A Doll's House | Study Guide

Henrik Ibsen

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A Doll's House | Discussion Questions 41 - 50


What is the difference between "happy" and "merry" to Nora in Act 3 of A Doll's House?

Based on the snippets of Torvald and Nora's relationship within the play, they have traveled together, had children, celebrated holidays, and attended many social events, but at the end of the play, Nora wants to give up this lifestyle to find out who she really is and what she really thinks. Notably, Nora changes into "everyday dress" as Torvald pontificates on how their lives will be now that Krogstad has returned the bond and Torvald has burned it in the fire. This suggests, in the way Nora's costume has served as a metaphor of a false self throughout the play, that Nora will be happier living a simple lifestyle outside of all the pressures of motherhood and society—of having to act unnaturally and wear a "costume," or façade, to please her husband. All of the parties, champagne, playing with the children, being a hostess—times the audience has seen Nora look "happy"—are what made her feel only "merry," but did not fulfill her in the way independence or a true marriage would.

How does Torvald's reaction to Nora speaking her true feelings in Act 3, Section 3 of A Doll's House relate to the theme of sexism in the play?

When Nora speaks her true feelings to Torvald, he assumes she is "ill" or "delirious." He sees her as "unreasonable" and "ungrateful." For Torvald, it is his role to be the provider and Nora's role to make Torvald happy by living to serve and please him; he says only a mother can bear to spend time with her children. Sexism is the assumption that people will feel or behave a certain way because of their sex; it is also discriminating or devaluing someone because of their sex. To Torvald, Nora is not behaving the way he thinks she should, so he assumes she must be sick or crazy. Also, when Nora later talks of her confusion about the law being impossible because it does not allow for acts of loving sacrifice, Torvald accuses her of being childish: "You don't understand the conditions of the world you live in," he yells. Torvald has always seen Nora as childish because she is a woman. To Torvald, none of Nora's thoughts hold validity or depth because he assumes women only care about parties, children, and superficial concerns, so he does not try to understand her or imagine she could say something truly meaningful.

What is the significance of Torvald's statement, "Playtime shall be over and lesson time shall begin" in A Doll's House?

Torvald has been discredited as being morally superior to Nora, and in this moment, she is revealing her true intelligence, so the audience will likely agree with Nora when she says, "You are not the man to educate me." Also, the way Torvald has phrased the idea sounds condescending, and again, like Torvald is attempting to turn Nora back into a "doll" when she is saying precisely that is not what she wants, so the audience will likely side with her on this point as well. Torvald does not realize that his advice is not needed or wanted in this case.

In what ways might Torvald's appeals to Nora in Act 3, Section 3 of A Doll's House evoke pity for him from the audience?

When Nora turns Torvald's earlier words about her not being fit to raise their children against him, and he responds, "In a moment of anger!" the audience may feel some pity for him. However, this will only hold true if they fail to notice that Torvald's moment of anger has passed, but he is still acting superior. Right after this moment, Nora reveals that she is leaving Torvald, which may also arouse some pity for him. Nora and Torvald have acted similarly at times—coldly toward Krogstad, superior to Dr. Rank and Christine—and they have both made mistakes. Because Nora has grown beyond Torvald, it does not necessarily follow that she is justified from the audience's perspective in abandoning him. Some audience members will likely feel pity for him in that she is giving up on their marriage, while others will not. Whether viewed as misguided and irritating or not, Torvald has consistently shown devotion, attraction, and commitment to Nora.

What "wonderful thing" has Nora has been waiting for in A Doll's House?

When Nora says the "wonderful thing" would have been for Torvald to "publish the thing to the whole world," she means Krogstad's letter and Torvald taking the blame for it. She also says she's been waiting eight years for the "wonderful thing," so it has a deeper meaning. Nora is willing to die by suicide rather than let Torvald take the blame for her anyway, which is the key to understanding the type of sacrifice and commitment the "wonderful thing" means to Nora: Torvald would choose her over "the whole world," thus choosing her over his place in society. However, Ibsen adds another layer of meaning to the idea of the "wonderful thing," as it is referenced in Nora and Torvald's parting words. Torvald wants to know if he can ever again be "anything more than a stranger," and Nora says "the most wonderful thing of all would have to happen," except she does not believe it anymore. Here, the expression is clarified to mean that they would have a true wedlock of equals, masks and costumes off; Ibsen makes the idea known through Torvald's last words accompanied by a flash of hope, "The most wonderful thing of all—."

