A Doll's House


Henrik Ibsen

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A Doll's House Summary

Nora Helmer, a young woman, enters her house carrying packages. It is Christmas Eve, and a porter delivers a Christmas tree. Nora’s husband, Torvald, emerges from his study and greets her. She shows off the Christmas gifts she has bought for their children, and although Torvald chastises her for spending too much, he is also very affectionate towards her, calling her his “little skylark” and “little squirrel.” The two of them celebrate the fact that Torvald has recently been promoted to Bank Manager, meaning they can have a more comfortable life. Mrs. Linde and Dr. Rank arrive. Dr. Rank and Torvald exit to talk in his study. Mrs. Linde, who hasn’t seen Nora for eight years, tells her that she had an unhappy marriage and is now a widow hoping to find a job. Nora promises her that she will ask Torvald to give her a job. Nora then reveals a secret she has been hiding: when she and Torvald were first married, she borrowed money in order to finance a trip to Italy that was necessary to save Torvald’s life, as he had grown ill. She has paid off the debt in installments, secretly taking jobs and saving money from her allowance from Torvald.

Nils Krogstad, an employee at the bank, arrives and talks to Torvald in Torvald’s study. Dr. Rank comes out to talk to Nora and says that Krogstad is morally corrupt. Torvald enters, and after a brief conversation with Mrs. Linde, says he can give her a job at the bank. Torvald, Mrs. Linde, and Dr. Rank exit, and Nora plays happily with her children. Krogstad enters, and Nora tells the children to go to their nursemaid and not tell anyone about Krogstad’s visit. It is revealed that Krogstad is the person who Nora borrowed money from. He explains that he is being fired by Torvald, and that Nora must stop this happening or else Krogstad will tell everyone her secret. He adds that he has evidence that Nora forged her father’s signature in an IOU. Krogstad exits, and Torvald returns. Nora tries to persuade him not to fire Krogstad, but is unable to.

Act Two begins the next day, on Christmas Day. Nora, alone on stage, worries about her fate. Mrs. Linde arrives to help Nora sew her costume for a fancy dress ball that is being held on Boxing Day. Nora is dressing as an Italian fisher girl and plans on dancing the tarantella. Mrs. Linde asks to know more about Nora’s secret, but Nora refuses to tell her anything for the moment. Torvald enters and Nora tries again to convince him not to fire Krogstad. However, the harder Nora tries, the angrier Torvald gets, and he eventually decides to send Krogstad’s notice immediately.

Dr. Rank arrives and is depressed, telling Nora he will die soon. She flirts with him and seems to be considering whether to ask him for money. He reveals that he is in love with her, and Nora gives up the idea of asking him for help. Dr. Rank leaves and Krogstad returns, asking if Nora had told Torvald her secret and telling her his ambition to eventually run the bank. He leaves a letter explaining the secret debt and forgery in Torvald’s letterbox and exits. Mrs. Linde returns and Nora explains the situation to her. Mrs. Linde tells Nora that she and Krogstad used to be in love, and asks that Nora distract Torvald while Mrs. Linde attempts to talk to Krogstad. Mrs. Linde leaves, and Nora begs Torvald to help her rehearse the tarantella. She dances in a crazed, uninhibited way, puzzling Torvald about what has gotten into her. Mrs. Linde returns, saying Krogstad was not in but that she left him a note. The Act ends with Nora declaring that she has thirty-one hours left to live.

Act Three opens on the next day. Krogstad comes to meet Mrs. Linde at the Helmers’ house while they are at the ball. It is revealed that the two of them once loved each other but that their relationship ended when Mrs. Linde chose to marry a richer man because that was the only way to support her family. Mrs. Linde suggests that, now that their respective spouses have both died, she and Krogstad marry so that she can take care of his children and they can live a happier life together. Krogstad is thrilled, and offers to ask for his letter to Torvald back, as he now regrets his earlier actions. Mrs. Linde, however, tells him to leave it, saying that the truth must come out.

Krogstad leaves, and Nora and Torvald return from the ball. Mrs. Linde urges Nora to tell her husband the truth, and then she leaves as well. Torvald tells Nora how much he desires her, but Nora stubbornly resists his advances. Dr. Rank arrives and talks happily about how much he enjoyed the party, especially the wine. He leaves and Torvald discovers two visiting cards that Dr. Rank put in his letterbox, indicating that he is about to die. Nora says goodnight to Torvald and sneaks out to the hall, preparing to escape and commit suicide. However Torvald stops her, having discovered the letter from Krogstad. He is furious with her, saying she has ruined his life and that, although they will keep living together to preserve appearances, they cannot be happy and he won’t let her raise their children.

The maid brings a note from Krogstad saying he no longer wishes to blackmail Nora; the IOU is enclosed. Torvald rejoices, saying he is saved and that he forgives Nora. However, Nora reveals that she was going to kill her herself because she thought that Torvald would step forward and defend her, ruining his life and career. She explains that she has realized that she can no longer live with Torvald, whom she considers to be a stranger to her, and wishes to leave in order to discover a sense of who she is. Torvald at first calls her stupid and insane, before changing his tone and promising to change so that she will stay. Nora, resolute, says she must leave. Torvald is left alone onstage in despair. The play ends with the sound of the slam of the front door as Nora exits.