A Doll's House | Study Guide

Henrik Ibsen

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A Doll's House | Discussion Questions 11 - 20


In Act 1, Section 3 of A Doll's House, what differences are highlighted between Torvald and Dr. Rank based on their reactions to Nora eating macaroons?

In this section the audience discovers that Torvald does not want Nora to eat the macaroons because he believes they are bad for her teeth, while it is also revealed that Dr. Rank has contradicted Torvald in the past by telling Nora that "—once in a way—", or once in a while, is fine. Dr. Rank would rather see Nora happy and eating treats such as macaroons in moderation than see her restricted. It also shows that Dr. Rank may be willing to be sneaky and help Nora keep secrets from Torvald, which turns out to be true later in the play.

In Act 1 of A Doll's House, why does Nora want to yell, "I'm damned"?

Nora has just realized privately the extent of her power over Krogstad now that Torvald is a bank manager. She reacts by laughing wildly and defying Torvald's orders not to eat macaroons, taking her defiance further by passing them around to her friends. She is in a state of rebellion because she believes her loan problem has been solved. This shows that Nora feels resentment toward Torvald, and she holds him ultimately responsible for her troubles. Dr. Rank and Christine are both shocked, but it is significant that Dr. Rank, after wondering if Nora is "mad," encourages her to go ahead and say it to Torvald, as he walks through the door. This leaves no doubt about Dr. Rank for the audience—he is not a true friend to Torvald.

How does the way Nora asks Torvald to hire Christine relate to the theme of sexism in A Doll's House?

Nora inflates Torvald's sense of importance by lying to him when she says Christine heard about Torvald's promotion and came to visit specifically to find a job. She also inflates his ego by saying Christine wants to work "under a clever man" to "perfect" herself. Here, Ibsen shows the stereotypical vanity of men in that the flattery works, and in Torvald replying that Christine is "sensible." It also exposes the stereotypical male perception that women lack ability without men's guidance. That Torvald assumes Christine is a widow is another illuminated stereotype: why would a married woman want to work? Within the historical context of the play, married women would take care of the household and children and would not work outside of the home. The theme is reinforced at the end of the section when Torvald assumes that only Nora will find the children tolerable.

What is the significance of how Nora plays with her children at the end of Act 1, Section 3 of A Doll's House?

Nora calls her children "my sweet little baby doll" and "nice little dolly children." She speaks to them sweetly and condescendingly about the games they played that day, suggesting a feigned interest; this mode of communication between Nora and her children mirrors the way Torvald speaks to Nora, a tone and behavior she inwardly despises. That she partakes in the same behavior and tone shows a lack of self-awareness and suggests a pervasive lack of awareness in society in general. Hide and seek, the game Nora plays with her children, serves as a metaphor for Nora's relationship with her family and her intimacy with Torvald. Nora does not show her true self to her children or her husband, and he is always prying (seeking) into the everyday details of her life while she hides the important events from him.

What responsibility, if any, does Krogstad have for Nora's decision to commit fraud in A Doll's House?

First, Krogstad says he left the date blank, and it seems as if he did it on purpose: "I had left the date blank ... your father himself should have inserted the date ... Do you remember that?" This should be weighed against the fact that he admits the "second of October" is not "written in your father's handwriting" because, as Krogstad continues to explain to Nora, "someone else may have dated it haphazardly ... there is no harm in that." In this moment, Krogstad is certain Nora falsified the date but uncertain whether she falsified the signature, which she confesses she did shortly after Krogstad speaks. Further, Krogstad has known about the date forgery prior to this moment because he already has the paperwork to prove Papa's exact day of death—evident in that Krogstad leaves and returns with the paperwork so quickly after visiting with Torvald. While Nora pays back the loan fairly consistently, Krogstad never blackmails or threatens her until his position at the bank is in jeopardy. At this moment in the play, Ibsen constructs Krogstad's character to appear ruthless to the audience. However, Krogstad will complete a full character arc, meaning he will grow and change, becoming an empathetic and redeemed character by the end. Ibsen deftly makes it difficult to tell whether or not Krogstad tricked Nora when he issued the loan, but the details suggest it is unlikely that he purposely led her into committing a crime. This supports the kind of man Krogstad will be revealed to be, and why Christine will choose to give him a second chance.

