Nora, a dutiful mother and wife, spends most of the play putting others before herself. She thinks little of how her act of forgery and debt to Krogstad affect her personally, opting instead to worry about how they might impact the lives of her husband and children. Even when she plans to kill herself near the end of the play, it is not to hide her shame but rather because she thinks that if she is alive then Torvald will ruin himself in trying to protect her. In a similar vein, Mrs. Linde admits that, without a husband or any family members to care for, she feels that her life is pointless. Therefore both women find a sense of meaning in their lives through serving others and performing the caring, obedient role that society requires of them. During the play, however, Nora learns that prioritizing her duty as a wife and mother cannot lead to real happiness. She realizes, when it becomes clear that Torvald would never have sacrificed his reputation to protect her, that while she thought she was sacrificing herself to protect her love, in fact no such love existed, and indeed the structure of society makes the love she had imagined to be real an impossibility. She therefore decides to leave him in order to develop a sense of her own identity. The play ends with Nora choosing to put herself as an individual before society’s expectations of her.
Throughout most of the play it seems that Krogstad cares more about his reputation than anything else. Punished by society for his act of forgery, he is desperate to reclaim respectability in the eyes of others. However, his conversation with Mrs. Linde in the third act shows him that he will only achieve happiness through truly reforming himself and regaining the personal integrity that he lost rather than the outward respectability. In a similar way to Nora, Krogstad learns that society’s view of him is meaningless if he doesn’t respect himself as an individual.
Individual vs. Society ThemeTracker
Individual vs. Society Quotes in A Doll's House
I would never dream of doing anything you didn’t want me to.
Oh, what a glorious feeling it is, knowing you’ve got a nice, safe job, and a good fat income.
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…
I am not so heartless that I would necessarily want to condemn a man for a single mistake like that.
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.
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!
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.
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.
His suffering and his loneliness seemed almost to provide a background of dark cloud to the sunshine of our lives.
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…
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.