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Ibsen's exploration of poor decisions, consequences, evil, and corruption in A Doll's House

Summary:

In A Doll's House, Ibsen explores themes of poor decisions, consequences, evil, and corruption through the characters' actions and their impacts. Nora's forgery and Helmer's obsession with social status demonstrate how personal failings lead to significant repercussions, revealing the moral and ethical dilemmas faced by individuals within a constrained societal framework.

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How does Ibsen explore poor decisions and consequences in A Doll's House?

Three characters and their actions in A Doll’s House clearly reveal Ibsen’s exploration of poor decisions and their consequences. This approach to life primarily applies to Nora Helmer, who chose to commit fraud and has lied to her husband ever since. Nora has felt guilty and suffers from low self-esteem. She could also be in legal trouble if her forgery were exposed. Nils Krogstad’s decision to blackmail Nora not only has consequences for his personal integrity, but also is the catalyst for revealing Nora’s crime. Torvald Helmer’s decisions to forgive his wife and continue to be married, but only for the sake of appearances, contributes to her decision to leave him.

Before the play’s action begins, Nora forged a signature on a financial document. Although her motivation was to help restore her husband’s health, she knew it was a crime and that he would disapprove if he ever knew. She had not reckoned with the negative repercussions for her self-esteem: she must compound the lies by keeping her money-earning activities secret from Torvald.

Nora’s desire to maintain secrecy and refusal to help Krogstad contribute to his decision to blackmail her. Although he also rationalizes that his action is to help his family, his decision to write to Torvald sets in motion the last part of the play. Torvald decides that he cares more about appearances than about his wife and tries to seem benevolent by forgiving her. However, his hypocrisy in wanting to continue their marriage as an empty façade proves too much for Nora, leading to her slamming the door on him.

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How does Ibsen explore evil and corruption in A Doll's House?

Ibsen explores the themes of evil and corruption in A Doll's House by comparing Nora's wrongdoings with those of other characters and also revealing others' responses to Nora after she commits forgery. As a woman with no assets of her own, she would not have been eligible to obtain a loan and forges a signature. The deceit behind this action is a metaphor for the general deceit of her life, as she is stuck in a loveless marriage with a man who treats her more like a doll than a person. Yet, she is so conditioned by society that she accepts her doll-like role. Early in the play, Nora is incapable of even making a decision about what to wear to a party. She says,

Torvald, couldn't you take me in hand and decide what I shall go as, and what sort of a dress I shall wear?

Nora and Torvald discuss how wrong forging a signature is, and Nora asks (regarding Krogstad),

Isn't it possible that he was driven to do it by necessity?

This shows how naïve Nora is. Committing forgery reflects poor judgment on her part, but Nora is not presented as evil. Her impulse was generous—she wanted to help her husband. She represents women who, in this society, are expected to oversee the home and care for the family but not expected to understand "complex" issues that can lead to wrong actions. In talking about Krogstad, Torvald assures Nora that he is not judgmental and that he understands that

Many a man has been able to retrieve his character [after a false step], if he has openly confessed his fault and taken his punishment.

However, Torvald's hypocrisy is revealed after Nora confesses. Torvald shows no understanding and is indeed judgmental. His concern is how society will judge him. He spurns Nora and tells her that she can remain in his home—which he refers to as "in my house"—but it will be only to preserve appearances. Nora now understands that the marriage is and always was a sham.

As Nora evolves over the course of the play from the naïve doll we see at the beginning, she also learns that feelings she once believed were love were not love at all. She had been conditioned to accept her position by a society that sought to trap women of a certain socioeconomic level in a virtual dollhouse.

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