What happens in A Doll's House?

In A Doll's House, housewife Nora hides her financial problems from her husband Torvald. When Torvald learns of her deceit, he becomes angry. Disgusted by his selfishness, Nora leaves him to become an independent woman.

A Doll's House summary key points:

  • In order to protect her secret, Nora tries to defend one of Torvald’s employees who knows that she is misleading her husband. Torvald insists on firing the employee.

  • Krogstad, the fired employee, sends a letter to Torvald detailing Nora’s deceit. She tries to distract her husband to prevent him from reading the letter.

  • Torvald eventually reads the letter and is angry at Nora, insisting that her deceit has harmed his reputation. He dismisses the fact that she borrowed the money to save his life.

  • After learning that the money does not need to be repaid, Torvald forgives Nora, but she cannot forgive his self-centeredness and leaves him and their children.

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First performed in December of 1879, Henrik Ibsen's play A Doll’s House was met with both incredible success and immediate criticism for its, at the time, highly controversial views on marriage and family. The play follows Nora Helmer, a middle-class housewife, as she confronts the consequences of an illegal loan she took out in order to save her husband Torvald’s life. However, as she navigates Victorian gender roles and dismantles the illusions that plague her marriage, she realizes that she is no longer content to be anyone’s “doll wife.” Whereas critics claimed A Doll's House threatened to dismantle traditional Victorian values, fans found its realistic, complex depictions of individuals and families relatable, inspiring, and refreshing.

Plot Summary

Act I of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House opens with Nora Helmer arriving home from a Christmas shopping trip. Her husband, Torvald, greets her and playfully chastises her for spending so much money. Nora argues that since Torvald was recently promoted at work, the Helmers have more financial leeway than they have had in previous years. As they talk, the doorbell rings. The Helmers’ maid Helene informs them that two guests have arrived: Dr. Rank, a close family friend who is terminally ill, and, much to Nora’s shock, her old school friend Christine Linde.

After the guests are admitted, Dr. Rank and Torvald meet in Torvald’s study while Nora and Mrs. Linde remain in the sitting room. Nora pityingly remarks that Mrs. Linde is now a childless widow and apologizes for not staying in touch after marrying Torvald. Mrs. Linde explains that she has lived a hard life since her husband died and feels lost with no one to care for. Mrs. Linde hopes Nora might convince Torvald to give her a job at the bank that he now manages, which Nora agrees to do.

Nora then recounts the woes of her own first year of marriage, wherein Torvald fell ill from overwork. To restore his health, the Helmers had to take an expensive trip to Italy. At first, Nora claims that her wealthy father gave them the money. However, after Mrs. Linde insinuates that Nora does not understand true suffering, Nora reveals that she acquired the money by taking out a loan—something she should not have legally been able to do.

When a low-level bank employee named Krogstad arrives requesting to see Torvald, both Nora and Mrs. Linde react uneasily. Dr. Rank, who joins Mrs. Linde and Nora in order to give Torvald and Krogstad privacy, calls Krogstad “morally sick.”

After Torvald and Krogstad’s meeting ends, Torvald, Dr. Rank, and Mrs. Linde depart the Helmers’ home, leaving Nora to play with her children. Krogstad soon arrives to speak with Nora privately, revealing that he is the source of her loan. Furthermore, he reveals that he knows Nora illegally forged her father’s signature on the bond. Torvald intends to fire Krogstad from the bank, so Krogstad uses the proof of Nora’s forgery to blackmail her into advocating for him.

When Torvald returns home, Nora attempts to convince him...

(The entire section is 1,546 words.)