A Doll's House Questions and Answers
by Henrik Ibsen

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Compare and contrast Christine Linde and Nora Helmer in A Doll's House.

In A Doll's House, Christine Linde and Nora Helmer are white Norwegian women in their thirties. They were childhood friends who got married to men. Christine, who married for money, is a childless widow. Nora married for love, is still married, and has three children. Since becoming widowed, Christine openly works for a living, while Nora earns income in secret. Christine is gloomy, contrasting Nora’s surface-level cheer.

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A Doll’s House, produced in 1879, was written as a social problem drama. Playwright Henrik Ibsen recognized that one of the most pressing situations in European society in his era stemmed from difficulties surrounding marital relationships. Through character development, he set out to prove to his audiences that marriage conventions so often romanticized among the middle classes did not always equate to marital bliss.

Beginning with protagonist Nora Helmer, Ibsen presents a young wife in her late twenties who has been married to Torvald Helmer for eight years. She is attractive, flirtatious, and playful. Nora is lighthearted to the point of coming across to others as childlike in her actions. She often tells little “white lies.” Nevertheless, she is devoted to her husband and children. Torvald is a proud and hardworking lawyer who tends to be domineering. Although he claims to love Nora, he envisions his wife to be more like a possession or a toy in a dollhouse. In reality, Torvald is a hypocrite. He pretends to be scrupulous, but he cares more about appearances and reputation than ethics or love for his wife. As a result, their marriage is shallow, empty, and oppressive. Torvald has no respect for Nora, belittles her at every turn, and completely lacks understanding of her as a woman.

To compensate for her husband’s shortcomings, Nora lives psychologically in an unrealistic fantasy world based upon stuffy European social conventions. She chooses to believe that her husband respects her, protects her, and provides for her emotional and financial well-being. She even makes an effort to conceal the debt she secretly incurred in order to save his pride:

Mrs Linde. Do you mean never to tell him about it?

Nora [meditatively, and with a half smile]. Yes—someday, perhaps, after many years, when I am no longer as nice-looking as I am now. Don't laugh at me! I mean, of course, when Torvald is no longer as devoted to me as he is now; when my dancing and dressing-up and reciting have palled on him; then it may be a good thing to have something in reserve—[Breaking off.] What nonsense! That time will never come. Now, what do you think of my great secret, Christine? Do you still think I am of no use? I can tell you, too, that this affair has caused me a lot of worry. It has been by no means easy for me to meet my engagements punctually. I may tell you that there is something that is called, in business, quarterly interest, and another thing called payment in installments, and it is always so dreadfully difficult to manage them. I have had to save a little here and there, where I could, you understand. I have not been able to put aside much from my housekeeping money, for Torvald must have a good table. I couldn't let my children be shabbily dressed; I have felt obliged to use up all he gave me for them, the sweet little darlings!

Although Nora enjoys an economic advantage over her friend Christine, she is suffering because of her submission to a domineering husband. At the conclusion of the drama, Nora realizes that her life has been a falsity. She leaves her family in search of her own self-worth.

In Christine Linde, Ibsen shows his audience a woman with a different personality also dealing with European marriage conventions in the late nineteenth century. Christine is a childhood friend of Nora, but the two have not seen each other for years. She has not enjoyed the same social class or financial advantages as her friend. She is a practical, serious, open-minded woman who, unlike Nora, strongly believes in honesty. Ibsen portrays her as a powerless female of her era, totally dependent on her husband for financial security:

Nora [gently]. Poor Christine, you are a widow.

Mrs Linde. Yes; it is three years ago now.

Nora. Yes, I knew; I saw it in the papers. I assure you, Christine, I meant ever so often to write to you at the time, but I always put it off and something always prevented me.

Mrs Linde. I quite understand, dear.

Nora. It was very bad of me, Christine. Poor thing, how you must have suffered. And he left you nothing?

Mrs Linde. No.

Nora. And no children?

Mrs Linde. No.

Nora. Nothing at all, then.

Mrs Linde. Not even any sorrow or grief to live upon.

Nora [looking incredulously at her]. But, Christine, is that possible?

Mrs Linde [smiles sadly and strokes her hair]. It sometimes happens, Nora.

Nora. So you are quite alone. How dreadfully sad that must be.

Christine’s first marriage is not based on love but only financial benefits. At the conclusion of the play, she finds love in an open and trusting relationship with Nils Krogstad, but Ibsen makes it clear that she remains a stereotypical woman who is incomplete without a man to take care of her.

Ibsen uses the institution of marriage as an indictment of the nineteenth-century European social conventions that treat women as second-class citizens. He develops his contradictions of the romanticized version of marriage as “bliss” through the characters of Nora and Christine. The author proves through Nora’s character that abused women can escape to freedom, even abandoning children in the process.

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Christine Linde and Nora Helmer are similar in several ways. These Norwegian women were schoolmates and friends in their youth and both married soon after finishing school. Both also made difficult decisions based on the desire to help a loved one.

