Describe the relationship of Helmer and Nora in the first act of A Doll's House.

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The first act of A Doll's House gives us the setting of the play in 

" a room furnished comfortably and tastefully, but not extravagantly".

This setting also opens the door to the secondary setting, which establishes the atmosphere and tone of the play. Here is where we learn the dynamics between Nora and Torvald. 

One of the things that we witness is the dominant/submissive chemistry between them, where the husband plays the "master" and the wife plays the "doll" role. She essentially makes herself act like a young, clueless woman, for his entertainment. 

These dynamics are based on nickname-calling, responding to specific cues that reinforce the dominant/submissive roles, and continuous acting by Nora, who feeds Torvald the "doll" concept. 

You can't deny it, my dear little Nora. (Puts his arm round her waist.) It's a sweet little spendthrift, but she uses up a deal of money. One would hardly believe how expensive such little persons are!

Within the dynamics, there is also an issue with hiding things. Nora hides from Torvald the macaroons that she eats because she knows that he will scold her like a child.  Also, she downplays her money spending, flutters around in excitement like a lark, which is one of the nicknames that her husband gives her, and essentially lives in a world created by her for Torvald.

All of this is done in aims to perpetuate the myth of the Victorian nurturing crux which places the woman at the center of the household, acting as its angel and as the "do-it-all" of the marriage (save the finances). It is a time stamp of the society where Nora belongs. She cannot do much more except do as she is expected, but things will change later on in a very dramatic way.