Near the beginning of the play, how does Mrs. Linde's presence help to define Nora's character?

1 Answer

belarafon's profile pic

belarafon | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

A Doll's House, by Henrik Ibsen, is often called the first feminist play, and concerns the emotional dissolution of a marriage.

In the first act, Nora has been seen to behave childishly with her husband, Torvald, and so it comes as a shock to the audience when she reveals to her friend Mrs. Linde that she took steps to save Torvald's life while he was ill. Her action of borrowing money and slowly paying it back with her own work flies in the face of her seeming dependence on her husband, who is unaware of her extra labors. Nora states:

" painful and humiliating it would be for Torvald, with his manly independence, to know that he owed me anything!" (eNotes eText, Act 1)

Although Nora plays the role, she recognizes that Torvald's ego is stronger than his love of her; an emotionally-balanced marriage would have no qualms about such a situation. This is in sharp contrast to Mrs. Linde, who works from necessity and has no husband to help, or to pacify. Later in the same conversation, she says:

"...there is something that is called, in business, quarterly interest, and another thing called payment in instalments, and it is always so dreadfully difficult to manage them ... Whenever Torvald has given me money for new dresses and such things, I have never spent more than half of it...." (eNotes eText, Act 1)

At the time, women were not expected to understand or even care about business and related topics, so for Nora to both understand and take steps to spend within a budget -- a budget that secretly includes interest payments! -- was almost unheard-of. Nora's inner character is therefore seen as stronger than her outer facade, which she forces into a mold to keep her husband's ego happy. In contrast, Mrs. Linde is outwardly more overworked, but has no need for deception, and so the emotional relief of living in truth is compared with the burden of pretense.