Women were expected to be submissive and doll-like, as Nora realizes toward the end of the play that she ought not to have desires and ideas of her own. She says to her husband, in describing her father, "He used to call me his doll-child, and played with me...
Women were expected to be submissive and doll-like, as Nora realizes toward the end of the play that she ought not to have desires and ideas of her own. She says to her husband, in describing her father, "He used to call me his doll-child, and played with me as I played with my dolls. Then I came to live in your house-- [....] I mean I passed from father's hands into yours." She feels as though she's had nothing of her own, that she's lived life as though she were a possession of someone else's, first her father and then her husband. Nora continues, saying:
You arranged everything according to your taste; and I got the same tastes as you; or I pretended to -- I don't know which -- both ways, perhaps; sometimes one and sometimes the other. When I look back on it now, I seem to have been living here like a beggar, from hand to mouth. I lived by performing tricks for you, Torvald. But you would have it so.
She feels like she's been living as a pet, performing tricks in order to please her husband, and this is evidently what Torvald wanted. When she does act on her own, outside his purview, he chastises and berates her. In the past, he's called Nora at various times, a "squirrel," his "little lark," and the like, comparing her to a diminutive animal that has little to no power. Victorian women were expected to follow their husbands, as Nora has done, or -- at least -- appeared to do. When Torvald forbade her from eating sweets so as not to rot her teeth, for example, Nora only seemed to obey, but she went right on sneaking cookies while Torvald wasn't looking. She wasn't even allowed to sign for a loan on her own, which is why she forged her father's signature in order to acquire the money for the trip that saved her husband's life. Nora has constantly tried to be submissive, or maintain the appearance of submissiveness, in order to fit the proper mold.