Both Nora and Torvald claim the Helmer household would not feel complete without the presence of Dr. Rank. Dr. Rank, for his part, is happy to be a fixture in both their home and their marriage. Nora and Torvald have their own idealized pictures of each other and treat the other accordingly. Torvald thinks Nora is flighty, delicate, and entirely reliant on him. Nora thinks Torvald means well, but that he secretly needs her to survive. Dr. Rank sees them both in a much clearer light, and he shows the audience deeper insights into their characters.
During the events of the play, Dr. Rank reveals he has come to admire and eventually love Nora. Although she already suspected it, this declaration makes her uncomfortable. Dr. Rank is more attentive to Nora than her husband is, but she prefers Dr. Rank’s attention to fill in Torvald’s gaps rather than to replace him. When he is with both Helmers, Dr. Rank jumps in to help or speak up for Nora where he can. Nora transposes his attitude onto Torvald, particularly when it comes to the two men’s reactions to her debt. Dr. Rank immediately offers to pay the money she needs and take legal responsibility for her mistake. Because Dr. Rank does so, she assumes Torvald will as well. Even though Dr. Rank’s actions toward Nora are consistent throughout the play, she sees them as an extension of Torvald until Dr. Rank tells her he loves her. After that point, she cannot pretend Dr. Rank is a stand-in for Torvald.
Torvald seems ignorant of Dr. Rank’s feelings for Nora. He is willing to deceive himself as much as possible to see his life as an idyllic success story. Dr. Rank realizes this flaw in Torvald, and he does his best to play along with Torvald’s ideas and shield him from any unpleasantness. Dr. Rank tells Nora he will not allow Torvald to see him on his sickbed because he does not think Torvald can handle witnessing illness or death. Saving Torvald’s reputation is also part of the reason Dr. Rank offers to pay for Nora’s loan. He knows how poorly Torvald would react to Nora’s decision, so he hopes to protect them both from it.
Early in the play, Nora tells Mrs. Linde that Dr. Rank is chronically ill. She knows he inherited his illness from his father’s overindulgence in physical pleasures and vices, but she’s surprised that his illness is serious enough to kill him. Dr. Rank’s illness frightens Nora because she worries about what consequences her own children could suffer from her decisions. While Nora’s failures are moral rather than sexual, she still worries that, like Dr. Rank, her children could inherit her own misdeeds. Dr. Rank, on the other hand, seems somewhat resigned to his condition. He struggles with existential questions like his place in the Helmer household after he is gone, but he has given up attempting to prevent his death. Although he is not at peace with dying, he feels it is inevitable. When Dr. Rank confirms he is dying and removes himself from their lives, Nora and Torvald find themselves at odds almost immediately. They take a moment to mourn his loss, but they are more concerned with their own problems and quickly move on. Dr. Rank, even in death, operates as a character who reveals the true shallowness of Torvald and Nora.