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A Doll's House

Analysis Act One A major theme of the play - deception, or the gap between appearance and reality - is introduced in the very first word, "Hide". Nora wants to hide the Christmas tree so that the children don't see it before it is decorated. The theme is developed throughout the play until we realize that Nora's entire relationship with her husband is based on many layers of deception, albeit benign deception. The theme is developed by Nora's lie to Torvald about having bought macaroons, and by their tiresome role-play whereby he calls her pet names such as "little squirrel" and "little spendthrift" and she acts like a spoilt, silly, and irresponsible child. It becomes obvious later in the scene that she is a much more responsible, thoughtful and complex person than he could ever conceive of. But she puts on an act for him, because at some level she knows that a wife-as-plaything is the only kind of wife he can cope with. They undoubtedly love each other, but it is a love founded on a lie that both have created. Nora's pretence to Torvald of childish helplessness - "Yes, Torvald, I can't get along a bit without your help" acquires heavy dramatic irony, as we know at this point that she has achieved the extraordinary feat of saving her husband's life. What is more, she has done so without his knowledge in order to preserve that delicate pride which demands that she appear to be utterly dependent upon him. Torvald's reliance on this deception would engage more of our sympathy were he not so damning of Krogstad's need "to wear a mask in the presence of those near and dear to him." He sees Krogstad as an embodiment of congenital moral corruption. But Krogstad committed his moral 'crime' many years ago and has since led a respectable life. Though he looks set to slip back by blackmailing Nora, by the end of the play, he repents and redeems himself - throwing doubt on Torvald's uncompromisingly black picture of him. The deceptive relationship between Torvald and Nora is contrasted with that between Dr Rank and Nora. With Dr Rank, Nora is able to be more truthful and drops the childish-flirtatious act she employs with Torvald, though she still lies to Rank about the macaroons. Dr Rank knows that Torvald cannot bear very much reality: when Nora says she wants to tell Torvald something shocking, Dr Rank advises her not to say it, adding, "with us you might." But Dr Rank too has his secrets, as we shall discover. In A Doll's House, Ibsen explores his interest in the role of women in society. He raises questions about how much a woman has to compromise her own wishes and aims in order to fit into society. Mrs Linde has had to give up her true love, Krogstad, and marry a man she did not love in order to gain the financial security she needed to look after her mother and brothers. Hers has been a life of self-sacrifice rather than self-fulfilment.

A Doll's House
Analysis Act Two In the character of the Nurse, Ibsen further explores the role of women. Like Mrs Linde, the Nurse has had to sacrifice her own happiness in order to survive financially. She has had to send away her own child and look after other people's. The theme of inherited degeneracy is taken up in Dr Rank's sickness, inherited from a sexually promiscuous father. As the Bible has it, the sins of the father are visited on the son. Rank says, ".in every single family, in one way or another, some such inexorable retribution is being exacted." The lack of truth in Nora's marriage is made clear by Mrs Linde's remark that Dr Rank knew about her friendship with Nora, but Torvald had no idea who she was. This is because she talks more openly with Dr Rank, but avoids mentioning any of her old friends to Torvald as he wants her totally to himself. Dr Rank, for his part, refrains from talking of his imminent death to Torvald as Torvald feels disgust at anything ugly, but Dr Rank does tell Nora. However, Nora's limitations are made clear in her responses to Dr Rank when he talks to her of his death. Like a spoilt child who thinks only of herself, Nora tells him that he is being absurd, "And I wanted you so much to be in a really good humor." To some extent, Nora is a product of her upbringing, which, as she later says, consisted in being indulged and treated as a pretty plaything first by her father, then by her husband. An indication that the Helmer marriage is unraveling is Torvald's refusal to adopt his usual indulgent fatherly role opposite Nora's "little squirrel" act, when she makes a last attempt to wheedle him into keeping Krogstad in his job. In a mood for plain speaking, he tells her the brutal truth: Nora asked him to give Mrs Linde a job, and he has given her Krogstad's. Nora is too fearful of his reaction to meet his truth with hers, and can only think up fanciful reasons why he should not anger Krogstad. It is worth remembering here that Krogstad's only weapon is a dose of the truth - but the Helmer marriage is too flimsy to withstand such an onslaught. Torvald's character does not emerge from this act in a positive light. He comes across as unbearably smug when he insists that he, unlike Nora's father, has a public reputation that is above suspicion. He also appears superficial in his concern with appearances: he worries less about Krogstad's fate than what others would think if they believed his wife had influenced his decision to employ or sack him. It is hard to sympathize with Torvald's final reasoning on the subject, that though he is willing to overlook Krogstad's "moral failings," he fears that he will embarrass him in public by treating him as a friend. The symbolism of Nora's Tarantella dance is developed. The Tarantella was a wild, passionate southern Italian dance. Torvald chooses Nora's dance costume (indeed, he had it made for her in Capri). The dress represents the erotic beauty that he prizes in her. He finds himself aroused by the sight of her wearing it to dance the wild, passionate Tarantella at the party. But it is significant that Torvald tells Nora to

practice the Tarantella while he shuts himself away in his office, stressing her isolation within her marriage. Nora, for her part, persuades him to watch her practice the dance in order to prevent him opening Krogstad's letter, so she is also shutting him away from an awareness of the truth about their marriage. He tries to rein in her wildness with his instructions, but she ignores his comments and dances more wildly. The interaction between Nora and Torvald regarding the Tarantella shows two people not so much drawing apart as careering towards a catastrophic impasse. Torvald's comment that she is dancing "as if her life depended on it" is ironic: the continuation of her life with Torvald does depend on her distracting him from the reality contained in the letter. Just as Torvald shuts himself away in his office, Nora keeps him from his letterbox - all in the name of protecting him from seeing and hearing what is really going on.

