Is Nora justified in leaving her husband and children in A Doll's House? Provide quotations.

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One could argue that Nora Helmer is completely justified in leaving her husband and children in Henrik Ibsen's classic play A Doll's House. In act 3, Torvald finally reads Krogstad 's letter, which describes Nora's dark secret and explains how she committed forgery to attain a loan. Once...

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One could argue that Nora Helmer is completely justified in leaving her husband and children in Henrik Ibsen's classic play A Doll's House. In act 3, Torvald finally reads Krogstad's letter, which describes Nora's dark secret and explains how she committed forgery to attain a loan. Once Torvald discovers her secret, he expresses how upset and appalled he is with Nora's actions by saying,

Miserable creature—what have you done? (Ibsen, 119)

In addition to calling his wife a "miserable creature," Torvald also mentions that she is not fit to raise her children and says,

All these eight years—she who was my joy and pride--a hypocrite, a liar--worse, worse—a criminal! The unutterable ugliness of it all!—For shame! (Ibsen, 120)

Torvald's lack of sympathy and grace towards his wife reveals his genuine feelings for Nora. Torvald is not a loving, compassionate man but a rather authoritative, insensitive husband. He does not even appreciate Nora's motive for attaining the loan. Once Nora listens to Torvald's outburst, she recognizes that he never truly loved her and that she was simply acting as a doll in his house. When Torvald questions Nora's happiness, she responds by saying,

No, I have never been happy. I thought I was, but it has never really been so...No, only merry. And you have always been so kind to me. But our home has been nothing but a playroom. I have been your doll-wife, just as at home I was papa's doll-child; and here the children have been my dolls. I thought it great fun when you played with me, just as they thought it great fun when I played with them. That is what our marriage has been, Torvald. (Ibsen, 129)

Nora's unfulfilling marriage and oppressive life contribute to her decision to leave Torvald's home and her children behind. The audience can sympathize with Nora's decision and she proceeds to describe her sacred duties. When Torvald asks what sacred duties she has other than being a wife and mother, Nora responds by saying,

Duties to myself. (Ibsen, 132)

In addition to Torvald's lack of compassion, love, and tolerance, Nora also makes a compelling argument by commenting on her unfulfilling life and duties to herself. Overall, Nora presents a reasonable argument for her decision to leave Torvald and her children behind.

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I believe that Nora is justified in leaving her family. She has never had a chance to live for herself—or to actually find out who her "self" is. Her father "used to call [her] his doll-child, and played with [her] as [she] played with [her] dolls." As a child, Nora never had an opportunity to develop independence and figure out who she is, what her dreams or goals are, or what she wants or does not want out of her life. Then, she went from her father's house and hands directly into the hands of her husband, Torvald, and she feels that Torvald and her "father have done [her] a great wrong." Nora believes that her life "has come to nothing" and that this is the fault of the men who have coddled and controlled her, bending her will to theirs and effectively denying her a life of her own. It's a tough pill to swallow, because of the existence of her children, but consider this: how good and attentive a mother would Nora really be, having realized what she's realized and wanting a different life for herself? There will be people to help Torvald care for the kids. It's a shame that they will grow up without a mother, but it is also a shame that women were forced to be submissive and denied their own identities.

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This is necessarily a subjective question. Nora has good reasons for leaving her husband and children, that is beyond doubt. However, the question of whether or not these reasons justify her departure must be answered according to your own opinions. 

Making an argument justifying Nora's decision, we can point to 1) the demeaning treatment she receives from her husband, Torvald and 2) the idea that Nora feels there is no way for her to develop into an individual while living with Torvald. 

Throughout the play, Torvald demeans his wife, perhaps lovingly, yet consistently. He refers to her with pet names that associate her with helpless woodland creatures. 

Her husband constantly refers to her with pet names, such as "singing lark," "little squirrel"...

He also bars her from taking any responsibility in the household beyond dealing with the children. She is treated, by him, like a child herself. (She must follow his rules.) 

Importantly, Torvald also expects that Nora will agree with him on all matters of importance. His opinions are to be her opinions. 

This is the final reason that Nora cannot remain in his house (and it is hishouse.) When she realizes that she should expect more from herself than the life she is living as the powerless wife with no identity of her own, Nora feels forced to leave her family. 

When Nora confronts Torvald with the truth of how he has treated her and limited her development as an adult, thinking person, he attempts to remind her of her duties. 

Helmer: Before anything else, you’re a wife and mother.

Nora: I don’t believe that any more. I believe that before anything else, I’m a human being, just as much a one as you are … or at least I’m going to turn myself into one.… I want to think everything out for myself and make my own decisions.

In this difference of views, we see one justification for Nora's choice. If Torvald feels that she is a wife and mother before she is a person with opinions and feelings of her own, how can Nora expect to grow into something more than a functionary filling these roles?

 

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