The numerous differences between the women are primarily connected to their class position and attitudes toward matrimony. Christine took a more practical approach, partly out of concern for her ailing mother. She married a wealthy man whom she did not love, expecting him to support her and help her mother. The couple did not have children. Business problems and her husband’s death left her to fend for herself. She has worked since becoming widowed and, currently in need of a job, has come to seek Nora’s assistance. Christine seems to have a pessimistic attitude toward life.

Nora married Torvald based on mutual love, and she is a proud mother of their three children. When Torvald was ill, Nora’s desire to help him led to her criminal mistake of committing forgery. Her subsequent experiences with work, which have been done in secret, are connected with her efforts to repay the borrowed money. Nora’s apparently cheerful disposition is often a front to cover up her concerns about the secrecy and fraud.

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Despite the fact that Christine and Nora are the same age, Christine appears "a little paler" and "a little thinner" than Nora does; Christine herself even says that she looks "much, much older" than her one-time school friend. Christine has spent the nine or ten years since they last saw each other quite differently from the way Nora has: Christine married a man she did not love because he could care for her and her family, then she became a widow who was left "nothing" by her husband (when his business "fell to pieces at his death"), and she had to work hard to support herself for the last three years (since his death). Nora, on the other hand, has a healthy and successful husband and "three of the loveliest children."

Christine tells Nora, "it must be delightful to have what you need," and Nora replies that she has "not only what [she] need[s], but heaps of money -- heaps!" Nora is pretty tactless, even in the face of her friend's need; her old friend has clearly fallen on difficult times, but Nora continues to brag about her family and her money. She claims that she's had to work, too, "light fancy work: crochet, and embroidery, and things of that sort" though her work clearly has not affected her the way Christine's has her. Christine talks about how the last three years "have been one long struggle" for her, but now she feels that her life is "inexpressibly empty."

By the end of the play, however, Christine and Krogstad have reunited, and she will finally have a husband that she loves, but Nora has realized how empty her own marriage is and abandons her family in order to discover herself.

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The differences between Christine’s life and Nora’s are established immediately with Christine’s introduction into the play. As the drama continues, the fundamental differences in their characters are developed so thoroughly that Christine could be interpreted as a literary foil for Ibsen’s protagonist. Christine’s independence and strong sense of self emphasize Nora’s dependence and lack of personal identity; Christine’s insistence on telling the truth emphasizes Nora’s deceitfulness in all matters, important or insignificant. The literary relationship between the characters, however, is more subtle and complex than that of a character and her foil. Through Christine Linde, Ibsen previews the woman Nora Helmer will become after leaving Torvald and the stifling security of their marriage.

Christine’s personal history is established through exposition early in the play. Responsible for her ailing mother and for several younger brothers, she married a wealthy man she did not love so that she would have the financial resources to take care of them; his business ventures failed, and after he died, leaving her penniless, Christine worked hard to support herself and her family. Her mother died, her brothers grew up, and she continued to work to support herself. In the play’s conclusion, the rest of Christine’s story is revealed; marrying for money had required sacrificing her relationship with Nils Krogstad, the man she had loved and had planned to marry.

Relating the facts of her life to Nora at the beginning of the play, Christine bemoans how hard she has had to work, “[w]ith a little store and a little school and anything else I could think of.” In the play’s conclusion, however, she acknowledges that work has been her “one and only pleasure.” Christine moves to Nora’s town seeking new employment, not a new husband, and she comes to Nora’s home hoping to secure an office job at Torvald’s bank.

When Christine and Krogstad meet again and plan to marry, she does not seek a superficial marriage of convenience that will provide her with financial security. She recognizes that she and Krogstad need each other, and she envisions a true marriage of mind and spirit in which they will bring out the best in each other. With Christine, Krogstad believes he will become a better person and will “raise [himself] in the eyes of others”; with him, Christine declares, “I dare to do anything.” Their marriage will succeed, the play implies, because they reveal the truth about themselves and the past, and they will go into marriage as partners in the relationship.

Christine’s life after the death of her husband foreshadows in several ways what Nora’s life will be after leaving Torvald. Like Christine, Nora will live without the security of marriage, and she will work to support herself. She plans to return to her hometown, where she imagines it will be easier to find “some kind of job” that will give her a start in the new life she seeks. “I must see to it that I get experience, Torvald,” she explains. Working is not the only experience Nora plans to acquire. Like Christine, she will learn to live an independent, self-directed life, thinking for herself, exercising her own judgment, and making her own decisions.

In Nora’s final conversation with Torvald before leaving him, she rejects deceit, speaks frankly, and thus adopts Christine’s regard for the truth. Nora makes it clear that her relationship with Torvald is over unless they can change “[s]o that our living together would become a true marriage.” As the play concludes, Nora strikes out on her own, leaving Torvald behind, and leaving the audience to wonder if the Helmers will find their way back to each other, as Christine and Krogstad have done, and if Nora, like Christine, will one day find genuine happiness as her own person in a marriage between partners. In the drama's final scenes, Christine's long journey to fulfillment ends, and Nora's begins.

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