After Dr. Rank professes his love, Nora gets the light. Is this light real or artificial? What is Ibsen suggesting about truth and light in A Doll's House?
Dr. Rank abruptly admits that he loves her. Nora tells him that he has done a terrible thing in admitting this.
Nora is embarrassed. The evening is drawing near and it is getting dark inside the house. When Dr. Rank admits his love for Nora, Nora gets the lamp and lights it. The light is real. It is not artificial. She is uncomfortable when Dr. Rank shares his love for her. She tries to light up the house. Nora is uncomfortable in the dusk lighting. The intimacy of the dim lighting causes Nora to feel uneasy. She is definitely caught off guard when Dr. Rank admits his love for her. She even tells Dr. Rank that he should not have admitted his love for her:
NORA:[at the hall door]. Helen, bring in the lamp. [Goes over to the stove.]
Dear Doctor Rank, that was really horrid of you.RANK:To have loved you as much as anyone else does? Was that horrid?NORA:No, but to go and tell me so. There was really no need—
Ibsen is suggesting that the truth about Dr. Rank's love has been hidden. When Nora lights up the room, the truth has been revealed. Nora continues to chide Dr. Rank for his clumsiness in telling her of his love for her:
To think you could be so clumsy, Doctor Rank! We were getting on so nicely.
No doubt, Nora lights up the room to get rid of the awkwardness of Dr. Rank's confession. With the room lighted, Dr. Rank can clearly see Nora's frustrated expression on her face. Nora does not want to lead Dr. Rank on any longer. Nora and Dr. Rank had their own hidden feelings, one for the other. Now, that Dr. Rank has been so candid in his profession of love, Nora is extremely uncomfortable. She calls the maid to bring in the lamp. The lighting is not artificial. Nora desires to shine the lamp brightly so Dr. Rank cannot continue his intimate comments in the dark or the dusk lighting.
In act two, Dr. Rank arrives and explains to Nora that his disease has progressed and he is likely to die soon. When he begins to lament that he will be leaving the world without having left behind any grand gestures, Nora attempts to ask him for a favor, but Dr. Rank suddenly confesses his love for her. Nora is astonished and taken back by Dr. Rank's confession and immediately heads to the stove to get a light. Nora proceeds to light a lamp, which is real and not artificial. Nora's action is an attempt to lighten the room and suppress the serious mood. She is evidently uncomfortable with Dr. Rank's confession and feels uneasy about his emotions for her. Lighting the lamp indicates that Dr. Rank's feelings are unwanted.
By examining Nora's actions regarding the lamp, Ibsen is suggesting that the truth can be uncomfortable and disturbing. Dr. Rank's feelings for Nora were secret, and as soon as he discloses his hidden love for Nora, she responds by lightening the room. The light symbolically represents the truth, which can be disruptive. Similarly, Nora also has a secret of her own, which will significantly disrupt her husband's attitude and outlook on life when it is revealed. Lighting the room also disrupts the moment of intimacy between the two characters and creates separation, which is precisely what Nora wanted. Therefore, the truth, which is represented by the light, can be unsettling and divisive.
The lamp light is symbolic of the truth. Previously, the relationship between Nora and Dr. Rank had been shrouded in metaphorical darkness. But now that the truth has been revealed, both Nora and Dr. Rank now know exactly where they stand. Once the lamp light comes on, it's perfectly obvious from the embarrassed look on Nora's face that Dr. Rank's feelings for her are in no way reciprocated.
His love for her was always in the shadows, something he was never able to express. Yet now that he's finally summoned up the courage to tell Nora how he really feels about her, he's immediately deflated by Nora's reaction. Her lighting of the lamp isn't artificial; it's the situation of intimacy created by the dark that was unreal. By breaking the moment of intimacy, Nora has introduced some much-needed light into the situation. For both their sakes, Dr. Rank needed to be made aware in no uncertain terms that the amorous feelings he has developed for Nora are unwanted. And the lighting of the lamp gives Nora an opportunity to do precisely that.