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A Doll's House | Study Guide

Henrik Ibsen

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Act 1, Section 5

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Act 1, Section 5 of Henrik Ibsen's play A Doll's House.

A Doll's House | Act 1, Section 5 | Summary



Torvald catches Nora in a lie when she initially denies that Krogstad has paid her a visit. Then the two discuss an upcoming party and Krogstad's future at the bank where Torvald has been made manager.


The audience has come to see Nora and Krogstad as mirror images, so now when Torvald discusses Krogstad, he is also (unbeknownst to him) talking about Nora. Ibsen adds the detail here that Krogstad is in disrepute for forging a signature—the same mistake Nora has made—to ensure that the equation set up previously is apparent to the audience during this conversation. As Torvald asserts his moral judgment upon Krogstad's character, the audience sees what is at stake for Nora. Torvald likens Krogstad to an evil infection, poison, a "hypocrite," and the kind of person who makes Torvald "physically ill" to be around. He says, "It would be quite impossible for me to work with him," making it known to Nora how Torvald will react toward her if he discovers what she has done.

When caught lying about Krogstad's visit, Nora quickly brings up the upcoming masquerade ball as a distraction. Her interest in and preparation for the ball will be used by her to distract her husband several more times. In this case, however, what is most important is the metaphor that is established. Nora asks Torvald to help her choose what costume to wear. Metaphorically, she is asking who am I when she asks "what shall I go as?" Later in the scene, Torvald tells Nora he "must think about your costume too," highlighting what the audience knows and Torvald does not: the truth about his wife. All Torvald really knows about Nora are her costume and mask, an unreal identity she embodies just for him. Continuing the parallel equation set up for Krogstad and Nora, Torvald also talks about Krogstad's need for a mask. He says that a "hypocrite" such as Krogstad must wear a mask "in the presence of those near and dear to him."

Also in this section, the bird symbolism threaded throughout the play takes on the specific connotation of singing signifying speech. Torvald, who has just caught Nora in a lie, tells her "a songbird must have a clean beak" to indicate that she must be honest.

All through Act 1, Nora's relationship with her children significantly declines. By the end of the scene, Torvald has rattled Nora to the point that she is afraid to be in the same room with the children. She is spiraling out of control.

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