A Doll's House

Torvald Helmer Character Analysis

Torvald Helmer is a lawyer who at the play’s outset has recently been promoted to Bank Manager. He is married to Nora Helmer, with whom he has three children. He does not seem particularly fond of his children, even once saying that their presence makes the house “unbearable to anyone except mothers.” Straightforward and traditional in his beliefs about marriage and society, he loves and is very affectionate towards Nora, but often treats her more as a pet, child, or object than as a real person. His best friend is Dr. Rank, who visits him every day. However, towards the end of the play this friendship is revealed to be something of a façade, as Torvald seems untroubled and even a little relieved at the thought of Dr. Rank’s death. A similar occurrence happens when he finds out about Nora’s secret debt and instantly turns on her until he realizes that his reputation is safe. Torvald's focus on status and being treated as superior by people like Nils Krogstad, highlights his obsession with reputation and appearances. When Nora tells him she is leaving him, Torvald at first reacts by calling her mad and saying she is acting like a stupid child. However, when he realizes how resolute she is in her decision, Torvald offers to change and desperately searches for a way to stay with her. His despair as Nora exits at the very end of the play suggests that, despite his patronizing and unjust treatment of her, Torvald really does love Nora (or at least the idea of her).

Torvald Helmer Quotes in A Doll's House

The A Doll's House quotes below are all either spoken by Torvald Helmer or refer to Torvald Helmer. 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 numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Oxford University Press edition of A Doll's House published in 1998.
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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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Act Two Quotes

You see Torvald is so terribly in love with me that he says he wants me all to himself. When we first married, it even used to make him sort of jealous if I only as much as mentioned any of my old friends back home. So of course I stopped doing it.

Related Characters: Nora Helmer (speaker), Torvald Helmer
Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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Tell me what to do, keep me right—as you always do.

Related Characters: Nora Helmer (speaker), Torvald Helmer
Related Symbols: The Tarantella
Page Number: 58
Explanation and Analysis:

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But my dear darling Nora, you are dancing as though your life depended on it.

Related Characters: Torvald Helmer (speaker), Nora Helmer
Related Symbols: The Tarantella
Page Number: 59
Explanation and Analysis:

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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:

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His suffering and his loneliness seemed almost to provide a background of dark cloud to the sunshine of our lives.

Related Characters: Torvald Helmer (speaker), Dr. Rank
Page Number: 74
Explanation and Analysis:

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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:

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I wouldn’t be a proper man if I didn’t find a woman doubly attractive for being so obviously helpless.

Related Characters: Torvald Helmer (speaker)
Page Number: 78
Explanation and Analysis:

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For a man, there is something indescribably moving and very satisfying in knowing that he has forgiven his wife—forgiven her, completely and genuinely, from the depths of his heart. It’s as though it made her his property in a double sense: he has, as it were, given her a new life, and she becomes in a way both his wife and at the same time his child.

Related Characters: Torvald Helmer (speaker), Nora Helmer
Page Number: 78
Explanation and Analysis:

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I have been your doll wife, just as at home I was Daddy’s doll child. And the children in turn have been my dolls. I thought it was fun when you came and played with me, just as they thought it was fun when I went to play with them. That’s been our marriage, Torvald.

Related Characters: Nora Helmer (speaker), Torvald Helmer
Related Symbols: The Doll’s House
Page Number: 80
Explanation and Analysis:

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I believe that first and foremost I am an individual, just as much as you are—or at least I’m going to try to be. I know most people agree with you, Torvald, and that’s also what it says in books. But I’m not content anymore with what most people say, or what it says in books. I have to think things for myself, and get things clear.

Related Characters: Nora Helmer (speaker), Torvald Helmer
Page Number: 82
Explanation and Analysis:

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Torvald Helmer Character Timeline in A Doll's House

