How does Henrik Ibsen incorporate the relationship between learning and sacirifice in A Doll's House?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Henrick Ibsen's play A Doll's House, Ibsen shows the relationship between learning and sacrifice when his character Nora makes what she believes is a great sacrifice for her husband and as a result of her sacrifice she learns a great deal about society, her husband, and herself.

As Nora tells Mrs. Linde in the first act of the play, Nora and Torvald struggled financially during the first few years of their marriage. Torvald overworked himself to provide for his family, making himself very ill. The doctors informed Nora that the only way to ensure her husband's survival would be to relocate to Southern Italy for a while. Nora feared that letting her husband know how ill he was would cause further distress, weakening his condition further. Therefore, Nora needed to find a way to procure enough money to travel abroad, without her husband finding out. Nora decided to take out a loan, but in those days a woman could not take out a loan without a man's signature. At the same time, Nora's father fell ill as well. Fearing to ask her father for a signature in his condition, Nora decided to forge her father's signature on a loan. Her father died before they left for Italy and never learned about it. For years, Nora locked herself up in a room copying and sewing to earn money to pay back the loan.

Later in life, and later in the first act, Nora's great sacrifice for her husband becomes a catalyst for many life's lessons. The lawyer, Krogstad, from whom Nora procured the loan is now blackmailing Nora in order to keep his post at the bank where her husband is the newly appointed manager. Krogstad explains to Nora that her forged signature is illegal and that the law will not care about her motive of saving her husband's life, when he states, "The law cares nothing about motives"(Act, I). It is a great revelation to Nora that the law would forbid a wife from helping a dying husband and father, and she refuses to believe it.

A second lesson Nora learns takes place after Torvald reads Krogstad's letter explaining Nora's fraud.  Nora expects Torvald to understand that she forged the signature out of love for him. This is evident when Torvald demands if the letter is true and Nora replies "It is true. I have loved you above everything else in the world" (Act III). Nora also expects that Torvald will take the law onto his own shoulders and sacrifice himself for her in return, which is why Nora cries out "Let me go. You shall not suffer for my sake. You shall not take it upon yourself"(Act III). Instead, Torvald is furious, calls her a hypocrite and a criminal, and says that she is not fit to raise the children. Nora learns the true narrow minded nature of her husband. She also realizes that neither her father, nor her husband have ever treated her like an adult and respected her mind. Instead, she realizes that she has always been treated like a child.