The curtain opens to the same room, with the Christmas tree now stripped and “bedraggled.” Nora’s outdoor clothes are on the sofa, and Nora, who is alone, walks around restlessly, before picking up her coat. She says aloud that somebody is coming, listens, and then says that it is nobody. She tells herself that nobody will come that day, Christmas day, or the next. She checks the letterbox and finds nothing in there. She mutters to herself that “he” didn’t mean it seriously, and that “things like that can’t happen.” She adds, “I have three small children.”
In the opening of the second act, the stripped Christmas tree not only shows that time has passed, but also symbolizes a negative spiral from the domestic joy of Christmas to a sense of ruin and chaos. Nora’s obsessive checking to see if any person or letter has arrived and assurances that no one will come for two days gives a sense of time running out and impending disaster.
The nursemaid enters, carrying a large cardboard box. She announces that it is the box of fancy dress costumes and admits they are in a mess. Nora exclaims, “if only I could rip them up into a thousand pieces!” The nursemaid, taken aback, says they can be easily mended, and Nora says she will go and get Mrs. Linde to help. The nursemaid says if Nora goes out she will catch her death of cold, to which Nora replies “worse things might happen.”
Nora’s behavior has become increasingly pessimistic and irrational, occasionally veering on resembling the Victorian archetype of the “hysterical,” or insane woman. Nora’s reply to the nursemaid’s concern that she will catch her death of cold shows that the stress of her secret has caused her to will her own destruction.
Nora asks how the children are, and the nursemaid replies that they are playing with their presents, and asking for their mother. Nora tells her she can’t be with them as often as she was before, and asks if the nursemaid thinks they would forget about her if she went away for good. Nora asks the nursemaid how it was possible for her to hand over her children to strangers. The nursemaid replies that “there was nothing else for it” when she was offered the job of nursing Nora, and says, “When a poor girl’s been in trouble she must make the best of things.” She also refers to a man who didn’t help her. Nora asks if the nursemaid’s daughter has forgotten her, and the nursemaid responds that she hasn’t, that she wrote to her when she was confirmed and again when she married. Nora hugs the nursemaid and tells her how good a mother she was, and the nursemaid remarks that Nora never had another mother. Nora begins to say: “If my little ones only had you, I know you would…” but cuts herself off, saying she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. She opens the cardboard box and tells the nursemaid to go to the children. The nursemaid exits, saying Nora will be the prettiest person at the ball.
The fact that Nora feels she can’t be around her children “as much as before” shows that she has taken to heart Torvald’s statement about dishonest mothers corrupting their children. The implication within the nursemaid’s story is that the nursemaid was impregnated by an unnamed man who then refused to help her take care of the baby, thereby forcing her to give the child up while accepting the job as Nora’s nurse. This narrative is another example, like Mrs. Linde’s experience, of women being forced by circumstances to sacrifice their own happiness for others. The fact that Nora trusts the nursemaid to raise her children foreshadows her eventual decision to leave them and shows that she is not acting entirely selfishly when she does leave, as she has already ensured they will be well taken care of.
Nora begins unpacking the box, but quickly throws it down. She mutters to herself about wanting to go out but feeling worried that something would happen at home while she was gone. She tells herself not to think about it, and counts out the “pretty gloves” to try and take her mind off it. She hears a sound, screams, and exclaims “they are coming.” She goes off towards the door, stops, and sees Mrs. Linde in the hall, taking off her outdoor clothes. Nora greets her and asks if anyone else is there. She says she is glad Mrs. Linde has come.
Nora cannot think of anything else but her secret and the possibility of someone finding out. She tries to distract herself with the clothes—significant because they are objects representing femininity—but is unable to.
Nora tells Mrs. Linde she would like her help with her costume for the fancy dress party. She tells her that Torvald wants her to go as a Neopolitan fisher lass and dance the tarantella, which she learned while she was in Italy. She shows her the costume that Torvald had made for her in Italy, and says that it’s torn. Mrs. Linde says she can fix it, and says she will stop by to see Nora in her finery. She thanks Nora for a pleasant time the previous evening, but Nora replies that she doesn’t think it was as pleasant “as things normally are,” and that Mrs. Linde should have come to town a little earlier.