The timeline below shows where the character Torvald Helmer 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
...some macaroons from her pocket. She goes and listens at the door of her husband Torvald’s study, noting to herself that he is in. (full context)
Love and Marriage Theme Icon
Gender Theme Icon
Money and Work Theme Icon
Deceit Theme Icon
Torvald Helmer calls from his study, asking if Nora has just returned home and calling her... (full context)
Gender Theme Icon
Money and Work Theme Icon
Deceit Theme Icon
Nora suggests they could borrow money and pay it back after Torvald receives his paycheck. Torvald replies that this is a typical way of thinking for a... (full context)
Love and Marriage Theme Icon
Gender Theme Icon
Money and Work Theme Icon
Deceit Theme Icon
Individual vs. Society Theme Icon
Nora concedes: “just as you say, Torvald.” Torvald, not wanting to see her sulk, gives her more money. She is thrilled and... (full context)
Love and Marriage Theme Icon
Gender Theme Icon
Money and Work Theme Icon
Deceit Theme Icon
Individual vs. Society Theme Icon
...a horse for the boys) and the maids, which she admits were cheap. She hides Torvald’s present for later. Torvald asks what she got for herself and Nora admits that she... (full context)
Love and Marriage Theme Icon
Gender Theme Icon
Deceit Theme Icon
Torvald says that Nora is looking guilty and asks several times if she went to the... (full context)
Love and Marriage Theme Icon
Money and Work Theme Icon
Torvald and Nora look forward to the evening, while recalling earlier Christmases when they didn’t have... (full context)
Gender Theme Icon
Dr. Rank and an unnamed lady arrive. Torvald says he does not want to receive visitors, but it is too late as Dr.... (full context)
Love and Marriage Theme Icon
Gender Theme Icon
Torvald exits to meet Dr. Rank in his study, while the lady, wearing traveling clothes, is... (full context)
Love and Marriage Theme Icon
Money and Work Theme Icon
...Mrs. Linde’s life, but before Mrs. Linde can say anything, Nora shares the news about Torvald’s promotion to Bank Manager. She explains that Torvald’s increased salary will allow them to live... (full context)
Love and Marriage Theme Icon
Gender Theme Icon
Money and Work Theme Icon
Deceit Theme Icon
Individual vs. Society Theme Icon
...says she remembers Nora being a “spendthrift” in their school days, and Nora admits that Torvald still calls her that. However, she says that she is smarter than that, and explains... (full context)
Love and Marriage Theme Icon
Money and Work Theme Icon
Deceit Theme Icon
Individual vs. Society Theme Icon
Mrs. Linde says she knows that Nora and Torvald spent a year in Italy, and Nora explains that, although it saved Torvald’s life, it... (full context)
Love and Marriage Theme Icon
Individual vs. Society Theme Icon
Mrs. Linde asks about Dr. Rank, wondering if his visit means Torvald is still in bad health. Nora explains that Dr. Rank is her and Torvald’s best... (full context)
Gender Theme Icon
Money and Work Theme Icon
Individual vs. Society Theme Icon
...ends up only thinking about herself. She admits that she was happy to hear about Torvald’s promotion because she hopes that he will help her find a job. (full context)
Gender Theme Icon
Money and Work Theme Icon
Deceit Theme Icon
Nora promises to help persuade Torvald to give Mrs. Linde a job. Mrs. Linde thanks her, saying Nora’s behavior is exceptionally... (full context)
Love and Marriage Theme Icon
Gender Theme Icon
Money and Work Theme Icon
Deceit Theme Icon
Individual vs. Society Theme Icon
...her husband’s back is a rash move. Nora explains that the “whole point” was that Torvald wasn’t supposed to know how ill he was nor how Nora acquired the money for... (full context)
Love and Marriage Theme Icon
Gender Theme Icon
Money and Work Theme Icon
Deceit Theme Icon
Mrs. Linde asks if Torvald ever found out about the money, and if Nora ever confided in him. Nora says... (full context)
Love and Marriage Theme Icon
Gender Theme Icon
Money and Work Theme Icon
Deceit Theme Icon
Individual vs. Society Theme Icon
...children’s clothes, as both these needed to be of high quality. She explains that whenever Torvald gave her money to spend on herself, she always only spent half of what he... (full context)
Money and Work Theme Icon
Deceit Theme Icon
The doorbell rings. The maid announces that it is someone to see Torvald, but that she isn’t sure whether to show him in yet as Torvald is still... (full context)
Money and Work Theme Icon
Deceit Theme Icon
Individual vs. Society Theme Icon
...He notes that one example of someone who thinks like this is the man with Torvald. Nora asks what he means and Dr. Rank replies that it is a man called... (full context)
Money and Work Theme Icon
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...something entirely different, and asks if everyone who works at the bank is now under Torvald’s control. Dr. Rank, shocked, asks if that is what Nora is laughing about. Nora, smiling,... (full context)
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Torvald enters and Nora quickly hides the macaroons. Nora asks if Torvald “got rid of” Krogstad,... (full context)
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Mrs. Linde, Torvald, and Dr. Rank all go to leave. As they go, Nora asks that they return... (full context)
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...says that someone left the door open to the house by accident. She tells him Torvald isn’t home. Krogstad replies that he wants to talk to Nora. Nora tells her children... (full context)
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Krogstad says that he saw Torvald walking down the street earlier with a lady. Nora asks if the lady was Mrs.... (full context)
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Krogstad says he knew Torvald in their student days and is sure he is no more “steadfast” than other married... (full context)
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...that he has a way of forcing her. Nora, shocked, asks if he would tell Torvald about the debt. Krogstad suggests that he might, and Nora begins to cry, saying that... (full context)
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...had never gone on the trip. Nora protests, saying she didn’t have a choice as Torvald’s life was on the line. Krogstad asks her if she ever realized she was committing... (full context)
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...to herself, saying everything Krogstad has said is nonsense and that she will do anything Torvald wants her to. Torvald enters and asks if anybody has visited the house. Nora says... (full context)
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Nora continues to decorate the Christmas tree and tells Torvald she is excited for the Stenborgs’ fancy dress ball on Boxing Day. Torvald replies that... (full context)
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Nora strokes Torvald’s hair and says that if he weren’t so busy she’d ask him to give her... (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 means. Nora suggests... (full context)
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Torvald says a man like Krogstad will forever have to lie, even to his own family,... (full context)
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Nora backs away from Torvald, saying she feels hot. Torvald gets up and says he must do some work, as... (full context)
