Last Updated on February 5, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1128
At the start of act II, Nora is fretting about Krogstad’s blackmail. Her nursemaid, Anne-Marie, arrives with a box containing the fancy dress that Nora will wear to a dance the following day. Nora inquires after her children, to which Anne-Marie responds that they are sad about not having seen their mother as much as of late. Nora worries that they will forget her entirely if she “went away altogether.”
Mrs. Linde arrives to help Nora repair the fancy dress for the ball. As the women work, Mrs. Linde interrogates Nora about Dr. Rank. Mrs. Linde falsely believes that Nora borrowed the money from Dr. Rank, but Nora indignantly denies it. Despite Dr. Rank’s not being the source of the loan, Mrs. Linde still cautions Nora against consorting so casually with a single man of means. Nora, however, fixates on the idea of asking Dr. Rank for help in paying off her loan. Their conversation is interrupted by Torvald’s arrival, and Mrs. Linde retires to a different room to finish mending the dress.
Nora once again attempts to persuade Torvald not to fire Krogstad. When begging and whining don’t work, she insists that if Krogstad gets fired, he will write slanderous articles about the Helmers in the newspaper, just as others did about her father. Torvald assures her that his reputation, unlike Nora’s father’s, is above reproach. However, Nora continues pleading. Frustrated, Torvald explains that he cannot rescind his decision because the other bankers already know that he intends to fire Krogstad. If Torvald changed his mind, he would appear weak to his colleagues. Torvald remarks that he could have overlooked Krogstad’s moral failings and that the real reason he is firing Krogstad is because Krogstad behaves too familiarly with Torvald. Shocked over hearing about Torvald’s petty reasoning, Nora accuses him of being “narrow-minded.” Torvald then angrily posts Krogstad’s dismissal letter.
Torvald comforts a suddenly fear-stricken Nora. He promises to protect her from Krogstad’s retribution, believing that she is afraid of a slanderous article. However, Nora vows that she will not let him take the full brunt of the fallout. Torvald then retires to his office, telling Nora to practice her dance for the party.
Soon afterwards, Dr. Rank arrives. He tells Nora that his disease has progressed and that he is likely to die soon. He makes her promise not to tell Torvald, as Torvald cannot stand “ugliness.” Dr. Rank plans to lock himself away when it is time to die, and he tells Nora that he will send her a card with a black cross on it when the time comes. Nora chides him for being morbid. When Dr. Rank laments that he will be leaving the world without having left behind any grand gestures, Nora asks him for a favor. Before she can explain her request, Dr. Rank confesses his love for Nora. She grows uncomfortable, scolds Dr. Rank for his imprudence, and refuses to ask the favor of him.
Nora and Dr. Rank’s discussion is interrupted by Krogstad’s arrival. Nora ushers Dr. Rank into Torvald’s study under the pretense that she is receiving a new dress that she wants to keep secret from Torvald. She then tersely greets Krogstad, who has received his dismissal letter. Krogstad tells her that he does not plan to make her forgery public. Instead, he hopes to use it as leverage so that Torvald will give him his job back. A distraught Nora begs him not to tell Torvald and promises to pay him any sum. However, Krogstad does not want money. He wants to regain the reputation that he lost in order to provide a better life for his children. Nora threatens to take her own life in order to prevent Torvald from being exposed to shame, but Krogstad dissuades her by saying that her being alive or dead will not matter.
After Krogstad departs, Nora tearfully admits everything to Mrs. Linde. Nora worries that Torvald will take all of the blame onto himself in order to protect her. Shocked, Mrs. Linde offers to speak with Krogstad, whom she claims would have once done anything for her sake. In order to distract Torvald from checking the letter box, Nora asks him to help her practice her dance all night. A bemused Torvald agrees. However, Mrs. Linde returns with the news that Krogstad has left town and that she will not be able to speak with him until the next day. Mrs. Linde left a note in his letter box asking to speak with him. An increasingly frantic Nora continues her effort to distract Torvald, counting down the hours until she plans to end her own life.
Act II further explores the illusions that Nora and Torvald entertain about each other. While act I foregrounds Nora’s deception, act II complicates Torvald’s chivalrous persona. As Nora presses Torvald to rescind his decision to fire Krogstad, Torvald reveals his petty, superficial side. Rather than firing Krogstad for any legitimate reasons, Torvald is firing him because he behaves too familiarly. He also refuses to accede to Nora’s requests out of fear of looking “weak” in front of his coworkers.
Dr. Rank, Mrs. Linde, and Krogstad all contrast Torvald’s superficiality.
- Dr. Rank loves Nora for who she is, and offers to do any favor that she asks of him. Unlike Torvald, Dr. Rank allows Nora to be genuine, eagerly listening to her stories about her friends and family.
- Mrs. Linde acts as a maternal influence in an otherwise patriarchal society. Though Mrs. Linde accuses Nora of being childish, she also counsels Nora as an adult rather than coddling her like a child. Mrs. Linde encourages Nora to be honest with Torvald, knowing from her own experiences as a widow that all illusions eventually fade.
- Krogstad, despite being Nora’s blackmailer, shows compassion when he encourages Nora not to take her own life. Though he plays the villain, Krogstad is genuinely empathetic and just wants to provide for his own family.
Torvald's concern with appearances ties in with the theme of the gendered nature of pride, specifically that masculine pride is drawn from public reputation. For Torvald, upholding his status is his means of providing for Nora and the children. Without a good reputation, Torvald would end up in the same dire straits as Krogstad: ostracized and unemployable. By contrast, Nora prepares to take her own life in order to prevent Torvald from suffering for her actions. She fully expects Torvald to behave chivalrously and protect her from the consequences of her loan. However, Torvald’s focus on reputation and appearances suggests that Nora may be just as deluded about her husband as he is about her.
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