As a play focused around the marriage between Nora and Torvald, A Doll's House can be seen as an exploration of love and marriage, or even, more profoundly, on whether there can be love in marriage. At the beginning of the play, Nora and Torvald appear to be very happily married, even to themselves. Nora talks joyfully about her love for Torvald, and Torvald refers to Nora using affectionate pet names. Their loving marriage stands in stark contrast with the lives of the other characters: the marriages of Krogstad and Mrs. Linde were based on necessity rather than love, and were unhappy. While Dr. Rank was never married, and, it is revealed, has silently loved Nora for years. Yet although Nora and Torvald’s marriage is based on love (as opposed to necessity, as was the case with Krogstad and Mrs. Linde), it is nonetheless still governed by the strict rules of society that dictated the roles of husband and wife. It is clear that Nora is expected to obey Torvald and allow him to make decisions for her; meanwhile, it is important for Torvald’s career that he is able to show off a successful marriage to a dutiful woman.
At first it seems that Nora and Torvald both enjoy playing the roles of husband and wife in a way that is considered respectable by society. However, Nora soon reveals to Mrs. Linde that she went behind Torvald’s back by borrowing the money from Krogstad, and therefore has already broken both the law and the rules of marriage at the time. This creates a dilemma: Nora broke the rules of marriage, yet did so in order to save her husband’s life—a true act of love. Yet this is an act of love that society condemns, thereby placing the rules of marriage above love. In the final moments of the play, it's revealed that Nora's fear of the secret getting out is not a fear that she will end up shamed and punished, but rather is based on her certainty that Torvald will protect her by taking the blame, and in so doing will ruin himself.
Nora is certain that beneath the role Torvald is playing, that he loves her just as deeply as she loved him when she secretly broke the rules of society. Of course, Torvald's reaction reveals that he's not in fact "playing a role" at all—he really does put his reputation first, and he would never sacrifice it to protect Nora. What Nora thought was role-playing was in fact the entire reality. This cements Nora’s disillusionment with her marriage, and with marriage in general—she comes to the conclusion that not only does Torvald not love her, but that the institution of marriage, as it is conceived and practiced in her society, may make love impossible. While Krogstad and Mrs. Linde's joyous choice to marry may suggest that the play does not entirely share Nora's view, it is important to note that their marriage does not at all conform to the norms of society. Mrs. Linde yearns for the purpose she would get by truly caring form someone she loves, while Krogstad sees Mrs. Linde not as some ornament to augment his reputation but as the source of the salvation of his integrity.
Love and Marriage ThemeTracker
Love and Marriage Quotes in A Doll's House
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.
I would never dream of doing anything you didn’t want me to.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.