The nanny, Anne-Marie, enters with Nora’s three children, and Nora and the children play happily. Krogstad enters and startles Nora, who screams. He apologizes and says that the door was open, and Nora replies that Torvald is not at home. Krogstad says that he has come to talk with her, not with Torvald. He asks whether the woman walking with Torvald is Mrs. Linde, and Nora responds in the affirmative. When Krogstad explains that he used to know Mrs. Linde, Nora tells him that she already knew, and Krogstad says that he assumed that she did. He then asks if the bank will employ Mrs. Linde, and Nora brags that it will because, even though she is a woman, Nora has a great deal of influence over her husband.
Krogstad then requests that Nora use her influence on his behalf. Nora is bewildered, because she does not know why Krogstad’s position at the bank would be in jeopardy. Krogstad seems to think that Nora knows more than she is letting on and hints that he thinks the hiring of Mrs. Linde will bring about his dismissal. Suddenly, Nora revokes her earlier claims and denies that she has any influence. Krogstad says that as a bank manager, Torvald, “like all married men . . . can be swayed,” and Nora accuses Krogstad of insulting her husband.
Nora assures Krogstad that she will repay all her loans by the new year and asks him to leave her alone. Krogstad implies that he isn’t concerned only about the money; his position at the bank is very important to him. He speaks of a “bad mistake” he committed, which ruined his reputation and made it very difficult for his career to advance. Thus, he tells Nora, he began doing “the business that you know about.” Krogstad announces that he wishes to rebuild his reputation and to behave properly for the sake of his sons, who are growing up. His small bank job, he explains, was the beginning of this rebuilding of his life and reputation. He then threatens Nora, saying that he has “the power to force” her to help him.
Nora replies that though it would be unpleasant for her husband to find out that she had borrowed from Krogstad, Torvald would pay off the loan, and dealings with Krogstad would be terminated. In addition, Krogstad would lose his job. Krogstad says that Nora has other things to worry about: he has figured out that Nora forged her father’s signature on the promissory note. Krogstad informs Nora that her forgery is a serious offense, similar to the one that sullied his reputation in the first place. Nora dismisses Krogstad’s suggestion, saying that she should not be faulted because her motives were honorable and pure, but Krogstad reminds her of the law. He threatens her once more and then leaves. The children return, but Nora sends them away. Though she is clearly disturbed by what has just happened, she makes an attempt to decorate the tree.
Torvald returns and mentions that he noticed Krogstad departing. He guesses that Krogstad has asked Nora to speak on his behalf. After some hesitation, Nora admits as much. Torvald scolds Nora for speaking to Krogstad and warns her not to lie to him (Torvald). Nora changes the subject and asks Torvald if he will help her find the perfect costume for the party. Nora asks what Krogstad did to warrant his bad reputation. Torvald responds that he forged signatures. Nora asks what his motives were in the matter. Torvald says he would never condemn a man for one indiscretion, but the real problem with Krogstad was that he refused to admit what he had done and take his punishment. Torvald talks about how lying and deceit corrupts a household’s children: “nearly all young criminals have had lying mothers.” Torvald exits, and the nanny enters and says the children badly want to see their mother. Nora vehemently refuses, and the nanny departs. Terrified, Nora mutters about the thought of corrupting her children. In the next breath, however, she rejects the idea that such corruption could occur.
As Act One draws to a close, we see Nora wrestling with new problems of fear, guilt, and wrongdoing. Her conversation with Krogstad reveals Krogstad as the source of the loan Nora used to pay for her family’s trip to Italy. Although the taking of the loan constitutes a crime because she forged a signature to get it, Nora takes pride in it because it remains one of the few independent actions she has ever taken. Nora is also proud that she is able to influence her husband, as she boasts to Krogstad. Nora’s boasts about influencing Torvald reveal her desire to feel useful and important. That Nora points out that even though she is a woman Krogstad should respect her influence over bank policy suggests that she senses and fears rejection of her significance on account of her gender. Perhaps she must combat this idea even in her own mind.
Although Nora holds some influence over Torvald, her power is extremely limited. Paradoxically, when Krogstad asks Nora to exert this influence on Torvald on his behalf, Nora perceives his request to be an insult to her husband. Because Krogstad’s statement implies that Torvald fails to conform to the societal belief that the husband should be responsible for all financial and business matters by letting Nora sway him, Nora recognizes it as an insult to Torvald for not being a proper husband. Torvald, for his part, believes that Nora is completely useless when it comes to matters of business, but he agrees to help find a job for Mrs. Linde in order to make his “little squirrel” happy. He also shows that he believes parenting is a mother’s responsibility when he asserts that a lying mother corrupts children and turns them into criminals, suggesting that the father, while important in economic matters, is inconsequential to his children’s moral development.
Krogstad wants to keep his job at the bank so that he can become reputable again, but his decision to gain credibility through blackmail shows that he is interested only in reforming his appearance and not his inner self. Torvald too is preoccupied with appearances, something Nora understands and uses to her advantage. She knows she can put her husband in a good mood by mentioning the costume that she will don at the dance. The thought of Nora dressed up and looking beautiful placates Torvald, who takes great pleasure in the beauty of his house and his wife.
Torvald’s remark about Krogstad—“I honestly feel sick, sick to my stomach, in the presence of such people”—illustrates his deep contempt for moral corruption of Krogstad’s sort. While he thinks that such a bad character is in direct contrast to his “sweet little Nora,” we are aware that Krogstad and Nora have committed exactly the same crime—forgery. Torvald, then, has unwittingly referred to Nora when he scorns “such people.” Torvald’s unknowing condemnation of the actions of the woman he loves is an excellent example of dramatic irony, a literary device that makes the audience privy to details of which certain characters are ignorant.