What is the purpose of Dr. Rank in the play A Doll's House?

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The presence of Dr. Rank in the play shows us that, even in the midst of a rigidly patriarchal society, it's still possible for men to behave decently towards women. By extension, this means that the likes of Torvald can't portray themselves as the helpless victims of society's prevailing norms...

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The presence of Dr. Rank in the play shows us that, even in the midst of a rigidly patriarchal society, it's still possible for men to behave decently towards women. By extension, this means that the likes of Torvald can't portray themselves as the helpless victims of society's prevailing norms and expectations. If they treat women abominably, as Torvald does, then that is because they've chosen to. Their behavior isn't determined by society and so they cannot evade their responsibilities.

As Rank is a fundamentally decent man, he's able to provide a moral commentary on the other characters, all of whom have very serious flaws. He doesn't do this explicitly, of course, but the other characters' flaws are revealed by their interactions with him. It seems that Dr. Rank has the remarkable capacity to get at the truth of what makes everyone tick. In that sense, he's not just a doctor, but something of an amateur psychologist as well.

This probably explains why Nora is able to talk candidly with Rank in a way that simply wouldn't be possible with anyone else. Contrary to what Torvald might think, she has quite a deep inner life but is unable to express its contents on account of how she's treated by her controlling, condescending husband.

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Dr. Rank acts as a foil character to Torvald, in effect pointing to the failings of Torvald, especially in his role as a husband. He also provides information in the drama.

  • Foil character

Dr. Rank's most important role is that of a foil character. He sheds light on the moral weakness of Torvald, for Dr. Rank's lack of concern about what others think of him accentuates Torvald's consuming anxiety about his reputation, a reputation that he values over his marriage and concern for Nora's feelings. And whereas Dr. Rank demonstrates consideration for the feelings of those he cares for, he also has a stoic acceptance of his fate, unlike Torvald. For instance, Torvald is nearly hysterical when his reputation is threatened by Nora's having forged her father's name on the loan she secured years ago. Clearly, Torvald worries more about his reputation than the fact that Nora's dangerous but loving act of securing the loan so that he could go to Italy and restore his health has saved him from death. Later, Torvald is extremely worried about public appearances and his business reputation, insisting upon maintaining them "at any costs," even to the point of losing his wife, Nora. On the other hand, Dr. Rank does not concern himself with public opinion.

Another instance of Dr. Rank's role as a foil is demonstrated as he retires to his room in order to die of his disease privately, but Krogstad displays his moral disease of corruption. This physical illness of Dr. Rank also serves to act as a counterpart to the moral disease of selfishness from which Krogstad suffers.

Further, Dr. Rank's genuine feeling, love, and respect for Nora contrast sharply with Torvald's patronizing treatment of his wife. Torvald talks to Nora as though she were a child and he disciplines her in a similar manner. Also, Torvald's opprobrium of Nora's loving actions, even though illegal, to save her husband's life is reduced to his selfish anxiety over her bringing disgrace to his name with this illegality.

  • Informer

In Act I Dr. Rank provides information as he warns Nora that Krogstad "suffers from a diseased moral character" and is "a moral invalid." Further, he advises Nora of Krogstad's past criminality and his actions as a blackmailer. Dr. Rank also serves to inform the audience about Torvald's superficiality. For example, in Act II, he remarks to Nora,

"Helmer's refined nature gives him an unconquerable disgust at everything that is ugly; I won't have him in my sick-room." 

Dr. Rank's avoidance of exposing Torvald to anything that repels him serves to inform as well as to suggest that it may be Torvald who is truly the sheltered one in the Helmers' relationship, and not Nora.

In addition, Dr. Rank's close personal relationship with Nora, who often confides in him, points to the appreciation she has for his non-judgmental demeanor towards her. It also sheds light upon the fact that her relationship with her husband is lacking in many ways.

A character who is a foil and a provider of much information, Dr. Rank serves the author well in A Doll's House.

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Dr. Rank's purpose is to show the contrast to Torvald's treatment of Nora. Both men love Nora, although Dr. Rank does not try to make this public. Nora has great affection for Dr. Rank, but does not feel the same way that he does. The difference is that Dr. Rank illustrates all the characteristics that a loving partner should exhibit.

Dr. Rank listens when Nora talks, as Torvald does not. He also treats her with respect and dignity, which is a sharp contrast to the chiding and condescending attitude that Torvald frequently uses when speaking with his wife. Dr. Rank does not act as if women are inferior, as Torvald is guilty of doing.

The truly pitiful aspect, however, is that Dr. Rank will never be able to engage in an equal and loving relationship because he is dying, and he never had any chance of a relationship with Nora.

 

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