A Doll's House

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Nils Krogstad Character Analysis

Nils Krogstad is, at least at the beginning, the antagonist of the play. Known to the other characters as unscrupulous and dishonest, he blackmails Nora, who borrowed money from him with a forged signature, after learning that he is being fired from his job at the bank. In the past, he too committed the crime of forgery, an act that he did not go to prison for but that nonetheless ruined his reputation and made it extremely difficult to find a respectable job. Later in the play it is revealed that he was once in love with Kristine Linde, who ended up marrying another man in order to have enough money to support her dying mother and young brothers. This left Krogstad lost and embittered, unhappy in his own marriage, and is presented as the reason behind his moral corruption. At first he treats Nora without mercy on the basis that no mercy has been shown to him in life; however, after he and Mrs. Linde decide to marry, he becomes happier and rescinds his threats to Nora, saying he regrets his behavior. He is one of several examples in the play of a person being forced into morally questionable action as a result of the rigid and unmerciful forces of society.

Nils Krogstad Quotes in A Doll's House

The A Doll's House quotes below are all either spoken by Nils Krogstad or refer to Nils Krogstad. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Love and Marriage Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Oxford University Press edition of A Doll's House published in 1998.
Act One Quotes

I am not so heartless that I would necessarily want to condemn a man for a single mistake like that.

Related Characters: Torvald Helmer (speaker), Nils Krogstad
Page Number: 32
Explanation and Analysis:

Torvald explains to Nora that Krogstad committed forgery, and when she suggests that he might have done so out of necessity, Torvald replies that Krogstad was probably just careless - but that even so, Torvald would have forgiven him for that mistake alone. Here Torvald presents himself as a fair and reasonable source of moral authority with the individual power to bestow forgiveness on others. This quote also confirms that Torvald despises deceit above anything else; although forgery is illegal, it is Krogstad's dishonesty that Torvald finds inexcusable. 

Torvald and Nora are discussing Krogstad here, but Torvald's words also carry implications for how he might react to discovering Nora's "crimes"; after all, Nora is guilty not only of forgery and deception, but also of borrowing money, an act Torvald vehemently condemns. However, as this could be seen as only "one mistake," Ibsen leads us to expect that Torvald might forgive Nora. But at the play's climax, Torvald does not behave in the way he describes in this statement; instead he shows Nora no mercy, behaving in a manner that is truly heartless.

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Just think how a man with a thing like that on his conscience will always be having to lie and cheat and dissemble; he can never drop the mask, not even with his own wife and children. And the children—that’s the most terrible part of it, Nora… A fog of lies like that in a household, and it spreads disease and infection to every part of it. Every breath the children take in that kind of house is reeking evil germs.

Related Characters: Torvald Helmer (speaker), Nora Helmer, Nils Krogstad
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:

Torvald describes the consequences of Krogstad's deception, insisting that it will have devastating consequences on his household. Torvald's melodramatic language highlights the fierce contempt he feels for Krogstad, and emphasizes that Torvald sees dishonesty as a kind of poison that corrupts the purity of domestic life. Again, this passage has a double meaning; just like Krogstad, Nora has also committed a crime and must keep it a secret from her family. Once more, Torvald unwittingly reveals his own ignorance, as he does not think there is a "fog of lies" in his own household or that his children are breathing "evil germs."

At the same time, Torvald's comment that Krogstad "can never drop the mask" rings true for Nora. Ibsen has already shown that Nora pretends to be obedient, while in reality she disobeys and lies to Torvald. The pressure of this double life comes to take a major toll on Nora as the play progresses. However, Ibsen suggests that, deception aside, the pressure to perform the role of the perfect wife is itself a kind of "mask," as Torvald has unrealistic expectations of Nora and does not allow her to act freely as an individual. The "mask" in this passage thus connects to the symbol of the doll's house, foreshadowing Nora's claim at the end of the play that Torvald has treated her like a doll.

Act Two Quotes

I want to get on my feet again, Mrs. Helmer; I want to get to the top… For the last eighteen months I’ve gone straight; all that time it’s been hard going; I was content to work my way up, step by step. Now I’m being kicked out, and I won’t stand for being taken back again as an act of charity. I’m going to get to the top, I tell you… It’ll be Nils Krogstad, not Torvald Helmer, who’ll be running the bank.

