A Doll's House: A Study Guide I

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A Doll's House: A Study Guide I

Post by Rachid Amri on Sun Feb 24, 2008 4:36 pm

Introductory Note: A Doll’s House (Et dukkehjem) was a revolutionary play, for it was among the first stage dramas of the 19th Century to depict, with extraordinary skill, ordinary life realistically instead of romantically and sentimentally. In so doing, it exposed dirty little secrets about the middle-class values of Norwegians and other Europeans. On a single stage, set up as a single room where all the action takes place, Ibsen slowly opened a fester, allowing the pus to run with hypocrisy, inequality, condescension, deception. The ending of the play shocked audiences of Ibsen's time. Some producers reworked the ending before staging the drama. Today, A Doll’s House represents a turning point in the history of drama. Professor Bjørn Hemmer has written: "More than anyone, he [Ibsen] gave theatrical art a new vitality by bringing into European bourgeois drama an ethical gravity, a psychological depth, and a social significance which the theatre had lacked since the days of Shakespeare. In this manner, Ibsen strongly contributed to giving European drama a vitality and artistic quality comparable to the ancient Greek tragedies."

Plot Summary
By Michael J. Cummings 2003
.......Nora Helmer is in a cheerful mood when she arrives home Christmas Eve with armloads of packages. Helene, the maid, holds the door open to receive a Christmas tree and a basket from a porter. Nora tells Helene to hide the tree from the children, who are out with their nanny. They must not see it until it is decorated in the evening. Though Nora owes the porter only 50 öre, she gives him a crown and tells him to keep the change.
.......After greeting his wife as his “little skylark,” Nora’s husband, Torvald, comes out of his study and teases her about all the money she spent on the presents. But there is seriousness in his tone, for his wife is a bit of a spendthrift. Nora thinks he ought to be a little freer with money now that he has given up his law practice in favor of a prestigious position as a bank manager. He is to begin his new job in January.
.......After Torvald goes into his study, visitors arrive–first, Dr. Rank, an old family friend, and then Mrs. Kristine Linde, an acquaintance whom Nora hasn’t seen in ten years. Rank goes into the study to chat with Torvald while Nora and Mrs. Linde become reacquainted. Mrs. Linde confides that after her husband died three years before he left her childless and impoverished. Now she wants Torvald to get her a job to provide income and assuage her loneliness.
.......Nora brags about her husband’s new job, saying he’ll get a good salary and commission. It hasn’t always been easy for the Helmers, Nora says. In fact, Nora herself has had to take on odds jobs sewing and embroidering. But, she says, she was clever enough to get the money she needed to give her husband a vacation in Italy at a time when his health was poor and he needed to rest and recuperate in a warm climate. She didn’t tell him, though, where or how she got the money. She kept everything a secret and has been paying off the loan bit by bit.
.......A third visitor, Nils Krogstad, an employee of the bank where Torvald is to work, arrives and goes into the study. Moments later, Rank comes out, makes small talk, and criticizes Krogstad–for some reason–as morally corrupt. When Torvald appears, Nora tells him of Mrs. Linde’s need for a job. After questioning her briefly, he says he can probably accommodate her. Mrs. Linde and Dr. Rank leave while Torvald escorts them out. The children return just then with their nanny, Anne-Marie, and Nora plays with them until she notices that Krogstad has remained behind.
.......It was Krogstad who approved the loan for the trip to Italy, but he has found out that Nora forged her father’s name on the bond she used to secure the money. (Her father died three days before the bond was signed. ) He tells Nora that his job at the bank is in jeopardy–Torvald plans to fire him–and he threatens to reveal her illegal activity unless she prevails on her husband to retain him. Krogstad has the documents to back up his accusations. Such a disclosure would drive a knife into the Helmer marriage and humiliate Torvald at work.
.......After Krogstad leaves and Torvald returns, Nora does her best to persuade her husband that Krogstad is a worthy employee. But Torvald will have none of it. He says Krogstad once forged a document; he must go.
.......On Christmas Day, Nora is in a tizzy over the developments of the previous day. Mrs. Linde comes in to help her sew the trimming back onto a torn costume she is to wear to a ball the next day at the home of neighbors, the Stenborgs. When Mrs. Linde asks why Dr. Rank seemed depressed on Christmas Eve, Nora discloses that he is dying of tuberculosis of the spine, a disease he inherited from his father, who had many mistresses. When Mrs. Linde asks how often he calls at the Helmers, Nora says every day. Mrs. Linde, thinking there might be something untoward about his frequent visits, leaps to the conclusion that he was the one who lent Nora the money for the trip to Italy. Nora says it isn’t so: “I swear.”
