In "A Doll House," having been first published in 1879, the opening scene may have been less conspicuous in its portrayal of a patriarchal household to audiences that it is today. But, one thing that certainly arouses the reader's curiosity is Nora's reaching in her pocket for a couple of macaroons and then walking cautiously to the study door to listen for her husband. Later, when Helmer says,
"Hey!--I think I just noticed something. Aren't you looking--what's the word?--a little--sly--?"
and he asks her what she has been eating, using the patronizing sobriquet "Little sweet-tooth," the reader/audience realizes that Nora has hidden the macaroons because she is not supposed to have sweets for some reason. Of course, the use of a plethora of sobriquets such as "my little songbird," "a little sweetheart," "a pouty squirrel" and "my little wastrel" as well as his statement, "you are a woman," which implies that she knows nothing of finances, suggest strongly that Helmer is domineering and, at times even demeaning to his wife Nora. Clearly, Nora is not treated as though she is his equal, nor is she taken seriously. However, Helmer does seem to love her, although he desparages her romantic efforts of yesteryear when she hand-made ornaments for the Christmas tree, saying she had little to show for all her work and he was "bored and lonely" while she worked.
Helmer's small kindness--"...you won't have to strain your dear eyes and your delicate little hands" this Christmas season--delights Nora so much that she claps her hand and exclaims, "Oh, how wonderful, how lovely, to hear you say that!" Her exclamation raises doubts in the reader as to how often Helmer is kind to her. Apparently, Nora is usually in a subservient position.