Why does Nora abandon her children in A Doll's House?

Nora does not necessarily abandon her children in A Doll's House. She leaves them with Torvald primarily for the sake of her freedom and their security, because she faces an uncertain future. The children also function as a link between Nora and Torvald, which may allow them to be reconciled in the future.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Nora leaves the children with Torvald because as a woman she has no other option; she needs to find her true self before she can be a mother to them, she fears that she is a bad influence, and she knows her husband will never allow her to take them.

...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Nora leaves the children with Torvald because as a woman she has no other option; she needs to find her true self before she can be a mother to them, she fears that she is a bad influence, and she knows her husband will never allow her to take them.

Although she has proved to be smart and willing to flout established norms of the time period, Nora is still bound by rules of society which restrict women. As a woman who will be striking out on her own, she will not have the life of luxury that she and her family lead now. Her future is quite uncertain, and she will not subject her young children to that uncertainty too.

Nora needs to find her true self. She has lived her life under the thumb of first her father and then her husband. As a woman, she has not been allowed to think for herself. However, Nora has proved to be quite intelligent in the past: she devised a plan to save Torvald’s life, carried it out, and dealt with the aftermath. Although she is quite capable, Nora needs to build confidence and learn how to be on her own. She must prove to herself that she is able to do so, and she has a lot to learn about independence.

Nora’s great fear is that she will be a bad influence to her children. Torvald has planted this idea in her head, and she cannot shake it. She would rather leave them safely in their father’s care than take them with her to an uncertain future with a mother who is finding her way. In her eyes, she is protecting them.

Additionally, Nora must know that Torvald will never let his children leave. While he has had a hold on his wife in the past, he cannot prevent her from walking out the door. However, the children are another story. He has money and influence, not to mention he is a man in a patriarchal society. Nora would not stand a chance in a fight against him in court.

A true mother does what is best for her children. By leaving them with their father, Nora knows they will continue to be cared for in the only home they’ve known. Meanwhile, she can work on becoming strong and independent, perhaps even to one day play a positive role in her children’s lives.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Henrik Ibsen is sometimes called "the father of realism," because his plays depict not the way in which he would like people to behave but the way in which he thinks they really would behave in the circumstances. In A Doll's House, once Nora has decided that she can no longer live with Torvald, it becomes inevitable that she will leave the children behind with him when she departs in act 3.

Even from the perspective of stagecraft, it would be cumbersome for Nora to be surrounded by children as she leaves Torvald. From a realistic viewpoint, the idea is even more improbable. Where would Nora be taking these children? How would she provide for them? What would be her plan for their education? It may seem selfish of Nora to leave her children, but it would actually be far more detrimental to their interests for her to take them with her.

The children would also be an encumbrance to Nora as she seeks a new life and a new identity. She no longer wishes to define herself as a wife and mother but as a free woman with a self-determined life. However, there is a paradox in that the children also act as a connection between Nora and Torvald as long as she leaves them with him. There is a hint at the end of the play that their relationship may not be over completely and that a "true marriage" of equals may be possible between them. The children provide a compelling reason for Nora and Torvald to stay in contact and perhaps build a new relationship together.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Nora leaves her family at the end of the play because she realizes that she does not know her own mind or have her own opinions and values. She says that she was her father's "doll-child," that she either adopted his opinions or kept her own feelings quiet. Then, when she married Torvald, she did basically the same thing. She demands the opportunity to figure out what she likes and dislikes, what she values, and whether she is right or society is. She does not even know what her own moral code is or if she wants to be religious. In anger, Torvald says that she is not fit to raise their children, and she now agrees. She has played with them as her father played with her, and she feels she cannot be a good role model for them without understanding herself and developing her own ideas and opinions first.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

When Nora leaves her home at the end of the book, she leaves her children because she knows that they will be better off with their father.  She is going into an unknown situation, she has no job and no income or a place to live when she leaves.  Therefore, leaving her children is a sacrifice, because she does love them, but it is because she loves them that she won't subject them to the harshness of life outside of their father's house. 

I also feel that Torvald would not have let Nora take his children.  It is one thing for a woman to leave her husband, but the type of man that Torvald is suggests that he would not have allowed Nora to take his children out of the house.  The children will continue to be cared for by a Nanny, who, Nora feels at this time, is a better mother than she is in her present state of mind.    

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

I'm not sure "abandon" is the right word for Nora's actions--we ultimately don't know whether Nora restores a relationship with her children after leaving Torvald or not. Nora does leave her husband at the end of Act III after she is forced to face his true nature and realizes how selfish he is. She also realizes that, as Torvald's wife, she has lived more of a child's life than an adult's. After her confrontation with Torvald, she most wants to reeducate herself to live as an independent woman. About her role as a mother, Nora says to Torvald:

"I am not fit for the task. There is another task I must undertake first. I must try and educate myself--you are not the man to help me in that. I must do that for myself. And that is why I am going to leave you now."

Nora's decision is not so much to abandon her children as it is to put herself first for the first time in her life. In addition to motherhood, Nora believes that:

"I have other duties just as sacred. . . duties to myself. I believe that before all else I am a reasonable human being . . . or, at all events, that I must try and become one."

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team