Nora often talks about how much Torvald likes to see her sing and dance, and the fact that Torvald calls her his “skylark” and “songbird” and wants her to dance the Tarantella shows that to a certain extent Nora “performs” her role in the marriage. Nora’s comment that the previous night wasn’t as pleasant as things normally are shows the threads of her ordinary life are unraveling.
Nora remarks that Torvald knows how to make the home nice, and Mrs. Linde says that Nora does too, suggesting it is a trait she inherited from her father. Mrs. Linde then comments on how depressed Dr. Rank seemed the night before, and Nora explains that he has tuberculosis of the spine. She says that his father was a terrible man who had mistresses and that Dr. Rank has always been unwell, ever since childhood. Mrs. Linde asks how she knows this, and Nora pauses, before telling her she heard it from the gossiping nurses who came to the house to care for her when she gave birth.
Mrs. Linde’s comment about Nora and her father and Nora’s story about Dr. Rank and his father shows how strong the influence of parents was believed to be on children. Nora’s unsure answer to Mrs. Linde’s question about where she heard about Dr. Rank’s story suggests she may be lying again.
Nora explains that Dr. Rank was Torvald’s best friend as a boy and is also a good friend of hers, with emphasis on the word mine. Mrs. Linde asks if Dr. Rank is genuine, explaining that when they met he told her that he’d heard her name around the house often, but that this couldn’t be true as Torvald didn’t know who she was. Nora explains: “Torvald is so terribly in love with me that he wants me all to himself.” She says it used to make him jealous to hear her mention her old friends. She adds that Dr. Rank likes hearing about them, though, so she talks to him.
As the play progresses, it becomes more and more clear how possessive Torvald is. Nora’s pride at saying Dr. Rank is “her” friend suggests she doesn’t really have many friends now that she is married. Nora believes that the reason that Torvald is so controlling is because he is so in love with her; this shows there is a tenuous distinction between a loving marriage and a controlling one.
Mrs. Linde chastises Nora, saying she is still a child and that she must stop “all this business with Dr. Rank.” Mrs. Linde recalls Nora’s dream about having a rich old admirer. She asks if Dr. Rank has money, and Nora says that he does. Mrs. Linde reveals that she believes Dr. Rank lent her the money for the Italy trip. Nora is shocked, saying it would be intolerable to owe Dr. Rank money, given that he is a friend and comes over every day. She says he didn’t inherit money until more recently, and that it never would have occurred to her to ask him for the loan. She begins to wonder what would happen if she did ask Dr. Rank for money, but Mrs. Linde interrupts her, exclaiming: “Behind your husband’s back?” Nora says she must get herself out of the first debt, which is also behind her husband’s back. She remarks that men are better at coping with “these things” than women.
Mrs. Linde’s belief that Nora must have borrowed the money from Dr. Rank shows that there was a certain degree of suspicion surrounding friendships between people of the opposite gender. Mrs. Linde’s continued shock at the fact that Nora is acting behind Torvald’s back shows the extent to which society would condemn Nora’s behavior. Nora attributes her confusion and sense of helplessness to the fact that she is out of her depth as a woman, showing that, at least to a certain extent, she believes in the idea that women are less capable than men.
Mrs. Linde points out that Nora’s own husband would be able to cope with the matter, but Nora responds: “Nonsense!” She asks Mrs. Linde if, after a debt is repaid, the IOU is returned to the payer. Mrs. Linde tells her yes, and Nora cries out that then one can tear it up into a thousand pieces and burn it. Mrs. Linde says to Nora that she knows there’s something Nora is not telling her. Nora asks if it’s that obvious, and seems like she is about to tell Mrs. Linde more, but is interrupted by the sound of Torvald returning. She tells Mrs. Linde to wait in the other room with the children, because Torvald can’t stand to see mending lying around the house. Mrs. Linde gathers her things together and tells Nora she won’t leave until she’s found out what Nora is hiding from her. She exits.
Nora, despite having claimed that men cope better with matters of business than women, still feels that she needs to hide the issue of the debt from Torvald, in what is almost a protective gesture. The fact that Mrs. Linde can so easily tell that Nora is keeping something from her does not bode well for Nora’s desire to keep her secret from Torvald and the rest of society. Torvald’s dislike of seeing mending lying around relates to his earlier comment about the children making the house unbearable; he seems to have a dislike for everything related to femininity.
