How does Nora's character, form Henrik Ibsen's "A Doll's House," change through the play?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

From the very beginning of the play, we can see that Nora is a pleaser. Her upbeat and excessively "chirpy" attitude is reflected in how she enters Scene 1 in such "high spirits," singing tunes, then eating macarons, and then interacting with her husband in an almost comical way. Their interaction immediately denotes a father/child dynamic where the husband acts as a disciplinarian more than a loving companion. To all this, Nora is compliant. She is fulfilling a role, after all: the very Victorian role of the "angel of the household." In the Helmer household, she would be playing the part of  her husband's "squirrel," the "little spendthrift," and the "featherhead," in Torvald's own words.

Once she reunites with her old friend Mrs. Linde, we find out the kind of trouble Nora is in. She has made a business loan with a man who works for her husband. The man is Krogstad, an individual with a shady past and questionable intentions. Eventually, he uses his position to control Nora and threaten her with telling Torvald if she does not agree to his terms of repayment. To all this, Mrs. Linde responds with what we suspect as readers: she tells Nora that she (Nora) needs to face the issue and tell her husband herself, or else what kind of marriage is she really a part of?

Nora's response is interesting. She feels that she will, perhaps by providence, be rewarded and appreciated by her husband (should he ever find out) for making the transaction with Krogstad. After all, she did it all to save her husband's life when they were in need of funding for a medical treatment. Of course Torvald would understand, right? Those were her thoughts. In her mind, that would have been, as she says, "her miracle."

Fast forward to the last act, when Torvald finally finds out about the issue. He acts terribly toward Nora. He does not even acknowledge the fact that she did all of that for him; he calls her a bad mother, a bad wife, and a bad influence. This is the catalyst that Nora needs to finally realize the sham of her marriage. She finally gets it: she has played the role of a doll with her husband, the same way she was a plaything of her father; she was an entertaining piece of the household and not really a valued, equally-treated human being. As such, Nora simply decides to leave everything behind her and goes away. She is tired of playing such a role.

literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the beginning of Henrik Ibsen's "A Doll's House," Nora Helmer is happy. She seems oblivious to the real world and the challenges adults are required to face. She revels in Torvald's treatment of her (as a "silly girl"). Life for Nora seems to revolve around her stash of macaroons and her seemingly perfect life. 

As the play progresses, readers learn of her true understanding of very complex ideas. Nora proves to be educated in finances, and she proves to understand the real world with excruciating realism. Forced to take out a loan to help out with the family's financial state, Nora goes behind Torvald's back to insure financial security. As the loan comes due, Nora faces a new challenge, blackmail. 

By the end of the play, readers come to see Nora change dramatically. That said, engaged readers may question if Nora really changes at all. Realistically, one could question if Nora really underwent any real change, or if she simply covered up who she really was.