A Doll’s House

by: Henrik Ibsen

Torvald Helmer

Torvald embraces the belief that a man’s role in marriage is to protect and guide his wife. He clearly enjoys the idea that Nora needs his guidance, and he interacts with her as a father would. He instructs her with trite, moralistic sayings, such as: “A home that depends on loans and debt is not beautiful because it is not free.” He is also eager to teach Nora the dance she performs at the costume party. Torvald likes to envision himself as Nora’s savior, asking her after the party, “[D]o you know that I’ve often wished you were facing some terrible dangers so that I could risk life and limb, risk everything, for your sake?”

Although Torvald seizes the power in his relationship with Nora and refers to her as a “girl,” it seems that Torvald is actually the weaker and more childlike character. Dr. Rank’s explanation for not wanting Torvald to enter his sickroom—”Torvald is so fastidious, he cannot face up to anything ugly”—suggests that Dr. Rank feels Torvald must be sheltered like a child from the realities of the world. Furthermore, Torvald reveals himself to be childishly petty at times. His real objection to working with Krogstad stems not from -deficiencies in Krogstad’s moral character but, rather, Krogstad’s overly friendly and familiar behavior. Torvald’s decision to fire Krogstad stems ultimately from the fact that he feels threatened and offended by Krogstad’s failure to pay him the proper respect.

Torvald is very conscious of other people’s perceptions of him and of his standing in the community. His explanation for rejecting Nora’s request that Krogstad be kept on at the office—that retaining Krogstad would make him “a laughing stock before the entire staff”—shows that he prioritizes his reputation over his wife’s desires. Torvald further demonstrates his deep need for society’s respect in his reaction to Nora’s deception. Although he says that Nora has ruined his happiness and will not be allowed to raise the children, he insists that she remain in the house because his chief concern is saving “the appearance” of their household.