.......Torvald, who has been at the bank preparing for his new job, enters with documents. Nora renews her pleas on behalf of Krogstad. As Torvald’s “little skylark,” she says, she will sing all day for him if he will only allow Krogstag to keep his job. Torvald scolds her for bringing the matter up again and says his mind is made up: Mrs. Linde will be replacing Krogstad. When Nora continues to plead with him, he finds it remarkable that she is so persistent just because she promised to speak up on Krogstad’s behalf. Nora says there is more to it than that. She explains that Krogstad, a part-time journalist, might write harmful things about Torvald if he is dismissed. Torvald is unmoved. He says it’s already well known at the bank that Krogstad is out and Mrs. Linde is in; he can’t have the employees thinking that he allowed his wife to talk him into keeping Krogstad. Besides, he says, he finds Krogstad extremely irritating because he thinks he is Torvald’s equal.
.......When Nora says he’s being mean-spirited, Torvald, angry, immediately calls in Helene and sends her off with a letter informing Krogstad of his dismissal. After Torvald goes into his study, Dr. Rank arrives downhearted, saying his health continues to decline and that he expects to die soon. Nora tries to cheer him up–and seems to succeed somewhat when she shows him the silk stockings she will be wearing to the ball. Saying how much he has enjoyed his visits to the Helmers over the years, Rank then reveals a secret: He is in love with Nora. Although Nora says he really shouldn’t speak of such shameful things, she appears flattered and hints that she knew about his feelings for her all along. While maintaining propriety and never directly saying she has feelings for him, she encourages him to continue his visits.
.......When the maid comes in and whispers to Nora that Krogstad has arrived by the back stairs and is in the kitchen, Nora pretends that a new costume has arrived for her–one that Torvald mustn’t see until the ball–and asks Dr. Rank to keep Torvald occupied in his study. He obliges. When Krogstad comes in, he discloses that he has altered his demands. Not only does he want to be retained by the bank, but he also wants a new, more important position. Although he has decided not to make public Nora’s forged document for the time being, he does plan to leave a letter informing Torvald of the details of the loan. Before leaving, he places it in Torvald’s mailbox; only Torvald has the key to it.
.......After Krogstad is gone, Mrs. Linde comes in with the costume. In a panic, Nora tells her everything about the loan, the forgery, and Krogstad. Mrs. Linde offers to help, saying she knows Krogstad and will go to talk with him. After she leaves, Dr. Rank and her husband come out of the study. When Torvald goes to check his mail, Nora distracts him, making him play the piano while she practices the tarantella that she will dance at the ball. Rank then plays while Torvald steps back to watch her. She is so upset about the letter that she dances wildly, fitfully, and Torvald says it looks as if her life depended on her dancing.
.......It does, she says. Then she tells him not to open any business letters. It’s Christmas, after all, and he can shut himself off from business affairs at least until after the ball the next evening. He agrees.
.......Meanwhile, on the evening of the masquerade ball, Mrs. Linde meets with Krogstad. At one time, she was Krogstad’s fiancee, and she tells him now that she regrets their breakup, admitting she jilted him so she could marry another man for his money. But she didn’t want his money for herself, she says; instead, she wanted it for her two young brothers and her mother, who had little means of support. Before the meeting ends Mrs. Linde and Krogstad not only reconcile, but they also agree to marry. What’s more, Krogstad–aware that Mrs. Linde had come to plead on Nora’s behalf–says he’ll retrieve the incriminating letter from Torvald’s mailbox. However, Mrs. Linde advises him not to, saying she now realizes that Torvald and Nora must get everything out in the open–for their own good. Krogstad takes her advice, but says there is one thing he can do to help make things right.
.......After the Helmers return from the ball, Torvald opens his mailbox, reads the letter, and angrily denounces his wife. He calls her various names–liar, hypocrite, lawbreaker–and says she has ruined his whole future, putting him at the mercy of Krogstad. He then makes plans to pacify Krogstad and to keep up the appearance of normalcy in his home life. He decrees Nora will be allowed to continue living with him, but no longer in a close relationship. In addition, she is to have no say in bringing up the children, for she is a bad influence. Their happiness? It is now a shattered dream.
.......The doorbell rings. It’s the maid, delivering a message from Krogstad to Nora. Torval opens it immediately, fearing the worst. But in the message, Krogstad apologizes and returns the incriminating document. Torval is saved. The nightmare is over. Torval then says he and Nora should forget the whole affair, as if it never happened, and begins pampering and coddling her as he has done in the past.
.......“I forgive you,” he says. “I know you only did what you had to do because of your love for me.”
.......He says she no longer has to worry about anything; he’ll make all the decisions. Nora takes off her ball dress and slips on an ordinary dress. Torvald, wondering why she has not gotten ready for bed, says “You’ve changed?”
.......Nora says, yes, she has changed, then asks Torvald to sit down to hear what’s on her mind. First, she says, she is tired of being treated like a toy, a plaything, a doll. Her father did it; then Torvald did it. Next, she announces that she is leaving Torvald; he is not the man she thought he was. Torval forbids her to leave, but she says he can no longer forbid her to do anything. She is in control of her life now. When Torval says she has a duty to him and the children, she says she has a duty to herself. In the future, she wants no letters from him, no communication of any kind.
.......Then she leaves–for good.

Rachid Amri
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