A Doll’s House

Henrik Ibsen
Summary

Act Three

Summary Act Three

Nora encourages Torvald to open his letters, but he argues that he would rather spend time with her. She reminds him that he must think of his dying friend, and he finally agrees that perhaps reading his letters will clear from his head the thoughts of “death and decay.”

Torvald goes into the other room, and Nora paces for a while. She throws Torvald’s cloak around her shoulders and her shawl on her head. She is contemplating suicide and is about to rush out of the house never to return when Torvald storms out of his study in a rage after reading Krogstad’s letter. Nora confesses that everything Krogstad has written is true and tells Torvald she has loved him more than anything. Torvald tells her to stop talking, bemoans the ugliness of the forgery, and calls Nora a hypocrite and a liar. He then says that he should have seen such a thing coming—Nora’s father was a morally reckless individual. Torvald blames Nora for ruining his life and his happiness by putting him at Krogstad’s mercy.

Torvald refuses to allow Nora to leave and says that the family must pretend that all is as it was before, but he states that Nora should no longer be able to see the children. He says that he will try to silence Krogstad by paying him off and hopes that he and Nora can at least keep up the appearance of happiness.

By this point, Nora has become strangely calm, frozen with comprehension as she begins to recognize the truth about her marriage. The doorbell rings, and soon after, the maid Helene enters with a letter for Nora. Torvald snatches the letter from her hands, sees that it is from Krogstad, and reads it himself. Nora does not protest. To Torvald’s relief, Krogstad writes that he has decided to stop blackmailing Nora. In his letter, Krogstad includes Nora’s promissory note (the one on which she forged her father’s signature). Torvald relaxes, rips up the contract, throws it into the stove, and tells Nora that life can go back to normal now that this “bad dream” has ended.

From now on, forget happiness. Now it’s just about saving the remains, the wreckage, the appearance.

(See Important Quotations Explained)

Analysis

For most of the play, we see Torvald delighting in Nora’s dependence upon him but not in his control over her. Nora does refer to Torvald’s restrictions of her actions—she mentions that he forbids macaroons, for instance—but the side of Torvald we see is more pushover than dictator. He seems to love his wife so much that he allows her to do whatever she pleases, as when he gives her more money to spend after she returns from buying gifts. In the scene following the party, however, Torvald’s enjoyment of his control over Nora takes on a darker tone with his somewhat perverse sexual advances toward Nora. He treats her like his possession, like the young girl he first acquired years ago. Contributing to the feeling of control that Torvald is exercising over Nora is that the evening has been of Torvald’s design—he dresses Nora in a costume of his choosing and coaches her to dance the tarantella in the manner that he finds “desirable.”

Torvald’s inability to understand Nora’s dissent when he attempts to seduce her stems from his belief that Nora, as his wife, is his property. Because he considers her simply an element of the life that he idealizes, her coldness and rebuff of his sexual advances leave him not baffled but incredulous. He has so long believed in the illusory relationship that Nora has helped him create over the years that he cannot comprehend the reality of the situation—that Nora is discontent with her life and willing to express it.