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A Doll’s House

Henrik Ibsen

Act One

Summary Act One


From the opening of the play to the announcement of Dr. Rank’s and Mrs. Linde’s arrivals.

It is Christmas Eve. Nora Helmer enters the house with packages and a Christmas tree. She pays the porter double what she owes him and eats some macaroons. Her husband, Torvald Helmer, comes out of his study and addresses Nora with tenderness and authority, calling her his “skylark” and his “squirrel.” Nora tells Torvald that she wants to show him what she has bought, and Torvald teases her for being a spendthrift. Nora replies that she and Torvald can afford to be extravagant, since Torvald’s new position at the bank means he will earn a large salary. Torvald replies that he will not take over that position until after the new year begins. When Nora argues that they can spend on credit until Torvald is paid, Torvald scolds her, reminding her that if something were to happen to make them unable to pay off their loan, they would be in trouble. He concludes by saying that he hates debts because “[a] home that depends on loans and debts is not beautiful because it is not free.” Nora finally acquiesces and says, “Everything as you wish, Torvald.”

Witnessing Nora’s pouty disappointment, Torvald tries to cheer up his wife by offering her money to spend for Christmas. Nora becomes enthusiastic again and thanks him profusely. She then shows him all the gifts she has purchased for their children. Torvald asks Nora what she would like for Christmas, and at first, Nora replies that she doesn’t need a gift. It becomes apparent that she is hesitant to tell Torvald what she wants, and finally she says that she would just like some money so that she can pick out the perfect thing and buy it herself.

Torvald again accuses Nora of being wasteful, arguing that wastefulness with money runs in her family and that she inherited the trait from her father. But, he says, he loves his “lovely little singing bird” just the way she is, and he wouldn’t want her to change.

Torvald then asks Nora if she has given in to her sweet tooth that day. Nora vehemently denies Torvald’s suggestion and continues her denial even when Torvald specifically asks if she has eaten any macaroons. Torvald finally abandons his questions, respecting her word.

The two discuss that evening’s Christmas festivities and the invitation of Dr. Rank to dinner. Torvald says Dr. Rank knows that he is always welcome and therefore doesn’t need to be invited. Nevertheless, Torvald tells Nora, he will invite Dr. Rank when he visits that morning. Torvald and Nora then return to their discussion of how wonderful it is that Torvald has a secure income and a good job.

Torvald recalls the events of the previous Christmas, when Nora shut herself up in a room until very late every night for three weeks to make Christmas ornaments. He remarks that he had never been so bored in his life. He also emphasizes that Nora had very little to show for all of her toil when she was finished. Nora reminds her husband that she can’t be blamed for the cat getting into the room and destroying all her hard work. Torvald again expresses happiness that they are financially better off than they were before.