Nora’s decision to leave Torvald is not difficult to understand, considering how he betrays her when she most needs his understanding and protection, but how can she abandon her three children? Torvald reminds Nora that her responsibilities to her children are “sacred duties,” suggesting that he believes she does not take seriously her role as their mother. Nora, however, loves her children, understands for the first time the true responsibilities of motherhood, and now recognizes her deficiencies in meeting them. Nora’s leaving her children to pursue a new life is not a selfish act; it is a sacrifice.
At the beginning of Act I, Nora is introduced in Ibsen’s drama not as Torvald’s wife but as Ivar, Bob, and Emmy’s mother. Coming home from holiday shopping, Nora is happy and excited as she thinks of surprising her children that evening with the Christmas tree she has bought and will decorate and with the presents she has found for them. Showing the gifts to her husband, she eagerly anticipates their Christmas celebration. “And the children Torvald!” she exclaims. “They’ll have such a good time!” The children’s nurse attends to the daily tasks of looking after them, but Nora showers her young sons and little daughter with affection and takes delight in playing with them. In the play’s conclusion when Nora leaves Torvald, she doesn’t want to see her children, no doubt because telling them goodbye would be too painful.
Nora finds the strength to leave her children because she believes she is acting in their best interests. She knows she cannot be a good mother to them until she herself grows up, forges her own identity, and lives with integrity. She recognizes that her children have been her “dolls,” just as she has been Torvald’s “doll wife” and her father’s “doll child.” Preparing to leave the house for the last time, Nora speaks to Torvald about her children. “I know I leave them in better hands than mine,” she says. “The way I am now I can’t be anything to them.” Nora does not say that she can never be a good mother to her children, suggesting that she holds out hope that one day she can be more than their playmate. Until then, she will love them enough to leave them behind while she becomes someone who can be a stable, mature presence in their lives.