In A Doll's House, why is Nora "pale with terror" at the end of act 1? What is the significance of the description of the Christmas tree now "stripped of ornament, with burned-down candle stubs on its ragged branches" that opens act 2?

At the end of act 1 in A Doll's House, Nora is "pale with terror" because she fears Torvald will learn she illegally borrowed money to fund their trip to Italy. The disheveled state of the Christmas tree at the start of act 2 reflects Nora's waning commitment to role-playing the perfect, childlike wife for her husband.

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At the end of act 1, Nora is unsettled by Torvald's comments regarding Krogstad's forgery. Torvald feels that because Krogstad got away with this misdeed (never giving himself up to be "punished"), he must be corrupt. In fact, he argues that a person who would commit such a crime, no matter the reason, is a corrupting influence on everyone around them, especially children. He even goes as far as to say such behavior can be blamed upon being raised by "a lying mother." Nora is unnerved by this because she illegally borrowed money for the Italian trip undertaken for the sake of Torvald's health. Though she did it for a noble reason, she fears both Torvald's judgment and the possibility that she is a bad influence on her children.

This uneasy mood lingers into act 2. The description of the Christmas tree with the burnt-out candles conveys a sense of desolation. The festive gaiety which seemed to characterize Nora at the start of the play has evaporated in the wake of her fears. Furthermore, the tree acts as a symbolic double for Nora. Like the Christmas tree, Nora's role in her household is largely decorative, but as her anxieties pile up, her commitment to role-playing a beautiful, childlike housewife wanes, and the tree accordingly loses its glamor.

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