– A Dolls House Essay, Research Paper
Character Analysis for
Sometimes, characters in a novel or play go through a great dynamic change only to find their true self and to remove the fraudulent perception of themselves in the eyes of others. Such a change leads the character to become fully aware of their life as well as finally understand what a hypocritical life they have mistakenly led. At the beginning of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, Nora Helmer is shown as a childish and na ve housewife with a knack for spending money. This opinion is transferred mostly through Nora’s “parent – child” dialogue with her husband, Torvald. Torvald’s usual characterization of Nora as an “expensive little person” (p14) with a skill of melting his money in her hands clearly illustrates Nora’s relation with her husband as being strikingly similar to that of a spoiled child and his wealthy parents. However, during the course of the play, as Ibsen takes the reader through the climax of Nora’s pre-liberated life, he shows how Nora develops into a wiser, more determined woman who learns to respect herself. Nora’s development is highlighted and guided with her growing courage, her direct attempts to become more equal with her husband, and her increasingly realistic attitude about herself.
As Nora Helmer develops increasingly more courage, the reader sees a start at her growing liberality and respect for herself. At first, Nora’s carefree happiness is only propelled by her utter following and dependence on her husband’s wishes. For example, Torvald jokingly confronts Nora about nibbling on some sweets she seriously states, “[she] should not think of going against your wishes,” (p15) acting in the same way a child would, when he does not obey. However, with the arrival of Mrs. Linde, Nora finds a person to whom she can be fully honest and true. Her request that Torvald hire Mrs. Linde, a demand unthinkable of at the beginning of the novel, indicates an ongoing change in her attitude. The true test of Nora’s courage comes when Krogstad threatens to reveal to everyone her fraudulent signature on the bond. An otherwise timid woman, Nora’s actions now show her rapid change. As Nora sends out Mrs. Linde to persuade Krogstad get to change his mind, she shows full independence and awareness of her actions. Nora’s final test of courage comes, of course, at the climax of the action, after Krogstad sends the bond back and all seems to be well again. As Torvald Helmer admits
“I should not be a man if this womanly helplessness did not just give you a double attractiveness Very soon you won’t need me to assure you that I have forgiven you; you will yourself feel the certainty that I have done so”, (p66) Nora truly realizes what a lie she has been living for the past eight years. She demonstrates now that she is liberated from Torvald’s parent-like influence by leaving him to “stand quite alone to understand myself and everything about [her]” (p71) Needless to say, the courage to part with one who you have loved for a number of years, shows how determined Nora has become to liberate herself from the shackles that society placed her.
In addition to Nora Helmer’s growing courage, she also acquires an idealistic intention – to become equal with her husband. In her heart, she realizes the position in life that she has been given, one where she must wear a fa ade of cheerfulness and eagerness to please, is far lower than her potential. The reader gets a first glimpse into this desire as Nora admits to Mrs. Linde how she saved money to repay Krogstad for the loan. Nora says,
“Last winter I was lucky enough to get a lot of copying to do; so I locked myself up and sat writing all evening until quite late at night it was a tremendous pleasure to sit there working and earning money. It was like being a man.” (p22)
This innate desire to be like a man, to have responsibilities, to earn money and have work to look forward to shows Nora’s unhappiness with her life. The reader can then see that Nora is a very astute and precocious woman. A second, more direct example of Nora’s intent to become more significant and influential in the family occurs after Krogstad’s threat to tell Torvald about their matter. Nora approaches Torvald and is ready to talk to him about the loan she had procured to save his life, but is turned off by his idiosyncratic reply what would it seem if “the new manager changed his mind at this wife’s bidding” (p41). Through Nora’s unsuccessful attempts to change Torvald’s mind about firing Krogstad, Ibsen shows the controversial truth that in the late 1800’s it was common and expectant of women to become influenced and controlled by the men in their lives. Alas, to the end Torvald maintains his superior position over Nora, which is most accurately presented in the quote “Playtime shall be over, and lesson-time shall begin.” (p68) He so strongly believes that “no man would sacrifice his honor for the one he loves”(p71) that there is no wonder why Torvald acted so selfishly vain and harsh when he received Krogstad’s letter. Mrs. Helmer has so long awaited its arrival, for if her husband acted indifferent to it and even took the guilt upon himself, that would show he truly cared for Nora and was not just an arrogant, selfish demagogue. As Nora realizes that Torvald is not the noble man she perceived him to be, she leaves, because now understands that she shall only be treated as a doll in Torvald’s house. Such action demonstrates Nora’s necessity to be understood and respected, for it is better to love oneself through lonely agony than to be loved by others through glorious deceit.
Doubtless, Nora’s realization that her life has been full of unintentional deceit through her relations with Torvald, is what drives her to develop into a more realistic, reasonable and self-respecting woman. Her opinions and thoughts are almost fully repressed at the beginning of the play, when Nora is shown to cower in fear after eating some sweets, an action her husband dislikes. Ibsen carefully initiates the change by allowing the leader to learn that Nora has committed what seemed like a “crime” in those years, secretly going against her husband’s moral teachings. Thus, the reader can accurately perceive that from the first moment, when Nora forged her father’s signature to receive money for the trip to Italy, she has been living in a falsification. Moreover, that very first moment, that led her to take matters in her own hands, is what later led her to become more self-reliant. Ibsen then wonderfully illustrates Nora’s ongoing internal change when she calls her husband narrow-minded. This remark, one that the reader could not imagine the “little skylark” uttering at the beginning, is a great indicator of Nora’s growing sense of righteousness and critical judgement of others around her. Of course, no analysis of Nora’s development into a self-respecting person would be complete without mentioning the final dialogue of her with Torvald. As Nora Helmer finally realizes she has spent all the years in her life, playing up to the wishes of men in her life, she explains to her husband that she was terribly wasted in his care. Nora tells Torvald “I have existed merely to perform tricks for you It is your fault, I have made nothing of my life.” (p68). Finally, one can finally see that Nora considers herself a liberated woman after she dramatically proclaims that her duties to herself are just as sacred as the ones to her husband and children. Ibsen then correctly predicts the attitude of the modern woman when by letting Nora say,
“I believe that before all else, I am a reasonable human being – or, at all events, I must try to become one I am no longer content with what most people say or with what is found in books. I must think over things for myself and get to understand them.”(p69)
Such attitude forever changed men’s antagonistic superior treatment of women. Nora Helmer’s change is then very symbolic with the change of all women, occurring about the same time A Doll’s House was written.
Nora Helmer’s character change from a na vet to a wise woman comes at the considerable cost of her leaving her home. Such a regretful ending might indeed be considered tragic, yet the reader can not help but be pleased at Nora’s final stand against outside influence. It would be far worse (and uneventful) had Nora stayed quiet and repressed the liberality self-respect that was churning inside of her. Ibsen’s portrayal of a fairly simple, spoiled “girl” (her childish play had pointed the reader to come at such opinion) becoming a more mature, wiser woman through self-liberation with what can be regarded as a happy ending, showed that the author felt much sympathy towards women’s inferior standing in society at the time of writing. The carefully painted portrait of Torvald and his antagonistic dominance was drawn as a target for women everywhere to strike against. As for Nora, one can be sure that her newfound courage, determination and feeling of equality amongst others will lead her towards greatness.