"Empty. She is gone. [A hope flashes across his mind.] The most wonderful thing of all—?" Act III
In Henrik Ibsen's play A Doll's House, why does Helmer say these lines and perform this stage command?
Helmer: (Sinks down on a chair at the door and buries his face in his hands). Nora! Nora! (Looks round, and rises.) Empty. She is gone. (A hope flashes across his mind.) The most wonderful thing of all--?" (Act III).
Henrik Ibsen's choice of stage direction in his final passage of A Doll's House is very interesting. After Nora walks out the door, first Torvald sinks to a chair with his face buried in his hands, crying with anguish "Nora! Nora!" Sinking to a chair while crying into his hands are the actions of one who has been completely defeated. He does not chase after her through the door because he knows it is hopeless. In sinking into the chair Torvald is showing that he is defeated and mourning her loss.
His second action after she leaves, after a pause, is to look around the room and stand, saying "Empty. She is gone." This stage command serves to show Torvald in a state of dawning awareness. Though he was just beginning to mourn, he is only now starting to fully grasp the reality of the situation. He looks around the room to take in the fact that she is no longer in the room, or in the house. He stands to get a better look at the house, to get a better understanding of just how empty the house is. Standing may also make him feel that he is still king of his own domain. Being king of his own domain leads us to the explanation of this third stage action.
Because Torvald realizes that he is still king of his own house, he realizes that he may still be in control of the situation. At this point hope flashes across his face because he suddenly feels that making the changes Nora requires may be possible. He poses the question "The most wonderful thing of all--?" to ask himself if the "most wonderful thing of all" is truly possible, and his answer is yes--it may be possible. Torvald realizes that it may be possible for him to start seeing Nora as a grown human being with her own mind and own needs, instead of as a child or possession.
Helmer has always treated Nora sort of child like. He has always (as she has allowed him to) be the strong hand in the marriage. He never would believe she would leave him. In fact, Nora would never think she would either. For her to do this, was "The miracle of all a miracles..." Her strength, her control, this determination and independence is where the miracle lies. So his response is that of shock and epiphany!