Who is the antagonist in A Doll's House?

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is actually a much more complicated question than it first appears. The antagonist is defined as the character or force who is trying to prevent the protagonist achieving their goal. Obviously, Nora is the protagonist of this excellent play, but when we think about what she is trying to achieve, it becomes more complicated. It appears that Krogstad is the antagonist, as he is threatening Nora's security and position with the knowledge that he has. Thus we could argue that Nora's aim is to prevent Helmer discovering her fraud and to keep everything smoothed over in her marriage.

However, when we come to the final act of this play, and Helmer has discovered the truth, we come to reassess such conclusions. From what Nora says, we could state that Helmer has been the antagonist all along in the way that he has kept Nora in a "doll's house," just like her father, and treated her like a child rather than as an adult:

Now I look back on it, it's as if I've been living here like a pauper, from hand to mouth. I performed tricks for you, and you gave me food and drink. But that was how you wanted it. You and Papa have done m great wrong.

Thus, arguably, we can say that it is Helmer who is the true antagonist of the play, as he has constantly acted to prevent Nora developing a true self or understanding of her own identity.

jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

On a concrete level, Nora's antagonists are her husband, Torvald, and his dismissed employee, Krogstad. Torvald keeps Nora in a submissive position in which she can't ask for anything and must borrow money in secret (and by illegally forging her father's name) to restore her husband to health. Torvald treats Nora like a child and does not allow her to have full agency. Krogstad, upset about having been fired by Torvald, writes Torvald a letter explaining Nora's misdeeds regarding the way she borrowed money. Torvald's immediate reaction to this letter is to repudiate Nora and tell her she is not fit to be a mother.

Therefore, both Torvald and Krogstad function as antagonists to Nora. However, on a larger, more abstract level, Nora's antagonist is the sexism inherent in her society. As a woman, she must rely on men to borrow or earn money, and she is treated like the doll in the play's title. It is only by rejecting her place in society and leaving her husband that she can begin to live more fully and with greater agency.