A Doll's House | Study Guide

Henrik Ibsen

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Act 1, Section 1

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Act 1, Section 1 of Henrik Ibsen's play A Doll's House.

A Doll's House | Act 1, Section 1 | Summary


A Doll's House is a play in three acts. For the purpose of analysis, this study guide further breaks each act into sections defined by key dramatic events.


Nora comes home from Christmas shopping and persuades her husband, Torvald, to give her more money for holiday spending. Nora shows Torvald the Christmas presents she bought for the children and staff. They reminisce and discuss their financial affairs. Torvald chastises Nora for wasting money. He points out even her slightest indiscretions by noticing tiny crumbs on her mouth: Nora has eaten macaroons, even though he has warned her she will ruin her looks.


The stage directions and props establish Nora and Torvald's financial status and the time of year. The room is "comfortable" and "tasteful," but not extravagant. Servants are a part of the household, and cash is prominently discussed and exchanged. A fire burns in the fireplace and Christmas preparations are underway.

True to Ibsen's mastery with characterization, each word and action of the characters are significant from the time they are introduced. Nora sings and whistles as she walks through the door. Moments later, Torvald will call her his "skylark," introducing the symbol of the bird that carries through the play. Skylarks are known for singing for long periods or while in flight. Nora is willing to play the part of a happy bird at the beginning of the play, even when Torvald is absent. Nora's glib attitude belies the financial pressure she is under, but the audience does not know it yet.

Both main characters' views on financial responsibility are established at the beginning of Act 1. For Torvald, "There can be no freedom or beauty about a home life that depends on borrowing or debt." First, Nora says she would not care if Torvald died and they owed money. When Torvald presses Nora to think about what would happen to the lenders if they borrowed money, she responds, "They? Who would bother about them? I should not know who they were." Torvald's view on financial responsibility conforms to the mores of the time. Nora's view exposes her willingness to lie. These two opposing values reflect the central conflict in the play.

The significant number of lines in this section that are focused on Nora eating macaroons and hiding it from her husband points to the significance of this small deception, indicating another central idea. Torvald's love for her looks, and his belief that he owns and deserves them, is evident throughout the play. It is proof of his view of her as his property, his beautiful doll.

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