A Doll’s House exposes the restricted role of women during the time of its writing and the problems that arise from a drastic imbalance of power between men and women. Throughout the play, Nora is treated like a child by the other characters. Torvald calls her his “pet” and his “property,” and implies that she is not smart or responsible enough to be trusted with money. Neither Krogstad nor Dr. Rank take her seriously, and even Mrs. Linde calls her a “child.” While this treatment does seem to mildly frustrate Nora, she plays along with it, calling herself “little Nora” and promising that she would never dream of disobeying her husband. However, there are clues that she is not entirely happy with the limited position she has as a woman. When revealing the secret of how she borrowed money to finance the trip to Italy, she refers to it as her “pride” and says it was fun to be in control of money, explaining that it was “almost like being a man.” Although she comes to regret her decision to borrow money, Nora’s dissatisfaction with her status as a woman intensifies over the course of the play. In the final scene she tells Torvald that she is not being treated as an independent person with a mind of her own. Her radical solution to this issue is to leave domestic life behind, despite Torvald's declaration that he will change. Nora's decision suggests that she, and the play, see the issue as only partially with Torvald. The more fundamental issue is with domestic life as it was conceived and lived at the time, in the way it legally and culturally infantilized women and made it impossible for them to be recognized or treated as full individuals.
Meanwhile, the men of the play are also expected to fill a certain role. Both Torvald and Krogstad are very ambitious, driven not only by the need to provide for their families but also by a desire to achieve higher status. Respectability is of great concern to both of them; when Nora’s borrowing is revealed, Torvald’s first thoughts are for his reputation. Meanwhile, Krogstad is fixated on achieving success now that he has “gone straight,” and intends to one day take over Torvald’s job and run the bank.
Gender Quotes in A Doll's House
I would never dream of doing anything you didn’t want me to.
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.
Oh, I think I can say that some of us have a little influence now and again. Just because one happens to be a woman, doesn’t mean… People in subordinate positions, ought to take care they don’t offend anybody… who… hm…
When a poor girl’s been in trouble she must make the best of things.
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.
A man’s better at coping with these things than a woman…
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!
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.
You can’t frighten me! A precious little pampered thing like you…
Tell me what to do, keep me right—as you always do.
But my dear darling Nora, you are dancing as though your life depended on it.
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.
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.
I wouldn’t be a proper man if I didn’t find a woman doubly attractive for being so obviously helpless.
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.
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.
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.