In view of the fact that the last act several times seems to be moving toward a "happy ending," what is wrong with the alternate ending to A Doll's House that Henrik Ibsen reluctantly provided for...

In view of the fact that the last act several times seems to be moving toward a "happy ending," what is wrong with the alternate ending to A Doll's House that Henrik Ibsen reluctantly provided for a German production?

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is an arguable notion that there is some kind of hope for a "happy ending" in the last act of A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen. Torvald and Nora are in an argument which seems to be irreconcilable. She has been awakened to an awareness that she has been sacrificing herself for her husband and her children and intends to leave; her husband accuses her of being a terrible mother who deserts her children. There is very little ground between these two positions, and until the last line of the play there seems to be no hope at all. 

Nora's final lines in the play include her statement that in order for them to stay together, "the most wonderful thing of all would have to happen." What she hints at is that their "life together would be a real wedlock." By this she means their relationship would have to become a mature partnership rather than a kind of benevolent dictatorship in which she is a kept doll living in a doll's house. Of course she sees no hope of this, so she slams the door and walks out of her husband's and children's lives. 

The final stage direction, referring to Torvald, reads as follows: "A hope flashes across his mind." Torvald then says, "The most wonderful thing of all?" While it is glimmer of hopefulness, there is no substantive reason to believe he has changed his position or that he would be able to convince Nora of his changed mind if it were so. In contrast, Nora's exit is a pretty clear indication that she means what she says. 

It is true that Nora's future is likely to be beyond difficult as she has no means with which to support herself, and perhaps there is room for a reconciliation; however, it does not seem evident that Torvald is any closer to accepting Nora for who she is rather than as how he sees her.

In any case, the alternative ending Ibsen wrote is troubling. He only wrote it because it became clear to him that the German theaters were going to rewrite his ending to be more palatable to its audience.  In order to maintain some control because of lax copyright laws, he wrote this ending:

NORA. ... Where we could make a real marriage out of our lives together. Goodbye. [Begins to go.]

HELMER. Go then! [Seizes her arm.] But first you shall see your children for the last time!

NORA. Let me go! I will not see them! I cannot!

HELMER [draws her over to the door, left]. You shall see them. [Opens the door and says softly.] Look, there they are asleep, peaceful and carefree. Tomorrow, when they wake up and call for their mother, they will be - motherless.

NORA [trembling]. Motherless...!

HELMER. As you once were.

NORA. Motherless! [Struggles with herself, lets her travelling bag fall, and says.] Oh, this is a sin against myself, but I cannot leave them. [Half sinks down by the door.]

HELMER [joyfully, but softly]. Nora!

[The curtain falls.]

This is a troubling ending because there is no possible compromise here. At least in the original ending there is a hint that a compromise is possible; in this ending, Nora has once again capitulated and will forever remain trapped as a doll in her dollhouse. While Torvald may be happy, it is clear that Nora is committing a sin against her own nature by capitulating to her husband's emotional manipulation. She stays, but there will be no "happy ending." Nora will be miserable and undoubtedly come to resent her life as a doll in a dollhouse more than she ever did. This move evidently brings Torvald some joy, but it comes at Nora's expense. It is Nora's brokenness that brings him joy.

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A Doll's House

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