Act Two
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...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... (full context)
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Nora remarks that Torvald knows how to make the home nice, and Mrs. Linde says that Nora does too,... (full context)
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Nora explains that Dr. Rank was Torvald’s best friend as a boy and is also a good friend of hers, with emphasis... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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Nora goes to meet Torvald and says she’s been “longing” for him to come back. She explains that Mrs. Linde... (full context)
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Torvald says he hopes Nora is not referring to the conversation they had that morning about... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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Torvald says that there is another reason, separate from Krogstad’s history of bad behavior that makes... (full context)
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Nora desperately begs Torvald to get the letter back, for the sake of himself and the children. She tells... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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...and not return. Nora tells him to keep visiting them as usual, as she and Torvald would both miss him otherwise. (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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...let Krogstad in but not to tell anybody about it as it’s a surprise for Torvald. The maid agrees and exits. (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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Nora opens the door to Torvald’s study. Torvald asks if he can return to his own living room again. He is... (full context)
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Torvald stops himself, saying before he forgets he should look to see if he has any... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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Nora urges Torvald not to open any letters, and Torvald says he can tell that there is already... (full context)
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...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. (full context)
Act Three
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...she has seen in the past twenty-four hours she has come to the conclusion that Torvald has to know everything, saying that “all this secrecy and deception must end at once.”... (full context)
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...her coat and hat ready and waits excitedly for the Helmers to return. They enter, Torvald pushing Nora, who is dressed in the Italian costume, “almost forcibly” into the hall. Nora... (full context)
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Mrs. Linde greets them, and both Nora and Torvald are shocked to see her there so late. Mrs. Linde says she was too late... (full context)
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Torvald notices that it is dark and goes in to light candles. While he is out... (full context)
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Torvald returns and asks if Mrs. Linde has finished admiring Nora. Mrs. Linde says she has... (full context)
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Nora asks Torvald if he is tired, but he says he is extremely lively. Nora admits that she... (full context)
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Torvald says how happy he is to be alone with Nora. Nora asks that he not... (full context)
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There is a knock at the door, and Dr. Rank announces himself. Torvald is annoyed by the intrusion, but greets Dr. Rank in a friendly way. Dr. Rank... (full context)
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Torvald goes to the letter box and says he must empty it. He notices that somebody... (full context)
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Torvald holds Nora and says that he sometimes wishes her life were in danger so that... (full context)
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Torvald takes the letters into his study. Nora, wild-eyed, wraps Torvald’s cloak around herself and whispers... (full context)
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Torvald holds up the letter and asks if Nora knows what’s in it. She admits that... (full context)
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Torvald paces up and down, saying that in the eight years they have been married, Nora... (full context)
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Nora promises Torvald that after she dies, he will be free. Torvald says she is pretending and says... (full context)
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Torvald tells Nora to take her shawl off and begins to talk about what he plans... (full context)
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The doorbell rings. Torvald tells Nora to hide, but she doesn’t move. The maid enters and says there is... (full context)
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Torvald talks about the “agonies” that Nora must have suffered, but then declares that they should... (full context)
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Torvald asks Nora where she is going, and she answers that she is going to take... (full context)
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Nora returns, wearing her everyday clothes. Torvald, surprised, asks why she’s not in bed. Nora replies that she won’t sleep that night,... (full context)
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Nora explains that Torvald has never understood her and that she has been wronged both by him and her... (full context)
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Torvald, infuriated, says that Nora is being ungrateful. He asks if she was happy in their... (full context)
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Nora reveals to Torvald that she is planning to leave him immediately, and that she will go to stay... (full context)
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Torvald asks if she cares about leaving her husband and children, or what people will say.... (full context)
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Torvald asks if Nora does not have an infallible guide to the question of her position... (full context)
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Torvald says Nora is ill and delirious. Nora replies that she has never felt so calm... (full context)
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Torvald tells Nora that nobody sacrifices his honor for the person he loves, but Nora replies... (full context)
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Torvald acknowledges sadly that there is a “tremendous gulf” between them, and asks if there is... (full context)
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Torvald asks if some day things might change. Nora says she cannot know what she will... (full context)
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Torvald asks if there is any way that he could one day be more than a... (full context)