From Mrs. Linde’s accusation that Nora is still a child to the exit of Dr. Rank, Torvald, and Mrs. Linde
[O]f course, a time will come when Torvald is not as devoted to me, not quite so happy when I dance for him, and dress for him, and play with him.
Mrs. Linde comments that Nora is still a child because she has known no hardship in her life. Nora becomes indignant and says that she too has “something to be proud and happy about.” She goes on to tell Mrs. Linde that she saved her husband’s life when he was sick. The doctors urged them to go south for a while but cautioned that the gravity of Torvald’s illness must not be revealed to him—he was in danger of dying. Nora tried to convince Torvald that they should go south, but he wouldn’t hear of borrowing money for that purpose. Nora procured money and told Torvald that her father gave it to them, though she really raised it herself. Nora’s father died before Torvald had a chance to find out that the money didn’t come from him. Nora has kept the source of the money a secret because she doesn’t want his “man’s pride” to be hurt. Mrs. Linde is doubtful that Nora is right to keep her actions a secret, but Nora replies that Torvald “would be so ashamed and humiliated if he thought he owed me anything.”
Nora explains that she has been using her allowance ever since the trip to Italy to pay her debt. She also reveals that she took on some copying work the previous winter. This work (and not ornament-making) was the real reason that she closed herself up in a room during the weeks before the previous Christmas. Nora abruptly shifts the subject from the past to the future and happily exclaims that after the new year she will have paid off her debt completely and then will be “free” to fulfill her responsibilities as a wife and mother without impediment.
A man comes to the door wishing to speak with Torvald. Nora’s displeasure at seeing the man is apparent. Mrs. Linde is also startled upon seeing the man and turns away. The man, named Krogstad, has come to speak with Torvald about bank business. Nora tells Mrs. Linde that Krogstad is a lawyer, and Mrs. Linde reveals that she knew him when he was living in her part of the country. Nora says that Krogstad is a widower who had an unhappy marriage and many children. Mrs. Linde replies, “He has many business interests, they say,” and Nora responds that she doesn’t want to think about business because it is a “bore.”
Dr. Rank leaves the study when Krogstad goes in. Dr. Rank and Nora have a brief conversation, and Dr. Rank calls Krogstad “morally sick.” He also informs the women that Krogstad has a small, subordinate position at the bank. Nora offers a macaroon to Dr. Rank, who says that he thought macaroons were banned in the Helmer house. Nora lies and says that Mrs. Linde brought them and then explains to Mrs. Linde that Torvald has “outlawed” macaroons because he thinks they are bad for Nora’s teeth. Torvald exits his study, and Nora introduces Mrs. Linde to him. Nora pleads with Torvald to give Mrs. Linde a job, and he says that there might possibly be an opening for her. Dr. Rank, Torvald, and Mrs. Linde then leave together, all of them planning to come back that evening for the Christmas festivities.
To be free, absolutely free. To spend time playing with the children. To have a clean, beautiful house, the way Torvald likes it.
Whereas the conversation between Torvald and Nora at the beginning of A Doll’s House seems one between a happy, honest couple with nothing to hide, in the latter half of Act One we see that the Helmer household is full of secrets and deception. The most minor example of this deception is Nora’s lying about the macaroons. Because eating a macaroon seems like such a trivial matter, one can argue that lying about it is highly insignificant. Yet one can also argue that the trivial nature of eating the macaroon is the very thing that makes the lie so troubling. Indeed, the need to lie about something so insignificant—Nora lies twice about the macaroons, once to Torvald and once to Dr. Rank—speaks to the depths of both her guilt and the tension in her relationship with Torvald.
A far more serious case of deception concerns the loan Nora illicitly acquired in order to save Torvald’s life. Though this deception is of far greater magnitude than the lies about the macaroons and involves a breach of law (Nora is guilty of forgery), we can understand and forgive Nora for her actions because she is motivated by noble and selfless intent. In both instances of deception, Nora lies because of Torvald’s unfair stereotypes about gender roles. If Torvald could accept his wife’s help and didn’t feel the need to have control over her every movement, Nora would not have to lie to him.
When Nora suggests that Torvald find Mrs. Linde a job, Torvald again shows his biases concerning women’s proper roles in society by immediately assuming that Mrs. Linde is a widow. Torvald’s assumption shows that he believes a proper married woman should not work outside the home. Also, as Torvald departs with Mrs. Linde, he says to her, “Only a mother could bear to be here [in the house],” suggesting that any woman who wants a job must not have children. These words contain a veiled expression of pride, since Torvald is pleased that his home is fit only for what he believes to be the proper kind of woman: a mother and wife, like Nora.
After Nora reveals her secret to Mrs. Linde, Nora’s and Mrs. Linde’s versions of femininity slowly begin to converge. With knowledge of her noble act, we see Nora’s character deepen, and we see that she possesses more maturity and determination than we previously thought. What prompts Nora to reveal her secret about having saved Torvald’s life by raising the money for their trip abroad is Mrs. Linde’s contention that Nora has never known hard work. Although Mrs. Linde’s accusation of Nora facilitates the pair’s reconciliation, what motivates the two women here is unclear. Ibsen does not explicitly reveal whether Mrs. Linde’s irritation at Nora stems from envy, annoyance, or even concern. Similarly, Nora’s defensive response could signify that she is hurt, competitive, or simply itching to tell someone her secret. All that is clear is that both Mrs. Linde and Nora are proud to have helped those they love by sacrificing for them. Their common experience of sacrifice for others unites them even though they come from different economic spheres and forms the basis for their rekindled friendship.