "little Mrs. Obstinate!"  When she asks him to call the letter back, he tells her it is "too late." She agrees, "Yes. Too late," but means something entirely different. Then, as the act draws to a close, Nora becomes more and more desperate, sure that the letter from Krogstad will be read by her husand and he will learn the truth about the not she forged and the money that her father supposedly gave them. Desperately, then, Nora ironically tells Torvald not to read the letter from Krogstad. 

NORA then you'll be free.

HELMER There, there--I don't like this wild--frenzy--Be my own sweet little lark again, the way you always are.

When Nora says "thirty-one more hours to live," Torvald is perplexed and asks,

HELMER "What's happening to my little lark?"

NORA  Here's your lark!

But, she is not the same as in Act One, to be sure.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team