A Doll's House

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Money and Work Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Love and Marriage Theme Icon
Gender Theme Icon
Money and Work Theme Icon
Deceit Theme Icon
Individual vs. Society Theme Icon
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Money and Work Theme Icon

A need for money affects all the major characters in A Doll’s House. In the beginning of the play it is revealed that Torvald was recently promoted and will receive “a big fat income,” however he still chastises Nora for spending too much, arguing that they need to be cautious financially. Mrs. Linde is in desperate need of a job following the death of her husband, and after her replacement of Krogstad at the bank leaves him threatening to turn Nora in in order to get his job back. Indeed, the bank works as a symbol for the pervasive presence of money in the characters’ lives.

In the play, money symbolizes the power that the characters have over one another. In the first scene, Torvald’s ability to dictate how much Nora spends on Christmas presents shows his power over her. Meanwhile, the debt that Nora owes Krogstad allows him to have power over her and Torvald. Both Nora and Mrs. Linde cannot earn large incomes because they are women; their inability to access significant amounts of money is one way that they are oppressed by the sexism of the time. The play also shows that, while earning money leads to power, it can also be dangerous. In the beginning of the play, Nora is proud of the fact that she “raised” the money for her and Torvald’s trip to Italy herself—however the debt she owes soon becomes a source of terror, dread, and shame. The thrill of obtaining money is therefore shown to have a downside.

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Money and Work ThemeTracker

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

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

Nora! Just like a woman. Seriously though, Nora, you know what I think about these things. No debts! Never borrow! There’s always something inhibited, something unpleasant, about a home built on credit and borrowed money.

Related Characters: Torvald Helmer (speaker), Nora Helmer
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:

Although Torvald has just recently received a promotion that means he will earn a larger salary, here he chastises Nora for spending too much on Christmas presents, particularly considering he won't be paid for a few more months. Torvald and Nora's differing opinions reveal their contrasting attitudes toward the issue of money and debt. While Torvald is cautious about overspending and sees borrowing as irresponsible and even immoral, as something that destroys one's self-sufficiency, Nora believes there is nothing wrong with spending and borrowing now that Torvald's job gives them financial security. Further, by saying that Nora is acting "just like a woman," Torvald shows that he considers women irrational and untrustworthy when it comes to money (and in general).

The irony of Torvald's condemnation of borrowing is that Nora has already borrowed money; though Torvald doesn't know it, his own home is "built on credit." This shows that Torvald has less control over his wife than he believes. It also suggests that there is not necessarily always something "unpleasant" about a home built on debt, as Torvald does not consider his own home unpleasant. At the same time, this statement seems to foreshadow the unpleasantness and eventual disintegration of Torvald and Nora's home later in the play.


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Oh, what a glorious feeling it is, knowing you’ve got a nice, safe job, and a good fat income.

Related Characters: Torvald Helmer (speaker)
Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:

Having just scolded Nora for spending too much, Torvald now decides to give her extra money anyway and then reflects on how pleased he is to have been given a promotion and raise. This indicates that Torvald takes pleasure in the power that comes with having a high-paying job, perhaps more than he cares about having money to spend. His statement highlights the importance of income and status within the world of the play.

This passage also once again reveals Torvald's naïveté, as later in the play his "safe" job will be threatened. It also will later expose his cruelty; despite the importance he himself places on having a secure position, he is merciless when it comes to firing Krogstad. 

Oh, sometimes I was so tired, so tired. But it was tremendous fun all the same, sitting there working and earning money like that. Almost like being a man.

Related Characters: Nora Helmer (speaker)
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:

Nora explains to Mrs. Linde that she has been secretly paying back the money she borrowed to fund the trip to Italy by avoiding spending money on herself and even taking on copying work, which she had to complete at night so that Torvald would not notice. This quote reveals a more selfless and mature side to Nora, who has previously been treated - and behaved - like a vain and spoiled child. The fact that she has been prepared to sacrifice so much for Torvald shows that she really does love her husband, despite the fact that she deceives him.

Ibsen suggests that Nora's deception might be necessary because Torvald does not trust her to make sensible decisions on her own (and on a wider level, in this society men in general don't trust or respect women in general). Torvald believes Nora only wants to engage in frivolous pursuits, when in fact she shows here that she enjoys the responsibility of earning money to help her family. This passage contains the first hint that Nora might be dissatisfied with the traditional role she is expected to perform as a wife and mother. Indeed, it foreshadows the decision she makes at the end of the play to sacrifice her comfortable lifestyle in order to become autonomous and independent. 

Act Two Quotes

If it ever got around that the new manager had been talked over by his wife… As long as the little woman gets her own stubborn way…! Do you want me to make myself a laughing stock in the office? Give people the idea that I am susceptible to any kind of outside pressure? You can imagine how soon I’d feel the consequences of that!

Related Characters: Torvald Helmer (speaker), Nora Helmer
Page Number: 42
Explanation and Analysis:

Nora has tried once again to persuade Torvald not to fire Krogstad, and in response Torvald becomes irritated, claiming that it would damage his reputation if people were to think his wife influenced his decisions. This passage shows how cruel Torvald can be to Nora, and suggests he has little respect for her. The phrase "little woman" again brings to mind the symbol of the doll's house and Torvald's treatment of Nora as a doll. 

At the same time, Torvald's words also reveal that he as an individual is not entirely to blame for his sexist attitude. His dismissal of Nora seems motivated by a fear that, if he were to take her opinion seriously, he would be ridiculed by other men at the bank and that his career could even suffer as a result. Here Ibsen emphasizes the pressure on all the characters in the play to maintain appearances and conform to the norms of society.

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

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.

Without work I couldn’t live. All my life I have worked, for as long as I can remember; that has always been my one great joy. But now I’m completely alone in the world, and feeling horribly empty and forlorn. There’s no pleasure in working only for yourself. Nils, give me somebody and something to work for.

Related Characters: Kristine Linde (speaker)
Page Number: 64
Explanation and Analysis:

Mrs. Linde has suggested that she and Krogstad marry, and tries to convince Krogstad by explaining that her life feels meaningless without anyone to work for and take care of. Here Mrs. Linde embodies a traditional idea of womanhood, which poses that women mostly find meaning in life through selfless acts and caring for others. Unlike Nora, who feels ambivalent about a life totally dedicated to her husband and children, Mrs. Linde is fully committed to this path. This is evidenced not only in her speech to Krogstad but also in her original choice to marry a wealthier man in order to financially provide for her mother and brothers, as well as her continued support for Nora throughout the play. 

By including Nora and Mrs. Linde's differing attitudes toward this model of selfless womanhood, Ibsen shows that women do not have one single relationship to femininity and traditional values. The message of the play is not that all women should live independent, individualistic lives as Nora eventually decides to, but rather that women should be able to choose based on their own preferences.