Nora goes to meet Torvald and says she’s been “longing” for him to come back. She explains that Mrs. Linde was helping her with her outfit and Torvald asks what a good idea of his it was for Nora to wear that costume. Nora agrees, and adds it was nice of her to let him have his way. Torvald holds Nora’s chin, calling her a “little rogue” and acting surprised that she would think of it as “nice,” considering he is her husband. He says he knows she didn’t mean it that way, however, and says he won’t disturb her anymore. He says he also has work to do, and turns to go to his study.
Nora has an almost sycophantic attitude towards Torvald at this stage in the play; the way she acts around him is, at the very least, unnatural. Their marriage begins to seem more and more like a performance, and the connection between them less and less genuine. Meanwhile, Torvald continues to treat Nora like a child; the gesture of grabbing her chin is similar to the body language between parent and child.
Nora stops him, and asks that if “a little squirrel” (referring to herself) asked nicely would he do something for “it.” Torvald replies that he would first need to know what the favor was, but Nora ignores him, saying that if he let her have her way she would scamper and do “marvelous tricks” and sing. She adds that she would pretend to be an elfin child and dance “a moonlight dance.”
Nora attempts to manipulate Torvald using the kind of play-language he adopts when he is speaking affectionately to her. Her comments about singing and dancing and doing tricks add to the idea of performing her role as a wife, and the reference to the elfin child shows she is willing to adopt the role of a child.
Torvald says 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 way. She asks that Torvald give Mrs. Linde somebody else’s job. Torvald, outraged, says he will not act on Nora’s “thoughtless promise” to Krogstad. Nora replies that she is terrified of Krogstad, who can do Torvald harm because he writes in all the “nastiest” papers. Torvald asks if it is the memory of what happened to her father that is making Nora scared and Nora, at first uncertainly, agrees, saying that rumors about her father almost cost him is career. Torvald replies that Nora’s father’s professional life was “not entirely above suspicion,” which is unlike the conduct of Torvald himself, and that therefore Nora need not worry.
Nora, trapped in more and more layers of lying and deceit, is unable to properly communicate with Torvald. Meanwhile, Torvald clearly has no interest in taking Nora’s opinion seriously, saying whatever promise she made was “thoughtless”. Instead, he only wishes to calm and reassure her, like a child. Further, he is unafraid of admitting in front of Nora that he believes her father was not totally honorable in his business career, showing a disregard for her feelings.
Nora insists that Krogstad is capable of great evil, implying he could destroy the peace and happiness of hers and Torvald’s home. Torvald says that the more Nora tries to persuade him, the less likely it is he will agree. He tells her about the embarrassment he would experience if anyone found out that he had been influenced by his wife, saying it would make him “the laughing stock of the office.”
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 tells Nora that he and Krogstad were friends in their youth, which he says was rash and now embarrasses him. Torvald explains that, because of their past friendship, Krogstad treats him with familiarity and “as an equal” in public. He tells Nora that this makes it intolerable to have Krogstad working at the Bank. Nora, surprised, remarks that this seems petty. Torvald, infuriated, calls the maid and gives her a letter from his papers and instructs her to deliver it immediately. The maid exits, and Torvald tells a panicked Nora that the letter was Krogstad’s notice.
Torvald’s speech about his embarrassment about being treated as an equal by Krogstad is rather irrational—it is Nora who provides reason when she accuses him of being petty. It also reveals how important it is to Torvald to feel like he has a high status in society and power over other people, which explains much of his behavior to Nora. Thus a connection is made between Torvald’s bad treatment of Nora and his bad treatment of Krogstad—they are both oppressed by either their gender or class.
Nora desperately begs Torvald to get the letter back, for the sake of himself and the children. She tells him he doesn’t know what the letter could do. Torvald replies 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 because it shows how much Nora loves him, and assures her that he is “man enough” to handle everything himself. Nora says that that is something he will never do, to which Torvald affectionately responds that they will share it, man and wife. He caresses her and asks if she is happy, remarking that she looks like a frightened dove. He suggests she run through the tarantella while he is in his study with both doors shut so he can’t hear anything. He tells her that when Dr. Rank arrives she should tell him to go to Torvald’s study, and exits.
