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A Doll’s House

Henrik Ibsen

Act One, continued

Summary Act One, continued

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 the makes the audience privy to details of which certain characters are ignorant.