Torvald Helmer

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Last Updated on February 5, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 626

Extended Character Analysis

Torvald Helmer is Nora’s husband. He is a barrister, or lawyer, and he was recently promoted to manager at the bank where he works. Torvald prides himself on being a model husband and citizen. Despite the Helmers’ previous financial difficulties, he has steadfastly refused to take out any loans. He feels that debt is “ugly” and scolds Nora for suggesting the possibility, even in jest. However, despite Torvald’s frequent moralizing, he is superficial and prideful. His superficiality leads him to fire Krogstad and, after finding out about her loan, reject Nora.

Torvald's Pride

Some portion of Torvald’s need to maintain appearances likely stems from the same place as Krogstad’s desperation to keep his job. Torvald knows that without a good reputation, his ability to provide for his family will be compromised. However, his obsession with appearances also seems rooted in vanity. Torvald enjoys having Nora perform at parties because other people are impressed by her. He views her beauty and her dancing abilities as a reflection of his own status as a husband. He also states that he likes having Dr. Rank around, because Dr. Rank’s gloominess makes Torvald and Nora’s life seem happier. For Torvald, the appearance of success and happiness take precedence over genuine human connection. Dr. Rank is Torvald’s best friend, but Torvald’s aversion to ugliness is so strong that Dr. Rank declines to tell him about his impending death. Similarly, Torvald’s “doll wife” and “doll children” are fun to show off, but when it comes to actually caring for Ivar, Bob, and Emmy, the house transforms into a scene only “bearable by a mother.”

Torvald's Role as Victorian Husband

Torvald exhibits the qualities typical of a Victorian husband. He feels obligated to nurture, protect, and guide his wife; rather than viewing Nora as his equal, Torvald treats her as a child. He expects her to be obedient to his whims, and he frequently moralizes to her. Torvald even tries to restrict Nora’s behavior by banning her from simple indulgences, such as buying macaroons. Since he controls the money in their relationship, Nora is almost entirely dependent on him. Rather than viewing this control as an injustice, Torvald appears to enjoy the idea of Nora’s dependence. After the Stenborg’s ball, he remarks that he likes to imagine Nora as his “young,” “secret” bride. He also fantasizes about “rescuing” Nora from some mortal danger. In his own mind, Torvald is the heroic protagonist and Nora is his damsel in distress.

Torvald's Naivety and Change

For all that Torvald dreams of playing the hero, he is ultimately just as naive as Nora, if not more so. Dr. Rank claims that Torvald has an aversion to all things “ugly.” As the play progresses, it becomes clear that “ugliness” refers to any of the harsher realities of life. Death, disease, crime, and even traditionally feminine activities, like dressmaking and childrearing, are to be kept out of Torvald’s sight. Though Nora claims that her father and Torvald have sheltered and restricted her, Torvald himself has also been sheltered.

The ending of the play showcases a dramatic change in Torvald’s character. For the first time, he is not the one in control of his marriage. As a result, he becomes desperate, begging Nora not to leave him. He goes so far as to suggest that he can become a “different man.” Ibsen leaves open the possibility—slim though it may be—that “the most wonderful thing of all” can truly happen now that Nora has revealed the problems in their marriage. Ultimately, the real villain of A Doll’s House is neither Krogstad nor Torvald, but rather a society that restricts the rights of married women.

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