What is the inciting incident of the play A Doll House?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As the event that launches the protagonist into action, the inciting incident fulfills these conditions:

  1. It removes the protagonist from his/her routine.
  2. It is the event which sparks the action of the plot and the interaction of the main characters
  3. It is an event that is necessary for the play's "premise to kick in."
  4. It comes after the exposition of the conditions in the protagonist's life in Act I.
  5. As it starts to alter the dynamics of the protagonist's life, he/she reacts and often resists until Act I ends. 

In Henrik Ibsen's play, therefore, the inciting incident that breaks the mundane routine of Nora's life is subtly suggested by her intial action of sneaking the macaroons: She is so repressed by her husband that she must hide her activities that are against his wishes.  Then, toward the end of Act I as she and her husband Helmer talk, Nora asks him if he is busy and inquires about the papers on his desk that he is studying. Coyly diverting him by asking him to help her decide upon a costume for a forthcoming party, Nora slips in her inquiry about Krogstad:

NORA:  Oh, you are nice!...Tell me, was it really all that bad what this Krogstad fellow did?

HELMER: He forged signatures....He got out of it with tricks and evasions. That's what corrupted him.

Helmer goes on to express his disgust with deception, stating that Krostad wore a mask to his wife and children, bring "infection into his own home and contaminat[ing] his whole family.,,,[with] the germs of something ugly."

His remarks ignite Nora's fears as she reflects after Helmer leaves,

NORA (pale with terror) Corrupt my little children----! Poison my home---? (Brief pause; she lifts her head.) That's not true. Never. Never in a million years.

This news of Krogstad's having been accused of fraud is the inciting incident that acts as a catalyst for Nora's further actions in the play.


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A Doll's House

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