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A Doll's House | Study Guide

Henrik Ibsen

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Act 3, Section 2

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Act 3, Section 2 of Henrik Ibsen's play A Doll's House.

A Doll's House | Act 3, Section 2 | Summary



Torvald, in a festive mood, acts romantically toward Nora, but they are interrupted by Dr. Rank's visit, during which he lets Nora know he is dying. Torvald reads Krogstad's letter, renounces Nora, then reads Krogstad's new letter and forgives her.


At the climax of the play, Torvald's morality is given the ultimate test. His character's success or failure places him in the center of the conflict—the place Nora has held until this moment. Torvald has been moralizing and demanding perfect loyalty, sacrifice, and truth from Nora all along. Christine, Dr. Rank, and Krogstad have also been pressing her for honesty.

Torvald hasn't experienced any resistance to his ideas of self-righteousness, but as he takes center stage and feels the first touch of pressure, he buckles and renounces his wife. Diving deep into the depths of hatred, he calls her a "miserable creature." Even before this moment of truth, Torvald's character begins to show an unsavory side. His fantasies reveal he is sexually motivated by a desire to be both sneaky and dominating. Then he scolds Nora for saying "I won't" in response to his sexual advances. "You won't? ... Am I not your husband?" And when the moment of truth comes—in Torvald's response to the letter—it is significant that he has two opposite responses: one of renunciation and one of forgiveness. The first response is caused by his fears of personal ruin and loss, and his second response only comes after those fears have been removed. This is the moment Nora's character is crystallized for the audience. She never renounces her husband to alleviate her own fear and pain, but he easily and venomously does this to her. Now the audience sees that all of his promises are nothing but empty words when put to the test.

The concept of understanding is the philosophical idea this part of the play explores. Christine has just introduced the idea of understanding being the key to a true relationship, and here on display is the crisis of Nora and Torvald's misunderstanding of each other. As Torvald reveals deep feelings of resentment toward Nora's papa, he also reveals to Nora that he will not sacrifice for her in the way she sacrifices for him. In this revelation, Nora's understanding of Torvald shatters, and she sees him as he really is.

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