Related Characters: Nils Krogstad (speaker), Nora Helmer, Torvald Helmer
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:

Krogstad has shown Nora the letter he has written to Torvald, confirming that he intends to blackmail her; however, in this passage it becomes clear that he doesn't want the money Nora owes him, but rather the respectability and social status of a senior position at the bank. Although money is highly important in the play, Krogstad's speech confirms that the opinion of society is even more valuable than wealth. At the same time, it also highlights the limitations of behaving according to society's rules. Krogstad has been honest and worked "step by step," only to find himself fired; in order to regain dignity, he feels compelled to return to tactics of scheming and deceit.

You can’t frighten me! A precious little pampered thing like you…

Related Characters: Nils Krogstad (speaker), Nora Helmer
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:

In response to Krogstad's plan to reveal her deceit to Torvald, Nora vaguely threatens to kill him, but he does not take her seriously. Krogstad's attitude here echoes the way that Torvald belittles Nora; by calling her a "little... thing," Krogstad, too, treats Nora like a doll, implying she does not have any agency or power. At the same time, Krogstad's use of the word "pampered" reflects Mrs. Linde and the nursemaid's (more gentle) allusions to the fact that Nora has been spared the harsh realities of life on account of her husband's wealth. In other words, the rest of the characters do not think Nora is capable of making choices for herself both because she is a woman and thus has not been allowed to, and because she is rich and has thus not been forced to. Of course, this underestimation turns out to be mistaken, as revealed by Nora's drastic actions in the Third Act of the play.

Act Three Quotes

What else is there to understand, apart from the old, old story? A heartless woman throws a man over the moment something more profitable offers itself.

Related Characters: Nils Krogstad (speaker), Kristine Linde
Page Number: 63
Explanation and Analysis:

Mrs. Linde has invited Krogstad to speak with her at the Helmers' house while they are out, but Krogstad seems reluctant, saying that they have nothing to say to each other. At this moment it is revealed that Mrs. Linde and Krogstad once planned to marry, but that Mrs. Linde ended up marrying another man. Krogstad's comments show that he is still embittered all these years later, and that he thinks Mrs. Linde chose to marry someone else out of greed. 

Krogstad's harsh judgement of Mrs. Linde's actions reflect the stereotype of women as frivolous and materialistic, in the same way as Nora is thought to be a "spendthrift" obsessed with luxurious possessions. Krogstad refers to "the old, old story" of women choosing to marry rich men, implying that this was a common understanding of women's behavior at the time. This stands in stark contrast to the point made by Ibsen throughout the play that women are left vulnerable by their low economic and financial status, forcing them to make decisions they would not otherwise choose. 

Indeed, it is revealed that Mrs. Linde married another man because she had to take care of her mother and two brothers. Once again, what appears to be greed is in fact a selfless, strategic choice, directly echoing Nora's decision to borrow money for the trip to Italy.

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Nils Krogstad Character Timeline in A Doll's House