In this passage Torvald clearly has no understanding of the actual situation, but is so intent on being in control and asserting his capability as a man to handle everything that he is unable to perceive that there is actually a great deal at stake. While he does seem to want to make Nora happy, even willing to offer the concession of saying that they will deal with problems together as a couple, he fails to take her terror seriously or believe anything she says to him. Again, the tarantella—a dance—occurs as a symbol of Nora happily performing her role in their marriage.
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 there is a way out. The doorbell rings, and she sees that it is Dr. Rank. She lets Dr. Rank in and tells him that Torvald is busy at the moment and not to go into his study yet, but says that she always has time for him.
Nora seems increasingly desperate and crazed. Her mutterings to herself when she is alone punctuate the scenes with other characters, showing the effect that concealing her secret in front of others is having on her. She lies easily to Dr. Rank, showing how natural lying has become.
Dr. Rank says he will keep taking advantage of the ability to talk to Nora as long as he is able. Nora, taken aback, asks what he means, and Dr. Rank explains that his health is declining. Nora breathes a sigh of relief at the knowledge that it is Dr. Rank himself who he is suggesting will not be around for much longer. Dr. Rank explains that he is very ill, and that within a month he will probably be dead. Dr. Rank asks a favor of Nora, telling her that Torvald is sensitive and he does not want him to visit him as he dies. He promises to send his visiting card with a black cross on it when he knows he is in his final days.
Nora’s relief when she finds out that Dr. Rank is saying he will die soon, and not that anything bad will happen to her, is childish and shows her selfish side. At this stage in the play, her fixation with her own fate makes her unable to properly connect with the world or feel any sympathy for Dr. Rank. Dr. Rank’s request that Torvald not see him as he dies is another instance of someone feeling the need to protect Torvald—showing Torvald may not be as strong as he claims.
Nora tells Dr. Rank he is being absurd, saying she hoped he would be in a good mood. Dr. Rank replies that it is unlikely he would be in a good mood with death looming. He adds that he no longer wants to suffer for another man’s sins, and that a similar situation must be happening in every family. Nora stops her ears and exclaims that Dr. Rank is talking nonsense. But Dr. Rank continues, saying he and his spine are having to pay for his father’s hedonist life. He lists all the lavish foods his father ate, including oysters, truffles, and champagne, and Nora says it’s a shame that such delicious foods attack the spine.
Nora’s refusal to deal with the reality of the fact that Dr. Rank is dying is further example of her childish behavior. Dr. Rank’s speech about how he is paying for his father’s sins aggressively reinforces the guilt Nora is experiencing—however, the passage about the different foods highlights the illogicality and unscientific basis of the belief that the behavior of parents can so drastically affect their children.
Suddenly, Nora asks Dr. Rank why he smiled, and Dr. Rank replies that it was in fact Nora who laughed. Dr. Rank calls her a “rascal” and Nora admits she is feeling mischievous that day. Nora asks Dr. Rank not to “go and die on Torvald and me.” Dr. Rank says he won’t be missed for long, and speaks with jealousy of the fact that Mrs. Linde seems like a replacement of him, as she is now in the house so often. Nora urges him not to talk so loud as Mrs. Linde is in the other room; Dr. Rank argues that this proves his point.
Nora is behaving in a cheekily childish way, however there is also an element of flirtation between her and Dr. Rank. Dr. Rank’s jealousy at how often Mrs. Linde is around mirrors the jealousy Nora describes Torvald experiencing when she spoke about her old friends, highlighting a shared possessiveness between the two men.
Nora tells Dr. Rank to cheer up and promises that he’ll see her dance tomorrow and he can pretend that she is dancing just for him, before quickly adding, “and for Torvald as well, of course.” She brings him over to the costume box and shows him the flesh-colored silk stockings, at first saying that he may only look at the feet before adding that maybe he can look higher up and asking if he thinks they’ll fit. Dr. Rank says he cannot answer, and Nora slaps him playfully with the stockings. Dr. Rank asks if there are other “delights” he can see, but Nora replies he’s “too naughty” to see anything else.
