Compare Torvald’s and Nora’s attitudes toward money.
Torvald and Nora’s first conversation establishes Torvald as the member of the household who makes and controls the money and Nora as the one who spends it. Torvald repeatedly teases Nora about her spending, and at one point Mrs. Linde points out that Nora was a big spender in her younger days. These initial comments paint Nora as a shallow woman who is overly concerned with -material delights. Yet Nora’s generous tip to the porter in the play’s opening scene shows that she is not a selfish woman. More important, once the secret of Nora’s loan is made known to the audience, we see that Nora’s interest in money stems more from her concern for her family’s welfare than from petty desires. We realize that the excitement she has expressed over Torvald’s new, well-paying job results from the fact that more spending money means she can finally pay off her debt to Krogstad.
While Torvald seems less enthralled by money because he doesn’t talk about it except to chastise Nora for her spending, he is obsessed with having a beautiful home, including a beautiful wife. He considers these things important to his reputation, and keeping up this reputation requires money. Although Torvald accuses Nora of wasting money, Nora spends her money mostly on worthy causes, whereas Torvald uses his for selfish, shallow purposes.
Why does Torvald constantly reprimand Nora for her wastefulness and foolishness while simultaneously supporting her behavior? What insight does this contradiction give us into Torvald and Nora’s relationship?
Torvald perceives Nora as a foolish woman who is ignorant of the way society works, but he likes Nora’s foolishness and ignorance because they render her helpless and therefore dependent on him. It soon becomes clear to us that Nora’s dependence, not Torvald’s love for Nora as a person, forms the foundation of Torvald’s affection for her. In Act One, Torvald teases Nora about wasting money but then tries to please her by graciously giving her more. Similarly, he points out her faults but then says he doesn’t want her to change a bit. He clearly enjoys keeping Nora in a position where she cannot function in the world without him, even if it means that she remains foolish.
In general, Torvald disapproves of any kind of change in Nora’s constant, obedient demeanor because he needs to control her behavior. When Nora begins to dance the tarantella wildly in Act Two, he is unsettled. In Act One, Nora says that it would humiliate Torvald if he knew he was secretly in debt to her for his life, indicating that Torvald wants the power in his marriage to be one-sided rather than mutual.
Compare and contrast Mrs. Linde and Nora at the end of the play.
By the end of Act Three, both Nora and Mrs. Linde have entered new phases in their lives. Nora has chosen to abandon her children and her husband because she wants independence from her roles as mother and wife. In contrast, Mrs. Linde has chosen to abandon her independence to marry Krogstad and take care of his family. She likes having people depend on her, and independence does not seem to fulfill her. Despite their apparent opposition, both Nora’s and Mrs. Linde’s decisions allow them to fulfill their respective personal desires. They have both chosen their own fates, freely and without male influence. Ibsen seems to feel that the nature of their choices is not as important as the fact that both women make the choices themselves.