The timeline below shows where the character Nils Krogstad appears in A Doll's House. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act One
Money and Work Theme Icon
Deceit Theme Icon
...yet as Torvald is still with Dr. Rank. Nora asks who it is, and Nils Krogstad announces himself. Mrs. Linde gasps and turns away. Nora asks in a tense murmur what... (full context)
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Mrs. Linde asks Nora who it was at the door. Nora replied that it was Krogstad. Mrs. Linde reveals that she used to know Krogstad many years before and says he’s... (full context)
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...Nora asks what he means and Dr. Rank replies that it is a man called Krogstad who is “rotten to the core,” and that Nora wouldn’t know him. Nora asks what... (full context)
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The door half opens. Krogstad stands in the doorway, waiting. Eventually he announces himself. Nora jumps up, startled, and asks... (full context)
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Krogstad says that he saw Torvald walking down the street earlier with a lady. Nora asks... (full context)
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Krogstad asks in a more polite tone if Nora will use her influence to his advantage.... (full context)
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Krogstad says he knew Torvald in their student days and is sure he is no more... (full context)
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Nora says she cannot help Krogstad; he insists that this is only because she doesn’t want to, and that he has... (full context)
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Krogstad remarks that either Nora doesn’t have a good memory or she doesn’t know much about... (full context)
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Krogstad tells Nora how dangerous it was for her to admit to signing her father’s name,... (full context)
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Nora, alone, tells herself that Krogstad is just trying to scare her. The children stand in the doorway and tell her... (full context)
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Nora decorates the tree, still talking to herself, saying everything Krogstad has said is nonsense and that she will do anything Torvald wants her to. Torvald... (full context)
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...and personnel over the Christmas week. Nora begins to say that that is why “poor Krogstad” is losing his job, but is interrupted by an annoyed “Hm!” from Torvald. (full context)
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Nora casually asks what Krogstad’s crime was. Torvald replies that it was forgery, and asks if Nora knows what that... (full context)
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Torvald says a man like Krogstad will forever have to lie, even to his own family, and that the worst part... (full context)
Act Two
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Gender Theme Icon
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...he hopes Nora is not referring to the conversation they had that morning about letting Krogstad keep his job. Nora says she is, and begs Torvald to let her have her... (full context)
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Nora insists that Krogstad is capable of great evil, implying he could destroy the peace and happiness of hers... (full context)
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Torvald says that there is another reason, separate from Krogstad’s history of bad behavior that makes him unable to let him keep his job. He... (full context)
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...that it is too late, and says he is slightly insulted that Nora believes that Krogstad—“this miserable pen-pusher”—would have any power over him. However, he concedes that he finds it sweet... (full context)
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Nora, alone and “wild-eyed with terror,” talks to herself, trying to decide whether Krogstad is capable of acting on his threat. She cries out “help” and asks aloud if... (full context)
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Nora asks the maid if “he” (Krogstad) is in the kitchen. The maid replies that he came up the back stairs and... (full context)
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Nora remarks to herself that Krogstad is coming and that this is what she has been dreading. She locks the door... (full context)
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Krogstad asks if Nora has a clearer idea of her crime than she did yesterday. She... (full context)
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Krogstad explains that, even if the remainder of the debt is paid off, he will still... (full context)
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Krogstad reveals that he has a letter already written to Torvald explaining the situation. Nora insists... (full context)
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Nora tells Krogstad that he will never live to see himself run the bank. Krogstad asks if Nora... (full context)
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Nora watches Krogstad exit and sees him drop the letter in the letter box. She cries out Torvald’s... (full context)
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Mrs. Linde announces that she is going to talk to Krogstad. Nora asks her not to, saying Krogstad can only do her harm. Mrs. Linde responds... (full context)
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...any letters, and Torvald says he can tell that there is already a letter from Krogstad in the box, and that that is why Nora is frightened. Nora says there may... (full context)
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Nora asks Mrs. Linde what happened when she went out. Mrs. Linde replies that Krogstad has left town, but is coming back the next evening and that she left a... (full context)
Act Three
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...someone. Eventually, she sees that someone is there, and goes out to let them in. Krogstad enters, saying he found a note from her, and asking what it means. Mrs. Linde... (full context)
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Mrs. Linde addresses Krogstad by his first name and asks that the two of them talk. Krogstad asks if... (full context)
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Krogstad tells Mrs. Linde that when he lost her it felt as if the ground slipped... (full context)
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Mrs. Linde points out that both she and Krogstad are struggling alone in bad situations. She laments that she has “nobody to care about,... (full context)
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Krogstad, still uncertain, asks if Mrs. Linde knows about his past, and what people think of... (full context)
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Mrs. Linde interrupts Krogstad, saying that she can hear the tarantella. She explains this means the dance is about... (full context)
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Krogstad resolves to ask for his letter back unread, but Mrs. Linde asks him not to.... (full context)
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...go, insisting that he not try to save her. Torvald asks in disbelief if what Krogstad writes is true, and Nora says it is, saying she loved Torvald more than anything... (full context)
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...ruined his happiness and jeopardized his future, as he is now at the mercy of Krogstad. He says he must now do whatever Krogstad wants, and all because of Nora, who... (full context)
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...is pretending and says it would not do him any good if she died, because Krogstad could still tell other people about Nora’s crime and that people might even suspect Torvald... (full context)
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...plans to do next. He says he will try to find a way of appeasing Krogstad, and will make sure that nobody finds out about the whole situation. He tells Nora... (full context)
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...man she thought he was. She says that she hoped that when Torvald learned of Krogstad’s demands, he would not give in and tell Krogstad to tell the whole world. She... (full context)
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...spend her life with. She points out that once he received the IOU back from Krogstad, he wanted to go on pretending that nothing had happened, except to protect Nora even... (full context)