Here the level of flirtation between Nora and Dr. Rank reaches a level that would have been fairly scandalous at the time. When Nora teases Dr. Rank with the stockings, this can be taken as an explicitly sexual gesture. Her promise to dance for him likewise betrays a disregard for the boundaries of her marriage and a delight in flaunting her femininity and sexuality.
Dr. Rank muses that he couldn’t imagine what would have happened to him if he’d never encountered Torvald and Nora and become a regular visitor in their house. He laments the fact that he will soon no longer be able to see them and that he has no way of expressing his gratitude to them. At first, Nora responds by saying it is nonsense to suggest that Dr. Rank is going to leave. However, she soon begins to hesitantly ask if he would do her a large favor. Dr. Rank responds that he would do anything. Nora is unsure, but Dr. Rank assures her that the bigger the favor the better, and asks if Nora trusts him. Nora admits that she trusts him more than anyone else she knows.
Suddenly, Dr. Rank’s impending death has become an opportunity for Nora to acquire his assistance in preventing Torvald finding out about the debt, something she had earlier sworn to Mrs. Linde that she would never do. Nora’s statement that she trusts Dr. Rank more than anyone she knows is surprising, as it suggests she trusts him more than Torvald; Nora’s and Torvald’s marriage seems less and less solid by the minute.
Nora tells Dr. Rank that there is something he must help her prevent happening. She tells him how passionately Torvald loves her and says he would surely lay down his life for her. Before she can continue, Dr. Rank asks if Nora thinks Torvald is the only one who would give his life for her. Nora is upset, but Dr. Rank says he promised himself he would tell her before he died. Nora gets up and moves away from Dr. Rank, asking the maid to bring a lamp in. She tells Dr. Rank it was “horrid” of him to say what he just said.
Nora is on the brink of asking Dr. Rank to help with keeping the secret of the debt from Torvald, yet is stopped by his confession of love. The confession changes her demeanor entirely; where she perhaps thought flirtation was harmless, the fact that Dr. Rank seems to genuinely love her becomes too much to handle, and she retreats in a rather childlike way.
The maid enters with the lamp, before exiting again. Dr. Rank asks if Nora knew that he loved her, and she replies that she can’t tell whether she knew or not. Dr. Rank says that now she knows that he will do anything for her, but Nora says she can’t tell him anything now. Dr. Rank begs her to let him help her, but she refuses, eventually claiming that she never needed help. She asks if Dr. Rank feels ashamed of himself in the light of the lamp. He says no, but asks if he should go and not return. Nora tells him to keep visiting them as usual, as she and Torvald would both miss him otherwise.
Nora’s manner of speaking in a self-contradictory way becomes more and more obvious in this scene. She is first flirtatious with Dr. Rank, asking him for a favor; she then says she cannot tell him anything or ask for his help. She then further contradicts herself by saying that she never needed help in the first place. She seems upset and offended by Dr. Rank’s confession of love, but when he asks to go, she tells him not to.
Dr. Rank explains that he can’t figure Nora out, and that it’s often felt to him that she’d just as rather be with him as with Torvald. Nora responds by saying that “there are those people you love and those people you’d almost rather be with.” She explains that when she was younger, she loved her father best, but would also love to sneak into the maid’s room because they didn’t preach at her and talked about interesting things. She admits that living with Torvald is in some ways like living with her father.
Dr. Rank’s comments suggest that Nora has a history of flirting with him, and that she is perhaps not as committed to Torvald as it may have seemed. The comparison Nora draws between being married to Torvald and living with her father shows the extent of Torvald’s paternalistic control of her, and indicates that Nora is frustrated by this treatment.
The maid enters, whispers something to Nora and hands her a visiting card. Nora, looking at the card, exclaims. When Dr. Rank asks if something is wrong, she says it is her new costume. Dr. Rank, confused, says he thought her costume was in the other room. Nora says she’s ordered another one and that Torvald must not know about it. She tells Dr. Rank to go and see Torvald and keep him distracted. Dr. Rank promises to do so and exits.
