How does Mrs. Linde's presence define Nora's character at the start of the play?

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Nora's past: She was socially groomed to be a certain way, and now she is realizing that she resents it.

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In the beginning of the play, the audience is first exposed to Nora, her behavior, and the dynamics of her marriage. By all accounts, Nora embodies happiness, joie de vivre, and bliss. This exposure leads to the belief that Nora's life is all put together and that she has no worries in the world.

Shortly after the beginning, in comes the character of Mrs. Linde. From the start, it is clear that Mrs. Linde is the complete opposite of Nora. Her voice is described as "dejected" and "timid." When Nora sees her, she immediately notices that Mrs. Linde has changed greatly, not necessarily for the better. Then, we hear the story of Mrs. Linde: she is alone in the world, needs employment, and longs for companionship.

When juxtaposed in the same entry scene, it is clear that Ibsen intended for Linde to be the polar opposite of Nora. The audience will form a contrasting view of the two women that will help them to define who Nora is. That is the way that Linde's presence helps to define Nora's character at the beginning of the play.

Still, another big juxtaposition will come later on in Act I, when we will witness how Linde's presence not only helps to define Nora's traits but also challenges Nora's true self to come out. It is here that Nora decides to tell her secret to Christine as a way to show that she (Nora), too, has gone through vicissitudes and sacrifices on behalf of others. It will be through this confession that Nora's character will be further delineated, and the audience will realize the kind of person that Nora is: a woman that has been socially groomed to play an expected role for which she is neither appreciated nor valued—a role which she will end up resenting.

I was your little skylark, your doll, which you would in future treat with doubly gentle care, because it was so brittle and fragile. . . . It dawned upon me that for eight years I had been living here with a strange man, and had borne him three children—. Oh, I can't bear to think of it! I could tear myself into little bits!

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A Doll's House, by Henrik Ibsen, is often called the first feminist play, and concerns the emotional dissolution of a marriage.

In the first act, Nora has been seen to behave childishly with her husband, Torvald, and so it comes as a shock to the audience when she reveals to her friend Mrs. Linde that she took steps to save Torvald's life while he was ill. Her action of borrowing money and slowly paying it back with her own work flies in the face of her seeming dependence on her husband, who is unaware of her extra labors. Nora states:

" painful and humiliating it would be for Torvald, with his manly independence, to know that he owed me anything!" (eNotes eText, Act 1)

Although Nora plays the role, she recognizes that Torvald's ego is stronger than his love of her; an emotionally-balanced marriage would have no qualms about such a situation. This is in sharp contrast to Mrs. Linde, who works from necessity and has no husband to help, or to pacify. Later in the same conversation, she says:

"...there is something that is called, in business, quarterly interest, and another thing called payment in instalments, and it is always so dreadfully difficult to manage them ... Whenever Torvald has given me money for new dresses and such things, I have never spent more than half of it...." (eNotes eText, Act 1)

At the time, women were not expected to understand or even care about business and related topics, so for Nora to both understand and take steps to spend within a budget -- a budget that secretly includes interest payments! -- was almost unheard-of. Nora's inner character is therefore seen as stronger than her outer facade, which she forces into a mold to keep her husband's ego happy. In contrast, Mrs. Linde is outwardly more overworked, but has no need for deception, and so the emotional relief of living in truth is compared with the burden of pretense.

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In A Doll's House, how does the presence of Mrs. Linde display Nora's character?

In A Doll's House, Nora is content to be considered as her husband's "little squirrel." She allows his control of her but also enjoys defying him by eating macaroons, a seemingly fickle act which masks a much deeper secret. This reveals her contradictory nature which is reinforced by the arrival of Mrs Linden, Nora's old school friend, whom Nora does not instantly recognize. The fact that Nora chatters and rambles at first does show Nora to be shallow. She is tactless and inconsiderate,   "Poor Christina ! I forgot :you are a widow." Nora is more concerned about the fact that Christina was left with "Nothing" and the almost shame of such a thing and that she has no children, than she is for her friend's well-being, clearly indicating Nora's stereotyped views. 

Nora's insincerity becomes obvious as "To-day I'll think only of you" but without giving Christina a chance to speak, she immediately informs her of Torvald's promotion and their "good fortune." Her priorities seem questionable. Nora is also keen to make Christina understand her own sacrifice. Her need to be liked is evident, constantly seeking Christina's approval. When the conversation does return to Christina, it is because Nora wants to know why she married a man she did not love. When Nora remarks, "How free your life must feel" this also reveals how trapped in her own existence she is.  

Nora's obsession with how she thinks life is supposed to be and with expectations and social norms foreshadows her realization at the end that her own character is lacking and she needs to do something about it. Her feelings of betrayal are intense.

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