What is A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen about?

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durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen is about a family which seems to epitomize the ideal such as it was perceived in the nineteenth century. In this play, Ibsen challenges the norms and reveals the flaws in a relationship based on dominance and submission, control, conformity and a lack of respect for individuality.

Nora and Torvald live a comfortable life, but its not a life without challenges. They have experienced difficult times and even health issues, but they have overcome them and have now emerged excited about the the future with Torvald's new job. Nora, who has several affectionate nicknames, such as, "little squirrel, ... spendthrift, ... lark..." and so on, encourages Torvald's treatment of her as that of a child who needs to be scolded and his patronizing tone reveals how dependent on him she is. Up until now, this unequal relationship has suited them both.

An old friend of Nora's, Christine Linde arrives. It is revealed that Christine was forced to marry for the wrong reasons, but to a decent man. Unfortunately, since his death she is penniless, childless and desperate for a new start. As a widow, she is permitted to work, unlike Nora who, even when times were difficult could neither take a job nor borrow money without her husband's permission. A coincidental meeting with the man whom Christine might have married many years ago, had her circumstances been different, changes everything including the nature of Torvald and Nora's relationship which will be irreparably damaged when it is revealed that their marriage is shallow. When it is revealed that Nora borrowed money (something that horrifies Torvald), and even forged her own father's signature on a document, Torvald sees her actions as being embarrassing, demeaning and offensive. He completely overlooks her attempts to help him recover from a debilitating illness from which he may otherwise have died. Nora overlooks the effects of her deceit on her husband and fails to recognize that her lies have become the focus now rather than her initial well-meaning intentions and the stress that she has endured for all these years.  

Having no foundation, their relationship cannot withstand the needs of them both; Torvald not recognizing his wife's sacrifices and contribution and Nora not realizing the role she played in creating this untenable (unsatisfactory) situation.