Although momentarily it seemed like Nora was going to confide in Dr. Rank, this exchange reveals that he is now merely another person who she must lie to and who she feels she cannot trust. As the play progresses, Nora becomes increasingly isolated as a character, separated by more and more secrets.
Nora asks the maid if “he” (Krogstad) is in the kitchen. The maid replies that he came up the back stairs and that even though she told him nobody was home he refused to leave until he saw Nora. Nora instructs the maid to let Krogstad in but not to tell anybody about it as it’s a surprise for Torvald. The maid agrees and exits.
Krogstad’s determination and disregard for etiquette is alarming, as it shows he is desperate. Meanwhile, Nora must cover her tracts in front of everyone—even the maid—increasing her isolation.
Nora remarks to herself that Krogstad is coming and that this is what she has been dreading. She locks the door to Torvald’s study. Krogstad enters in a fur coat and cap. Nora tells him to keep his voice down as Torvald is at home. She asks Krogstad what he wants with her, and he replies “to find out something.” He tells her he’s been given his notice, and Nora replies that she tried to prevent it but there was nothing she could do. Krogstad asks if Torvald doesn’t care about Nora, considering he knows what would happen if Krogstad is fired. Nora replies that Torvald doesn’t know, and Krogstad says that that makes sense as it would be unlike Torvald to be so courageous.
It is becoming increasingly clear that Nora’s adamant refusal to tell Torvald the truth is not going to work in her favor. Her secretiveness is clearly unsustainable, and Krogstad’s comments show that he does not believe she will be able to keep the secret any longer. Krogstad’s low opinion of Torvald, instead of seeming merely insulting, may now seem indicative of Torvald’s true nature.
Krogstad asks if Nora has a clearer idea of her crime than she did yesterday. She replies bitterly that she does, and Krogstad says that he just wanted to check where things stood. He mentions that even he is not unfeeling, and Nora asks him in that case to show mercy and think of her children. He suggests that neither she nor Torvald thought of his children when Torvald fired him. He says that he won’t make any moves at the moment, that everything can be settled in a friendly way, and that only he, Torvald, and Nora must know. Nora remains adamant that her husband won’t know, but Krogstad explains that unless Nora herself has the money to pay off the rest of what she owes him, Torvald will have to find out.
This passage shows us that there is perhaps a more reasonable side to Krogstad than we may have earlier thought. When Nora asks him for mercy and to think of her children, his point that neither she nor Torvald thought of his children is fairly valid. His offer to resolve the matter between him, Nora and Torvald is also not in itself particularly unreasonable; however, Nora’s steadfastness makes her unable to see this.
Krogstad explains that, even if the remainder of the debt is paid off, he will still keep the IOU. He tells Nora that if she is thinking of running away, or doing something worse, that she should forget it, as he will be in the possession of the IOU and, by implication, Nora’s reputation. Nora asks how he knew that she was considering “anything worse” (suicide)? Krogstad says that everyone in situations like this thinks of that, including himself, but that he wasn’t brave enough to go through with it. Nora admits that she isn’t either. Krogstad seems relieved.
This part of the conversation shows the importance of reputation in society at the time. A person’s reputation is seen as the most valuable thing; in some ways even more valuable than their life. Krogstad’s revelation that he also considered suicide further emphasizes the parallel between him and Nora.
Krogstad reveals that he has a letter already written to Torvald explaining the situation. Nora insists that Torvald must never read the letter and tells Krogstad to tear it up. She asks how much money Krogstad is asking of Torvald, and Krogstad explains that he’s not asking for any money; instead he wants to be on his feet again and to “get to the top.” He says he’s been going straight for a year and a half, but after being fired is no longer content to work his way slowly to the top. He tells Nora that Torvald must make a new vacancy at the bank, a better job than Krogstad had before, and offer it to him. Nora cries out that Torvald would never do that, but Krogstad is confident Torvald would “without so much as a whimper.” He promises that in a year he will be Torvald’s right hand man and will eventually be running it instead of Torvald.
Krogstad’s determination to keep his respectability and stay on the “straight and narrow” at first seem justified and almost admirable; however, his desire to oust Torvald and get to the top shows that he is struck by the same ambition and greed for money and status that affects Torvald. Krogstad’s premonition that Torvald will give in to his demands “without a whimper” is correct—Torvald even uses this exact phrase after reading the letter from Krogstad in the third act. Ironically, it turns out to be Krogstad who knows Torvald’s character better than Nora.
