What does Tovald Helmer do in A Doll's House to be so unlikeable?
In Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House, Torvald Helmer is reprehensible. Even if he is a result of the society in which he has grown up, we see very different men in Krogstad, who is redeemed, and Dr. Rank who never treats Nora poorly, but would do anything for her.
Torvald treats Nora like a little child. His speech is similar to baby-talk.
'My little songbird must never do that again. A songbird needs a clean beak to warble with.'
Torvald also behaves abominably toward Krogstad, and this is without knowledge of the "business" relationship that exists between Krogstad and Nora.
There's something that rules Krogstad right out at the bank as long as I'm the manager.
His moral failings I could maybe overlook if I had to—
Yes Torvald, why not?
...he was a crony of mine back in my teens—one of those rash friendships that crop up again and again to embarrass you later in life...we're on a first name basis...[he] makes no effort at all to hide it in front of the others.
So Torvald has a problem with Krogstad's "moral failings," but the petty thing that bothers him most of all is that Krogstad calls him by his first name. Torvald Helmer is a terrible snob.
Lastly, when Nora is revealed as a "forger," and Helmer knows that she has saved his life, all he cares about is his reputation.
In all these eight years—she who was my pride and joy—a hypocrite, a liar—worse, worse—a criminal! How infinitely disgusting it all is! The shame!...Now you've wrecked all my happiness...
...Nora...Yes, yes it's truel I'm saved Nora. I'm saved.
You too, of course...
It is not until this time that Nora realizes just how selfish Torvald is. She had worried that when he found out, he would take the blame himself: it was the miracle she was sure would happen, even though she would not allow it. His love is shallow and unforgiving. He has no thought of how much she has had to deal with through all of this, caring only for himself.
Torvald Helmer is anything but the "Prince Charming" Nora believed him to be. It's easy to say that neither one of them knew the other very well; they played their parts and "played" at marriage. But Helmer's real concern was himself and how others perceived him.
Without a charitable, forgiving bone in his body, and without a sense of thankfulness at the sacrifices another has made to save his very life, Torvald is an unlikeable, selfish man without depth or caring, and certainly is not the moral character he believes himself to be, which is ironic in face of how badly he behaves regarding Krogstad.
From the beginning of the play Torvald is patronizing. His pet names for Nora are demeaning. He calls her "lark," "squirrel," "little wastrel," "songbird" in his opening lines. When Nora wants to spend a little more money this Christmas, Torvald calls her "irresponsible."
Torvald's complete lack of sympathy for Krogstad also makes him unlikable. He cannot forgive a man who forges signatures no matter his motive. So we are not surprised when Torvald turns on his wife when he realizes that she forged her father's signature in order to save his life. He values his public reputation more than his wife's loyalty to him. He says to her,
You have ruined all my happiness. My whole future--that's what you have destroyed.
When he loses his temper with Nora who borrowed money because she thought a vacation would save the sickly Torvald's life, we see a very selfish and petty man. His only concern is how his business associates will perceive him if they know that his wife has committed forgery. When Torvald recovers and tries to make amends, he is no less obnoxious:
Just lean on me. I'll advise you; I'll guide you. I wouldn't be a man if I didn't find you twice as attractive because of your womanly helplessness . . .I really have forgiven you.
With this superior and pompous attitude, Torvald seems an unworthy husband for such a woman as Nora. It is no wonder she decides to leave him.