Why does Nora confess forging her father's signature to Krogstad in Act 1, Section 4 of A Doll's House?

Considering the logic Nora uses in her rebuttal to Krogstad's threats, it is contradictory that she would confess to the forgery. At first, she pushes back, saying that she has the influence to get Krogstad fired if he does not behave as Nora demands. Then she tells him that exposing her will only make Torvald "see for himself what a blackguard you are, and you certainly won't keep your post then." Once Nora realizes she is legally vulnerable for falsifying a date on the loan papers, she admits to the more extreme crime of forging Papa's signature. When her logic of using threats and indifference does not work with Krogstad, Nora resorts to appealing emotionally to him, believing he will not harm her when he understands why she forged the signatures, pleading, "Papa was so ill" and "That trip was to save my husband's life." Nora does not feel guilty because she believes her intentions were good; she believes there is power in sacrificing for love. When Krogstad does not understand or care, she says to him, "You must be a very poor lawyer," indicating how much she believes in her innocence. Through Nora's interaction with Krogstad, Ibsen provides a strong contrast to Nora's interactions with Torvald, hinting that her helpless "skylark" behavior is a pretense, and Nora is only conforming to the expectations of her gender. Nora longs to conduct business as men do, use her intelligence, and be taken seriously by her husband. Although this scene happens early in the play, Ibsen is ensuring the audience is given the means to understand the depth of Nora's internal conflict.

What is the significance of how Nora views moneylenders in A Doll's House?

In Act 1, Section 1, Nora tells Torvald she does not care about moneylenders because she does not know any, which is a lie. By Act 1, Section 4, the audience discovers Nora knows Krogstad, a moneylender, very well and has done business with him. Even though she has borrowed money from him, she acts as if she is better than he is, uncovering a lack of self-awareness. She brushes him off, as if he is unimportant. Knowing he has several children and his wife died, Nora does not offer to help him keep his position, nor does she respond with empathy or kindness to his desperation even though it matches her own. Nora only pays attention to him based on threats to her own happiness and stability. Finally, when Krogstad asks her directly if it occurred to her that she has "committed a fraud" on him, she replies, "I didn't trouble myself about you ... I couldn't bear you because you put so many heartless difficulties in my way." Nora's perceptions of Krogstad, as well as other characters in the play, are rooted in how they relate to her own needs and desires.

What is the significance of how Nora treats her children at the end of Act 1, Section 4 of A Doll's House?

The way Nora treats her children at the end of Act 1, Section 4 is directly opposite of how she treated them with love and attention at the end of Act 1, Section 3. In the previous section, she was laughing, shouting, and playing, but later she pushes them away and shuts the door as they protest. By the end of the play, the conflict will unravel Nora's role as a mother, and this moment is the first fraying thread in that area of her life. The audience will witness Nora's slow withdrawal from her children as the play wears on, so that by the end, they will understand how Torvald's judgment and hypocrisy led to her self-loathing. Nora's abandonment of her children will be perceived as a sacrifice and act of love, not a cold-hearted or selfish act.

What does dishonesty mean to Torvald in Act 1, Section 5 of A Doll's House?

Torvald obviously dislikes lying because he scolds Nora when he catches her lying to him about Krogstad: she tells her husband that no one was in the house right after Torvald saw Krogstad leaving. Torvald also thinks that "dissimulation," meaning when a person conceals her true nature or pretends to be something she is not, is dishonest. He makes this clear when he tells Nora that Krogstad can or should be forgiven for committing a crime, but the fact of Krogstad using a "cunning trick" to avoid admitting it or paying for it by taking due punishment makes Krogstad reprehensible to Torvald.

What does the Christmas tree represent in Act 1 of A Doll's House?

The first words Nora speaks are "Hide the Christmas tree carefully." Nora uses Christmas in general to cajole more money out of Torvald so she can solve her problem on her own, apparently a ploy she used last Christmas, pretending to work on tree ornaments when she was really doing paperwork to make money. After Krogstad shatters Nora by explaining she committed a crime, she immediately wants to decorate the Christmas tree to distract herself. The Christmas tree represents Nora's need to hide from Torvald and escape her problems. The Christmas tree, symbolizing what to many families is a happy holiday, may also represent the happiness she looks for but does not find in her marriage.

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