Nora tells Krogstad that he will never live to see himself run the bank. Krogstad asks if Nora is threatening to kill him, and says he couldn’t be afraid of “a precious pampered little thing” like her. He teases her about the idea of murder or suicide, before saying that nobody actually does things like that and that it wouldn’t be of any use if Nora killed herself because her reputation would still be in Krogstad’s hands, and Krogstad could use that to manipulate Torvald. Krogstad tells Nora not to do anything silly, and that he expects to hear from Torvald when he gets Krogstad’s letter. He says he will never forgive Torvald for “forcing me off the straight and narrow again,” and says goodbye to Nora.
There are some elements to Nora’s protectiveness of Torvald that might be thought of as masculine, for example, her threat to kill Krogstad. However, because she is a woman, Krogstad does not take her seriously, implying that she doesn’t know what she’s talking about and could never be scary or violent.
Nora watches Krogstad exit and sees him drop the letter in the letter box. She cries out Torvald’s name and exclaims that it is hopeless. Mrs. Linde enters and announces that Nora’s costume is mended. Nora beckons Mrs. Linde in a horse voice and shows her the letter in the letterbox, saying that it is from Krogstad. Mrs. Linde realizes that Krogstad lent Nora the money. Nora laments that now Torvald will know everything, and Mrs. Linde says it is better that way. Nora adds that she committed forgery; Mrs. Linde cries out in shock.
Krogstad’s exit triggers a new sense of inevitability to the eventuality of Torvald finding out about the debt. This provokes Nora to share the whole story with Mrs. Linde, giving the impression that she believes she has nothing to lose. As Mrs. Linde is the first one to know the whole story, this moment can be taken as the beginning of the gradual unwinding of Nora’s deceit.
Nora asks Mrs. Linde to be her witness in case she goes mad or anything else happens which meant she couldn’t be there anymore. Mrs. Linde, shocked, asks if Nora is out of her mind. Nora tells Mrs. Linde that if someone tries to take responsibility for her crime when Nora isn’t there that Mrs. Linde must testify that it was Nora alone who was responsible. She insists that she is sane now and tells Mrs. Linde to remember what she said. Mrs. Linde says she will, even though she doesn’t understand. Nora says something miraculous will happen, but that it would also be terrible. She then contradicts herself, saying it must never happen, no matter what.
Nora’s behavior is indeed becoming increasingly strange, and her belief that she may go mad shows the extent to which the association between women and madness was ingrained in people at the time. Her mention of the vague miraculous event that she both does and doesn’t want to happen increases the impression that she cannot envision a good ending to the situation.
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 that there was a time when he would have done anything for her, and asks where he is. Nora checks his card to see the address, but is interrupted by the sound of Torvald knocking on the door and saying Nora’s name. Nora, terrified, asks what he wants. Torvald tells her not to be afraid and asks if she’s trying the costume on, as she’s locked the door. Nora replies that she is and that it looks great on her. Mrs. Linde, reading the card, remarks that Krogstad lives very nearby. Nora replies that it’s hopeless, as the letter is already in the box and Torvald keeps the key. Mrs. Linde says that Krogstad must find an excuse to get the letter back unread. She tells Nora to distract Torvald, and quickly exits.
This is the first time that the nature of Mrs. Linde’s and Krogstad’s relationship begins to be revealed, and Mrs. Linde’s confession that Krogstad would have once done anything for her provides hope and foreshadows their eventual marriage. Meanwhile, Nora continues to retreat into talk of the ball as a symbol of happiness, security in her marriage, and respectability n the eyes of society.
Nora opens the door to Torvald’s study. Torvald asks if he can return to his own living room again. He is surprised to see that Nora has not undergone some “marvelous transformation.” Dr. Rank, standing in the doorway, said he also expected this. Nora says she will not show herself off before the ball. She says she has completely forgotten the dance, and that she is useless without Torvald’s help. She asks him to promise to help her, and to devote himself exclusively to her. Torvald promises, calling her a “helpless little thing.”
