A Doll's House

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Themes and Colors
Love and Marriage Theme Icon
Gender Theme Icon
Money and Work Theme Icon
Deceit Theme Icon
Individual vs. Society Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in A Doll's House, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Deceit Theme Icon

At the beginning of the play, Nora appears to be a dutifully obedient and honest wife, however it is quickly revealed that she is hiding a serious secret from him—the fact that she borrowed money from Krogstad to finance a trip to Italy that she claims saved Torvald’s life. This renders all her statements about never disobeying him or hiding anything from him deceitful. When she reveals her dishonesty to Mrs. Linde, Mrs. Linde insists that she ought to confess to Torvald immediately, insisting that a marriage cannot succeed when husband and wife are not completely honest with each other.

A parallel occurs between Nora and Krogstad when it is revealed that they both committed forgery. Their acts of deception spark the unravelling of both their lives—Krogstad’s reputation is ruined, and Nora is forced to re-evaluate everything about herself and the society around her, eventually leading her decision to leave her husband and family at the end of the play. In some ways, deceit is presented as a corrupting and corroding force in the people’s lives; however, in Nora’s case, it is clear that the motivation for her dishonesty was love—she lied in order to save her husband’s life. Furthermore, her actions wouldn't have had to be deceitful if it weren’t for societal law dictating that women were not allowed to handle financial matters independently. Therefore Nora’s deceit was not the result of a personal flaw, but rather the only means necessary of overcoming restrictions in order to commit a noble act.

Deceit ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Deceit appears in each act of A Doll's House. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Deceit Quotes in A Doll's House

Below you will find the important quotes in A Doll's House related to the theme of Deceit.
Act One Quotes

I would never dream of doing anything you didn’t want me to.

Related Characters: Nora Helmer (speaker), Torvald Helmer
Related Symbols: Macaroons
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Nora plays the part of the perfect wife, promising absolute obedience to Torvald—in this case specifically related to the fact that he has forbidden her to eat macaroons. On one level this quote seems to convey Nora's love for her husband and her acceptance of gender roles, suggesting she adores Torvald so much that she is willing to give up her own agency in order to make him happy. However, in reality she is lying. She has already disobeyed him, both in the minor act of eating macaroons just a few minutes earlier, and in the major transgression of borrowing money much earlier in their marriage.

Nora has thus deceived Torvald on two levels: first by disobeying him, and then by lying about it. The exaggerated nature of the phrase – that she would "never dream" of disobeying him – adds further tension to the lie and suggests that the role Nora is trying to play is unrealistic and impossible, and therefore hints at her eventual refusal to play it.

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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.

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

When a poor girl’s been in trouble she must make the best of things.

Related Characters: The nursemaid (speaker)
Page Number: 36
Explanation and Analysis:

Nora has asked the nursemaid how she could bear to give up her child, and the nursemaid responds by explaining that it was out of necessity, as the child's father would not support her. This quote highlights how little freedom and power women had at the time; without a man to depend on, the nursemaid would have been unable to raise the child herself.

The nursemaid's predicament connects to Mrs. Linde's revelation that she married a man she didn't love due to financial need, as well as Nora's decision to forge her father's signature in order to secure the loan. Each woman was forced to act in a way they otherwise have never chosen due to the restrictive legal, economic, and social position of women in their society. Significantly, all three women choose to act in a way that is both selfless and pragmatic; Ibsen thus exposes the inaccuracy of the belief that women are foolish and incapable of making rational decisions.

Now Dr. Rank, cheer up. You’ll see tomorrow how nicely I can dance. And you can pretend I’m doing it just for you—and for Torvald as well, of course.

Related Characters: Nora Helmer (speaker), Torvald Helmer, Dr. Rank
Related Symbols: The Tarantella
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:

Dr. Rank has told Nora that he is dying and that she and Torvald will soon forget him, but Nora brushes him off and attempts to distract him by mentioning the Tarantella. Her behavior in this passage is rather childlike, as she is dismissive of Dr. Rank's melancholic feelings and seems unwilling to discuss the sober matter of his death. Her flirtatious behavior would similarly have been seen as immature and irresponsible, far from the ideal of a modest married woman. 

This passage also serves as another example of Nora's use of the Tarantella to appease men; she often brings it up to distract from conflict with Torvald, and here she uses a similar strategy with Dr. Rank. Her suggestion that Dr. Rank imagines she is dancing "just for him" highlights the pervasive notion that men wanted exclusive ownership of women.

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.

Act Three Quotes

Helmer must know everything. This unhappy secret must come out. Those two must have the whole thing out between them. All this secrecy and deception, it just can’t go on.

Related Characters: Kristine Linde (speaker), Torvald Helmer
Page Number: 66
Explanation and Analysis:

In a brief moment alone, Mrs. Linde reassures Nora that she has spoken to Krogstad and that he no longer plans to blackmail her, but insists that Nora must still tell Torvald the truth. This shift in stakes emphasizes the theme that deception is unsustainable and that it will inevitably lead to disaster. Also Mrs. Linde, having previously behaved as a rather passive source of support for Nora, now enacts a pivotal moment of agency, greatly affecting the fates of the other characters. This scene could also be interpreted as a moment in which Mrs. Linde forsakes her allegiance to Nora specifically and instead allies herself with the institution of marriage, and the principle of honesty between husband and wife. 

The thing must be hushed up at all costs. And as far as you and I are concerned, things must appear to go on exactly as before. But only in the eyes of the world, of course… From now on, their can be no question of happiness. All we can do is save the bits and pieces from the wreck, preserve appearances…

Related Characters: Torvald Helmer (speaker)
Page Number: 76
Explanation and Analysis:

Having discovered the letter from Krogstad exposing Nora's secret debt, Torvald flies into a rage, insulting Nora and her father. Immediately afterward, however, Torvald insists that they stay married and that everything must appear to go on as before. The fact that Torvald clearly despises Nora, admits that they will never be happy, and yet maintains that they must "preserve appearances" shows the extent to which he values societal approval above everything else. 

In many ways, this is worse than any of the possible outcomes Ibsen has led the audience to anticipate. Torvald vows never to forgive Nora, insisting that their relationship is destroyed forever; at the same time, he traps her in their marriage, effectively forbidding her even from committing suicide or escaping to start a new life. This reaction demonstrates the absolute power Torvald wishes to have over Nora, and which he believes is his right as her husband.