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In A Doll’s House, the playwright explores the institution of marriage in late 19th-century Norway primarily through focusing on Nora and Torvald Helmer, but includes critical points in his presentation of Kristine Linde.
The disintegration of the Helmers’ marriage progresses from the first scene, when Henrik Ibsen shows Nora concealing information from her husband, through the last scene, when he has her slam the door. The audience can see immediately that Nora lies to her husband and, as soon as he enters, that he denigrates her capabilities and patronizes her with all his “little” animal nicknames. As the play progresses, the audience learns that Nora is not only a liar but a criminal: she has committed fraud. However, she continues to rationalize her illegal activity through her belief that it benefitted her husband and their family. Yet we also gradually learn that Torvald is unworthy of her risks and criminality, since he is a shallow hypocrite. The underlying implication, which suggests a broader critique of marriage, is that rigid views of husbands’s and wives’s roles contributed to both spouses’s behavior.
Ibsen also presents a situation in which marriage failed to fulfill basic needs, but in a different way. Kristine Linde was initially pressured into a loveless marriage because she needed a financially stable situation. The irony was that husband did not adequately provide for her well-being after his death. The institution of marriage fails her because she was left a widow with limited skills, who must nevertheless must earn her own living.