The following section of the play is filled with double meaning that Nora seems aware of but that is not intended by Torvald. Much of what he says in reference to the ball—for example, the “marvelous transformation”—has an additional, different meaning in the context of Nora’s secret. Meanwhile, Nora manipulates him by over-exaggerating her performance of the role of the perfect wife.
Torvald stops himself, saying before he forgets he should look to see if he has any letters. Nora desperately asks him not too, but he persists. Nora begins to play the opening bars of the tarantella on the piano. Torvald stops to listen. Nora tells him that she won’t be able to dance the next day if she doesn’t rehearse with Torvald just then because she is so nervous. She asks him to play for her and tell her what to do. Torvald agrees, and Nora grabs a tambourine and drapes a colored shawl around herself. Torvald plays and Nora begins to dance, with Dr. Rank watching. Torvald tells her to slow down and be less wild, but Nora laughs and says this is how it must be. Torvald gets up to better instruct her, swapping with Dr. Rank, who now plays instead. Torvald gives Nora repeated instructions but she doesn’t seem to hear them, only dancing more and more wildly. Her hair even becomes undone but she keeps dancing.
Nora disguises her desperation that Torvald not open the letterbox, as well as her generally unhinged disposition, underneath a façade of stress about her impending performance of the tarantella. In turn, the tarantella is a way of Nora releasing her wild emotions and momentarily casting off her display of composure and respectability in a way that is still considered appropriate by society. We can see her dancing the tarantella as a way of embodying through performance her inner turmoil and desire for freedom.
Mrs. Linde enters “as though spellbound.” Nora asks her to see what fun they are having, but Torvald says that Nora is dancing as if her life depended on it. Nora replies that it does, and Torvald tells Dr. Rank to stop playing, causing Nora to come to a sudden stop. Torvald says Nora has forgotten everything he has ever told her. Nora agrees, saying this is why she needs extra practice and instruction, right up until the last minute before the ball. Torvald promises that Nora can rely on him.
Nora and Torvald’s comments about Nora dancing as if her life depends on it foreshadows her later statement to Torvald that she did tricks for him in order to live. Torvald’s claim that Nora has forgotten everything he has taught her again has a double meaning, as she has also secretly acted against Torvald’s beliefs about marriage and gender roles.
Nora urges Torvald not to open 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 be, but that Torvald shouldn’t open it because she wouldn’t want anything to come between them before the ball is over. Torvald concedes: “the child must have her way.” Nora tells him that the next night, after the dance, he will be “free.” The maid enters and announces that dinner is ready. Nora tells her that they’ll have champagne and asks for lots of macaroons. Torvald takes Nora’s hands and tells her not to be so wild and to be his own singing bird again. Nora ushers Torvald, Dr. Rank and Mrs. Linde to go and eat. Dr. Rank murmurs to Torvald if there is anything “impending,” but Torvald replies that it is only Nora’s childish fears.
Even though there are clearly signs indicating that something more serious is afoot, Torvald ignores them, dismissing Nora’s odd behavior as simply her childish fears. Torvald’s belief that Nora is a child prevents him from really listening to her or understanding the meaning behind her actions. Nora’s request for macaroons shows she is, to a certain extent, unwilling to keep going along with Torvald’s strict rules and desire for her to be like a dependent and obedient child, foreshadowing the final scene of the play when she leaves.
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 note for him. Nora tells her she shouldn’t have done that because things must take their course, but that waiting for the miracle is really a cause for rejoicing. Mrs. Linde asks what she’s waiting for, but Nora says she wouldn’t understand. Mrs. Linde exits to the dining room, leaving Nora a moment alone. Nora counts out the hours until the tarantella and until midnight the next evening, eventually pronouncing: “Thirty-one hours to live.” Torvald calls from the doorway for his little skylark, and Nora runs to him.
Nora’s behavior here is, again, confusing and contradictory: she seems both unwilling to be what Torvald wants her to and desperate to behave exactly as he wills, both completely hopeless and filled with a strange optimism regarding the miracle she keeps referring to. What will come next in Act Three is therefore in some ways completely unpredictable; however, her pronunciation that she has “thirty-one hours to live” gives a sense of impending disaster.