A Doll's House
Analysis Act Three Torvald's superficiality and inability to consider others' interests are highlighted in his suggestion to Mrs Linde that she should embroider rather than knit, as it is so much more becoming. He shows no regard for the fact that knitting is a more practical skill for someone who has struggled financially. Nora and Dr Rank feel that they must shield Torvald from knowing about Dr Rank's imminent death by talking in a code that Torvald fails to understand. While Torvald chuckles over his "little" wife's talking of Dr Rank's scientific investigations, Dr Rank knows that she is asking him whether he is soon to die. A more serious conversation and a more momentous event in Dr Rank's life cannot be imagined, yet his friend Torvald, trapped in his fantasy world of skylarks and squirrels, has no clue of its true meaning. An exchange between Nora and Dr Rank brings home the contrast between their relationship and that of Nora and her husband. Dr Rank and Nora see each other relatively more truthfully. When Nora asks Dr Rank what he and she shall wear at the next fancy dress ball, he says that she shall go as a good fairy, but that she will not need a costume, just her everyday clothes. This contrasts sharply with Torvald's erotic fascination with Nora's fancy Tarantella costume, which he chose. Dr Rank sees Nora's goodness in her essence, not in her appearance. Dr Rank adds that he will go to the next fancy dress ball in a big black hat that will make him invisible - a reference to his death, which passes over Torvald's head but which Nora understands. In a gesture with symbolic resonance, Nora offers Dr Rank a light for his cigar, an image of spiritual illumination that contrasts with the black hat of death. Nora has playful, coded conversations with both Torvald and Dr Rank, but they are very different in nature. Her "little squirrel" conversations with Torvald are a kind of lie which hides the deeper truth of her nature and of their marriage. These are not conversations between equals: Torvald thinks he is patronizing Nora, when in fact she is the one protecting him from harsh reality. Her conversations with Dr Rank are between equals: each understands the other, and profound truths are communicated and revealed by means of the code. Again, however, the effect is to shield Torvald - this time from the unpleasant reality of Dr Rank's imminent death. Another contrast between the two men is that Dr Rank has loved Nora with a selfless, unpossessive love, even while she has been married to his friend and even now that he is dying. This seems quite unlike Torvald's love of Nora as a beautiful possession - "Why shouldn't I look at my dearest treasure? at all the beauty that is mine, all my very own?" We have already seen that he is unwilling to share any part of her, forcing her even to refrain from mentioning her other friends to him. The crisis in the Torvald-Nora marriage comes at the end of the Act. Torvald discovers that Nora has made huge sacrifices to save his life, even committing a crime in the process, but he does not respond with gratitude, understanding or compassion. All he can think about is his own public image, which he

accuses her of ruining. He wants to preserve a sham marriage, just to maintain the appearance of respectability. Nora realizes that she has been wrong about Torvald; she had thought that finally, he would rescue and protect her, but in fact, he fails to consider her welfare at all. He shows himself to be selfish, petty and ungenerous. She had trusted in his great love for her to make everything right, but he has betrayed this trust. Torvald's explanation for refusing to take the blame, that a man would never sacrifice his honor for love, reveals the double standards that were conventionally applied to women as against men. Nora replies that "hundreds of thousands of women" have done just that. Both Nora and Mrs Linde have sacrificed themselves for their loved ones. Nora seems justified in her belief that Torvald should take responsibility for her, since she is expecting him to do no more for her than she has already done for him. Even after he knows there is no danger from Krogstad, Torvald remains unwilling to allow his wife to grow into her own strength. He cannot relate to Nora as she is, only to her play-acted role. He wants her to remain a little fragile bird that he needs to rescue. When she refuses to resume this role, he thinks of a new one for her: that of pupil to his teacher. Earlier in the Act, when she danced the Tarantella, she had played another role for which Torvald had dressed and coached her, that of a sultry Italian seductress. But she knows that she can no longer live as a doll; she cannot continue to have her life defined by the men who purport to love her. Her new self-knowledge is symbolized by her removing her fancy dress as she distances herself from his attempts to confine her in the roles he has defined for her. She decides that she herself must define who she is and what she does, and leaves Torvald and her children. It is no longer enough for Nora to live the life of appearances that she maintained in collusion with Torvald. She chooses to forge a life that is more in tune with her true nature. It would be unfair simply to blame Torvald for the catastrophe of their marriage. Nora has colluded in Torvald's and her father's treatment of her as a "doll" with no opinions or identity of her own. We have seen her manipulate Torvald by concealing her strength and playing the helpless "little squirrel" and "little bird" to his paternal rescuer. She has also kept secret from him anything that would challenge his view of her. But, as the story of the play has made clear, women were not educated or otherwise prepared for taking on the responsibilities of life. Where they did gain some self-sufficiency, as with Mrs Linde and the Nurse, it often involved great hardship and sacrifice. As a man accustomed to responsibilities, Torvald should have been aware that along with the perks of his chosen role (having a submissive wife and plaything) come duties: to support his wife in her hour of need. Torvald fails in this duty and breaks the implicit contract of the marriage. Mrs Linde is a foil (contrast) to Nora in that her route to self-fulfiment is the reverse of Nora's. Nora chooses to leave her family, but Mrs Linde, who has led just such an independent life as the one Nora is embarking upon, decides to give it up to look after the man she loves and his children. Some critics have commented that Mrs Linde's decision undermines Nora's and implies that Nora will come to regret her course of action. But this is to miss the point. Ibsen does not suggest that Nora's action in leaving her family is the only route for a woman to find her true identity. The important thing is that Nora, having lived in a sham marriage, makes a conscious choice of independence, and that Mrs Linde, having once given up the man she loved to support her relations, makes a conscious choice to look after him. Both are being true to themselves after a period of denying their true natures.

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