Set during the nineteenth century, a time in which women are suppressed by a social system that equates males with business and worldly affairs and females with domestic chores in the home, A Doll's House illuminated many of the conflicts of the era.
1. Of course, the main conflict that prevails throughout the drama remains unresolved until the play's ending: the subjugation of Nora and her efforts to play a role in the business of the home, and not just domestic issures. That Nora is treated in a patronizing manner by her husband is apparent in the dialogue which controls the drama. For instance, in Act I, Helmer uses little pet names for his wife, calling her his "little squirrel," playfully pulling her ear, addressing her with patronizing and critical epithets such as "little songbird," "pouty squirrel," "little sweet-tooth," and "my little prodigal." She is forced to hide the macaroons that she wishes to eat; Nora must constantly try to assert herself as someone apart from Torvald's little doll. Further, when Helmer learns that Nora has borrowed money from Krofstad by forging her father's name, he is ashamed and criticizes her, rather than be grateful that she enabled him to be cured. She exercises this assertion of self after her husband does not thank her for saving his life by borrowing money so that he could get well in a warmer climate, but instead castigates her for forging her father's name and bringing embarassment upon him. Nora tells her husband that she is leaving:
The way I am now I am no wife for you....You only thought it was fun to be in love with me.
There. So now it's over. I'm putting the key here....Tomorrow, after I'm gone, Kristine will come over and pack my things from home. I want them sent after me.
2. Another conflict revolves around the former embezzler Krogstad, who threatens to reveal that he has loaned money to Kristine, who has forged her father's name when she does not help him keep his job at the bank. Therefore, he writes a letter to Helmer explaining that Nora owes him money. When he is reunited with Mrs. Linde, he attempts to retrieve it, but Mrs. Linde prevents his doing so and Helmer reads the letter that brings about his and Nora's separation.
Mrs. Linde: Krogstad, you may sell yourself once for somebody else's sake, but you don't do it twice.
Krogstad: I'll demand my letter back.
Mrs. Linde: No...You are not to ask for that letter back....Helmer must learn the whole truth. This miserable secret must come out in the ope; those two must come to a full understand. They simply can't continue with all this concealment and evasion.
3. Another conflict exists between Mrs. Linde and Nora, old friends, argue with one another as Mrs. Linde advises Nora to not be so friendly with Mr. Rank, and to end her relationship with him as she tries to get him to take the blame for her actions in the past. But in Act II, she does offer to talk with Krogstad, "I'm going to talk to him right now."
One of the most important quotes in this play that comes in Act III is said by Nora to her husband, Torvald, after she has had a chance to reflect on her position and identity. She comes to see that for both her husband and her father she has not allowed to be herself, and instead has been forced to play a role of the kind of girl and woman that they want her to be. Note what she says to Torvald:
I have been performing tricks for you, Torvald. That’s how I’ve survived. You wanted it like that. You and Papa have done me a great wrong. It’s because of you I’ve made nothing of my life.
Nora here establishes that all of her life she has been acting as if she were on stage, playing a childish, silly and ignorant girl for both her father and her husband. The "great wrong" that she claims has been done to her is a result of their forcing her to adopt this role, but she realises that as a result she has made "nothing" of her life due to not being able to develop naturally. This quote lies at the very heart of the conflict between Nora and Torvald, and also points towards the resolution of the play, as it foreshadows the final bang of the door as Nora leaves Torvald to start her own life and find herself.