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A Doll's House | Study Guide

Henrik Ibsen

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Act 2, Section 1

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

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



It is Christmas day, and Nora has refused to see her children. She nervously prepares for the upcoming costume party. She discusses Dr. Rank and her loan problem with Christine, who drops by to help mend Nora's old, torn costume. Christine leaves when Torvald enters, and Nora begs him to not fire Krogstad. Angered, Torvald sends the dismissal letter immediately instead of waiting until after the New Year.


The state of the Christmas tree in the beginning of the section serves to show the passing of time and represents Nora's emotional decline: the candles on the tree are "burned down," the tree is "in the corner," "stripped of its ornaments," and its branches are "disheveled." Act 2 opens with heavy foreshadowing. As Nora and the nurse talk about the costume and the children, the conversation illuminates Nora's terrible situation and the abandonment of her children that is to come. The nurse says the costume "needs mending," it can "easily be put in order" with patience. Nora says she would like to tear the dress "into a hundred thousand pieces." She had said this of the bond for the debt, "the nasty dirty paper" to Christine just a few moments earlier. When Nora asks the nurse how she could have left her own daughter, the nurse replies, "A poor girl who has got into trouble should be glad to. Besides, that wicked man didn't do a single thing for me." This is exactly how Nora's situation turns out by the end of the drama.

The section continues to weave connections between the characters, specifically between Nora and Dr. Rank and between Torvald and Nora's papa. Dr. Rank is an example of immorality manifesting from one generation into the next. Nora tells Christine, "His father was a horrible man ... and that is why his son was sickly from childhood." In Act 1, Torvald (unknowingly) suggests to Nora that she could corrupt her children, so Dr. Rank's character serves as a magnifying mirror to Nora, intensifying her worries. Near the end of the scene, Torvald assumes Nora is in a frightened state because she is traumatized by humiliation from childhood when her father was suspected of immoral behavior. Torvald claims an important difference between himself and her Papa: "Your father's reputation as a public official was not above suspicion." This exchange of ideas happens right before Ibsen launches into direct commentary on marriage (described in the next paragraph). That Torvald will be brought down in status by Nora's indiscretion takes on significant weight here, bringing it into the audience's awareness that husband and wife are intrinsically linked as are father and daughter. The audience is invited to question whether it is truly possible for an individual to even exist outside of society.

Torvald makes a promise to Nora he will later break: "Come what will ... I shall have both courage and strength if they be needed." Ultimately, Torvald will learn he does not have the moral character he thinks he has, but here is where the seed of Nora's hope is planted. This moment in the play is one of the few times Ibsen comments specifically on marriage, and he does so through Torvald's character: "Well, we will share it, Nora, as man and wife should." Right after Torvald makes this declaration, he soothes Nora, saying "There! There!—not these frightened dove's eyes." Calling her a dove, rather than the usual skylark or songbird, brings to bear the dove's symbolic religious significance. Thus, a connection between marriage and religion is suggested.

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