What is the significance of Torvald's reference to Nora as his "little squirrel" in A Doll's House?

Torvald comparing Nora to a squirrel does not quite reach symbolic level, but the analogy still carries significance. Torvald refers to her as his "little squirrel" more often in the beginning of the play, and Ibsen uses the reference as a metaphor that creates dramatic irony, which is when the audience knows something more than a character. Torvald does not realize Nora is squirreling away money because of the loan or why she is always asking for more. It is also the source of her stress and anxiety, which makes her behave in a skittish, squirrel-like manner. Squirrels build elaborate nests, are protective of their territory, and forage and save for winter, so a squirrel is an apt comparison for Nora in the beginning of the play. As the drama unfolds, Nora becomes less squirrel-like, and Torvald's use of the nickname diminishes.

How do doors, offstage rooms, and locks serve the themes in A Doll's House?

In Act 2, Section 1 Torvald says, "Practice with your tambourine. I shall go into the inner office and shut the door, and I shall hear nothing." Torvald, who cannot see the real Nora, does not want to know her more deeply. He only wants her to dance for him. His "inner room"—as it is also called in the stage directions—is closed to women, just as is his mind. After he has read Krogstad's first letter, Torvald locks the door, locking Nora in the parlor with him. As it is the only time Torvald locks a door in the play, the detail is significant. Perhaps it is meant to emphasize Torvald's anger, or the sense of doom Nora experiences by being caught and trapped. The locking of the door also emphasizes that this is the moment of truth—only they, alone, can resolve their conflict. Torvald unlocks the door when the maid brings Krogstad's new letter, and he leaves it open as he reads it and forgives Nora, suggesting it is her choice now, to stay or go. It remains open until Nora leaves: the door slamming is the final sound in the play, giving her the last word.

In what ways does Torvald unknowingly provide Nora with lies and excuses throughout A Doll's House?

Often in the play, a lie or excuse is provided for Nora by an assumption made by another character, most often Torvald, and it serves two purposes. It appears to keep Nora shielded from the self-realization that she is dangerously deceitful, and it is Ibsen's commentary on the danger of presumption, causing people to live inauthentic lives, or to self-deceive. One dangerous presumption is Torvald's belief that Nora is like her papa and foolish with money; dangerous because it fails to prompt him to inquire further into why she really needs money or distances herself from him. His concern erroneously focuses on trifles, such as whether she is lying about eating macaroons. Another detrimental assumption of Torvald's happens when he decides Nora fears that Krogstad will write a malicious article about him, and that her fear stems from childhood trauma over her papa's similar scandal. These lies highlight the recurrent dynamic in their relationship: Nora's reasons and motives consistently contradicted by Torvald's moralizations serve to ease her conscience and make him, in her perception and the audience's, undeserving of the truth.

How do Nora's reasons for not telling Torvald about the secret loan change over the course of A Doll's House?

Nora originally takes out the loan to save Torvald's life. She keeps the loan secret to save his pride, but the moment Krogstad threatens to expose her, her first response is what she knows to be true: Torvald will pay off the loan and see Krogstad for who he really is. Nora's motive for keeping the loan secret transforms when Krogstad threatens her with a legal scandal; it becomes crucial to her to save herself from Torvald's hatred of corruption. It is then significant that she take a leap from that position to deciding to commit suicide when, as she believes he will, Torvald finds out and takes the blame. If he is going to find out and save her, why not just tell him? It is because Nora wants to test Torvald, and her need to be understood by her husband has grown stronger than her need for the problem of the loan to be resolved.

Does Nora hope for a future relationship with Torvald when she leaves him at the end of A Doll's House?

As subtly as Ibsen has crafted the ending of A Doll's House, it conveys the possibility that Nora hopes Torvald can change. Even though she is so angry she yells, "I could tear myself into little bits," she counters with, "I shall often think of you and the children and this house," and "both you and I would have to be so changed that—." Nora displays a complete contradiction of emotion, and with it the implication that she still hopes for change. When Torvald says, "I have it in me to become a different man," and Nora replies, "Perhaps—if your doll is taken away from you," Nora believes Torvald must feel she is completely gone if he is to evolve or experience true growth. This is the reason Nora exchanges wedding rings, telling Torvald he must never contact her as she relinquishes all marital obligations between them. Even though she implies to the audience she harbors a hope to return to Torvald, Nora leaves Torvald with no hope of her return, so they will both have a real opportunity for growth.

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