Why can we consider Torvald Helmer to be the most blameworthy character in Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House ?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

While Torvald is the most blameworthy character, and the one ultimately responsible for a lot of Nora's difficulties, we must remember that Torvald's actions are a direct result of society's influences. Torvald is kind to Nora even though we can consider him to be a dictatorial husband.

We first see Torvald's blameworthiness in terms of his dictatorial nature in the opening act. We learn that he has no trust in Nora, especially with finances, and treats her as a child. In the opening act, Nora returns home on Christmas Eve with the Christmas gifts and Christmas tree she has just purchased. When Nora asks her husband to come and see the new gifts she has purchased, Torvald's response is to be outraged, even though he knows it is Christmas Eve, saying, "Bought, did you say? All these things? Has my little spendthrift been wasting money again?" (I). This reaction is especially absurd, even though they must still cut back on spending while they wait for his new salary to be paid for his position at the bank, because clearly he can afford what she has purchased, which we see when a few lines later he gives her another two pounds for the Christmas housekeeping. Therefore, Torvald's reaction to her Christmas expenditures shows us just how little he trusts her, how ridiculous he thinks she is, and how much he treats her with a dictatorial attitude. We even learn in this scene that he treats Nora as a child by forbidding her to eat sweets, which is another way in which we see him treat her dictatorially.

A third way in which we see Torvald act dictatorially, making him the most blameworthy character, is in his refusal to listen to his wife's views. He refuses to listen to Nora's opinion about not firing Krogstad. He especially refuses to listen to her because he has already made it known at the bank that he intended to fire Krogstad. If he changed his mind now, it would be because his wife had asked him to, which would be embarrassing for him if his other subordinates at the bank learned about it. As Torvald states, "Is it to get about now that the new manager has changed his mind at his wife's bidding" (II). Torvald's refusal to listen to Nora shows us that he does not consider her to be his equal; instead, he views her as someone he has the right to rule over.

However, it can also be said that Torvald treats his wife dictatorially because that was what society expected of him. Society expected the wife to be submissive and obedient and for the husband to control all aspects of the home life, including the purse strings. Therefore, while Torvald can be blamed for the problems in the play due to his dictatorial nature, his nature is not truly his own fault.

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A Doll's House

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