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A Doll's House | Study Guide

Henrik Ibsen

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Act 1, Section 2

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Act 1, Section 2 of Henrik Ibsen's play A Doll's House.

A Doll's House | Act 1, Section 2 | Summary



Christine, an old friend whom Nora hasn't seen for 10 years, visits. Christine asks Nora to use her influence to help her procure a position at the bank where Torvald is a manager. Nora reveals her secret to Christine.


This section reveals Nora's past, her confused internal state, and her motivations. The complexities and contradictions of the scene are the hallmarks of it. Nora says she knows she should have written to Christine when her husband died, yet she did not. Nora knows she should let Christine, who has been through a difficult time, speak and Nora should listen unselfishly, yet she does not. Nora lies about where the money for the trip to Italy came from, thinking it wise to keep it a secret—"I ought to tell you that it we had it from Papa"—yet she reveals it anyway.

The light and happy Nora from the previous scene fractures in this section, exposing the character's vanity and manipulative disposition. Several times during the conversation with Christine, Nora comments on her own attractiveness. Toying with Christine about where she got the money for the Italy trip, she says, "Perhaps I got it from some other admirers. When anyone is as attractive as I am—." When talking about how hard she had to work to buy the "simplest and cheapest things," Nora slides "Thank heaven any clothes look well on me" into the conversation. Considering that the conversation began with Nora commenting that Christine looks older as a result of her struggles, Nora's vanity here is more to her character's discredit.

Nora's manipulation shows up in the teasing, "bit by bit" approach she takes to reveal her secret circumstances. The height of Nora's tendency to manipulate comes through most clearly when she explains that she will tell Torvald about the loan when she is no longer attractive, and "then it may be a good thing to have something in reserve—," implying that in the future she may use the fact that she saved Torvald's life as a means to control him.

As much as this section reveals Nora's negative character traits, it also clarifies the core reason for her happiness (which will eventually be shattered). Her playfulness and joy are sincere in the beginning of the play. Showing Nora like this allows Ibsen to evoke empathy for her from the audience. As they discover how burdened by debt Nora has felt, and see how relieved she is that Torvald has been promoted—possibly ending the family's financial troubles—the audience relates to Nora's personal problems.

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