At the end of A Doll’s House, Nora makes the ultimate assertion of her agency and independence by walking out on her husband and her children in order to truly understand herself and learn about the world. By leaving her family and disregarding societal norms, Nora completes the change from being a skylark, squirrel, or doll into a “reasonable human being” who can make something of her life. Since she was a child, society told Nora that as a woman, she should conform to what men want and remain ignorant of deeper learning. But now that she knows that Torvald (and his obsession with maintaining appearances) has only held her back, Nora understands that she cannot remain with a man who does not treat her has an equal, and she cannot raise children to be competent human beings without understanding how to be one herself. In order to continue as husband and wife, Nora insists that she and Torvald must have a “true wedlock” like that of Mrs. Linde and Krogstad, one where there is mutual trust and respect. Whether Torvald is capable of changing so drastically is unclear, but Nora is not optimistic that this can happen. Audiences must decide for themselves whether or not Nora will ever return.
The end of A Doll’s House created enormous controversy in Ibsen’s time. Many of the middle-class theater-goers were scandalized that a woman might leave her husband and, more importantly, her children. Ibsen was forced to create an alternate ending for German audiences after actress Hedwig Niemann-Raabe refused to perform the play as written. In the alternate ending, Nora sees her children after the argument with Torvald and collapses as the curtain falls, implying that she stays at the house. Ibsen was disgusted with this version of the ending, calling it a “barbaric outrage.” Many critics and scholars now consider the original ending’s final stage direction, the sound of a door shutting, one of the most iconic final moments in theater, the “door slam heard around the world.”