Nora: A Doll in a House?

         Nora, a character in Henrik Ibsen's 1879 play A Doll's House, filmed twice in 1973 by Joseph Losey and Patrick Garland, respectively, is a character who significantly progresses significantly from the beginning of the play. Nora (Jane Fonda/Claire Bloom) is a wife and mother who has kept a secret from her husband (David Warner/Anthony Hopkins). She has hidden the fact that she borrowed money for a trip she and her husband took to Italy and works diligently to pay off this debt. She is a victim of blackmail by Krogstad (Edward Fox/Denholm Elliot), a bank worker who knows her secret and is on the verge of being fired. He threatens that he will reveal her secret unless she convinces her husband not to fire him. The secret is eventually revealed, and the truth is told. Once this happens, Nora feels relieved, but she also feels that she is no longer satisfied with her life or with her husband. Nora's character progresses through secrets, lies, and hard work, and she discovers, after everything has been revealed, that she is no longer satisfied with her current lifestyle and wishes to progress on toward a new life without her husband.

         First, Nora keeps the secret from Torvald that she had borrowed the money without his knowledge, and in her late father's name, to fund a trip to Italy. Nora's decision to borrow the money behind Torvald's back was probably based on many reasons. The main reason, however, had been Torvald's illness, and the trip was taken in an attempt to make him well again. Nora had a very good reason to borrow the money: She wanted her husband to get well, and she would go to great lengths to insure that he did. In our class discussion, there were comments made in regard to Nora's love and dedication as the main reasons she borrowed the money. I have to agree because, if she had not loved him during that time, it probably would not have mattered to her if he got well or not.

         In a conversation I had with another classmate regarding the subject, she felt Nora used Torvald's sickness as an excuse to get a vacation to Italy, and that she actually did not love him at that time. This also came up in class discussion, but I do not agree with this. If Nora had not loved Torvald and cared about his well being during this part of the story, why would she have risked everything by forging her father's name to borrow enough money to fund this trip? She loved Torvald a great deal because she had committed a crime to save his life. She admits this in her conversation with Krogstad: "That trip was to save my husband's life; I couldn't give that up." She also proves that she would risk anything to save him when she says, "I couldn't take the fact that I was committing fraud into account; I didn't trouble myself about you at all. I couldn't bear you because you put so many heartless difficulties in my way, although you knew what a dangerous condition my husband was in."

         Nora also works very hard to pay back the money she borrowed. She is very smart in this because she was saving money along with supporting a family with clothing and food and purchasing Christmas gifts. Torvald always seemed to think she was spending too much money and referred to her as a spendthrift; however, unbeknownst to him, she was just the opposite. When Torvald asks what she wants for Christmas, she tells him, "Just give me money, Torvald; I could wrap it up in pretty paper and hang it from the tree." She uses the excuse that she can buy what she wants if he just gives her money when she would have actually used the money to pay off more of her debt. The class discussed how Nora was viewed as helpless and dependent on Torvald. I do not agree with this idea. She is a very intellectual person who discovers ways to hide this secret and conserve money to pay off her debt. She might have been dependent on Torvald monetarily, but I believe she is a very independent woman. She knows that the trip to Italy is necessary in order for her husband to get well, so she had makes the decision to put herself on the line for his sake.

         Nora becomes very disappointed with her life and her marriage to Torvald. She is often viewed as having little power or making no intellectual contribution to their relationship. This is visible, as our class discussion had pointed out, through pet names Torvald has for her. He calls her things like "squirrel," "skylark," and "songbird." He sometimes treats her more like a child than a wife. This is apparent to Ms. Linde when she tells Nora, "You are still like a child in many things, and I am older than you in many ways and have a little more experience." Nora often acts as a child when she wants something from Torvald, just as a daughter may act toward her father to get what she wants. For example she says, "Your squirrel would run about and do all her tricks if you would be nice and do what she wants" and "Your skylark would chirp, chirp about every room, with her song rising and falling; I would play the fairy and dance for you in the moonlight, Torvald." Through this dialogue, it is obvious that Nora is immature when it comes to getting her way; and she will do anything, even act as a foolish child to get what she wants.

         During another discussion with a classmate, several comments were made that Nora realized this was the way she was viewed, and she desired for their marriage to be a partnership; and for both of them to contribute equally. She is disappointed because this does not happen. She is married to Torvald for eight years and never feels that she is an equal part of the marriage. She always feels as though she is a possession or something for others to look at. She says this during the last scene: "Our home has been nothing but a playroom. I have been your doll wife, just as at home I was Papa's doll child; and here the children have been my dolls. I thought it great fun when you played with me, just as they thought it great fun when I played with them. That is what our marriage has been, Torvald." I believe she grows very disappointed with the way she is treated and viewed in her relationship with Torvald.

         She risks everything for him, and he tells her, once the secret is revealed, that he would not have risked his own honor to save her. Torvald says, "I would gladly work night and day for you, Nora-bear, sorrow and want for your sake. But no man would sacrifice his honor for the one that he loves." She expects that he would risk his own honor for her, had the secret been revealed earlier than it was, but he disappoints her once again in this statement. Her increased disappointments help her make the decision that will change her and her family's lives forever.

         Nora decides to leave Torvald and her children. I believe that she has a lot of bitterness toward Torvald and the way their marriage ends. She feels more like a prize than a wife. She is never forced to take care of her children as a real mother should because there is always someone else in the house hired to do the job. I think this contributes to her feelings of being a doll in her own house, as just something to look at and be admired rather than a contribution to the family. She finally has enough of this life, plus her disappointments, so she decides she needs to do what is best for her, which is to leave. She expresses to Torvald that she no longer wishes to have contact with him and that their marriage is over. She wants to find herself and what she really wants out of life and to no longer be controlled by someone else.

         A Doll's House shows how Nora's character lives an oppressed life for eight years. She lives a life of disappointment and dissatisfaction. She finally has enough of feeling trapped in her own house and looked upon as Torvald's possession. She wants to get out and experience the world on her own, with no strings attached. Nora's character endures secrets, lies, and hard work; and she discovers, after everything has been revealed, that she is no longer satisfied with her current lifestyle and that she desires to move on toward a new life without her husband. Torvald only could have saved his marriage and preserved his relationship with Nora if he had been willing to let her contribute equally to their relationship and let her have some independence from him, instead of treating her as a doll trapped inside her own house. I believe that being a doll inside her own house drives Nora away.

Rhiannon Mitchell

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