Analyzing Torvald and Nora Helmer's interactions amongst themselves and with their counterparts in Henrick Ibsen's A Doll's House, we find these characters are not the happily married couple they portray. Indeed, they are fooling society with their fallacious act but in reality, The Helmers do not know each other, nor do they know themselves. Their two greatly differing moralities separate them, yet their deceptions of each other bond them together while serving as the common ground in their marriage.
In the opening scene, we meet Nora Helmer; she displays a childlike manor that leaves one breathless in the flurry of all her activity. She has come back from a shopping trip, which portrays her to be quite the spendthrift with all the parcels she has purchased. Although money certainly seems to burn a hole in her pockets, she is not greedy and tips her porter well. We then meet Torvald, and like Nora, his concerns focus on money. However, their views of the almighty dollar differ greatly. Nora's money is not spent in a frivolous manner, as Torvald would lead us to believe. It is put to good use toward the payoff of the loan Nora had secretly taken out for their trip to Italy to repair his health. Torvald is a bit more subtle when he speaks about money, at first it appears as if he is just trying to be level headed, but we soon find that money represents all that is beautiful to him. He must have a beautiful home, Nora must be his beautiful wife and the way to accomplish this in society is with money, this really brings into light Torvald's shallow nature.
Prior to Nora's exchange with Torvald, we realize her potential for rebellion as she sneakily eats macaroons, hiding them quickly before her husband can see her. Torvald questions her "Hasn't Miss sweet tooth been breaking rules in town today?" (A Doll's house, Act 1) Nora without missing a beat, outright denies it; telling Torvald, she would never lie to him. This sets the alarm off alerting us that Nora has the capacity to lie, and she does it well without ever missing a beat, signifying she has probably done so before (http://www.agonia.net/index.php/article/57725/A_Doll's_House_Unmasked). Nora is the epitome of a trophy wife, lest she is not allowed to eat sweets should they rot her perfect teeth, this would spoil her image. Should she choose go against Torvald's wishes she is treated as the foolish, helpless naughty child he believes her to be.
When Nora interacts with Mrs. Linde an old school friend, we learn Nora has been leading a double life. Nora has single-handedly saved Torvald's life by taking him out of the country to Italy when his health is threatened. Nora has sacrificed herself by forging her father's signature on a bond for a loan, since women are unable to borrow money without the consent of their husbands. This was done out of necessity as well as discreetly in respect for Torvald's pride. To pay back the loan, Nora secretly took on jobs and put money from her "allowance" away without Torvald's knowledge. This shows that Nora is not just made of fluff, she is smart; she is independent, she has devised a plan, and made use of her own resources. Nora does all this under the assumption that Torvald would make the same sacrifices for her if it should ever come down to it.
Our next exchange is between Nora and her blackmailer Krogstad, when Nora believes she is about to be exposed she thinks immediately of Torvald and what such scandal could do to his good name. Nora is even willing to lower herself and talk to Torvald about Krogstad keeping his job at the bank not just to save face for herself but also for Torvald, she is not so worried about her secret leaking out to Torvald as she is about Torvald suffering defemation for her poor choice. Nora is so distraught about this she even contemplates taking her own life to protect her family from the social dishonor she has caused.
Lastly, to understand the type of person Nora is before her transformation we have to consider her relationship with Dr. Rank. Nora is a flirt, yet when Dr. Rank longtime family friend professes his love for her Nora becomes greatly disturbed. This takes Nora's focus away from herself and brings Rank's feelings into the equation, perhaps this bother Nora so greatly because here is a man she can have an open and free relationship yet his admission could be interpreted as another man that want to be in control over her.
Concentrating on Torvald Nora's husband we see a tight-fisted controller who establishes himself as the center of power in their relationship. Torvald is condescending when it comes to Nora; some of the pet names he refers to when speaking to her are "little twittering lark" his "little squirrel" his "little sweet tooth" (A Doll's House, Act 1) as well as few others. The terms he uses are actually belittling and always preceded with the word "little" this purveys Torvalds feelings that he has the upper hand over Nora. Never would Torvald be able to handle the fact that Nora is actually able to think of her own free will.
The icing on the cake is the Tarantella that Torvald sets Nora up to perform on Christmas night. This is his chance to show off his little marionette for his own entertainment and to show society he has the perfect wife that dotes on his every wish.
Krogstad brings out the worst of Torvald; they appear to be polar opposites. Torvald is a good upstanding citizen while Krogstad has lost the respect of the community. Both however are competing to maintain or regain their level of respect in society, in this way they are alike. Torvald's deep disdain of Krogstad does not come from the crime he has committed in the past, but more from Torvald's feelings that Krogstad has an inadequate amount of respect for the man since he has known him in his past.
Finally, Dr. Rank, Torvald's best friend is actually a character thwart. Dr. Rank's love for Nora is based on who she is as a person, while Torvald's tainted love is based on her appearance and her helplessness. Dr. Rank knows the true Torvald, knowing that his friend is unable to face up to anything ugly he will not even allow him to attend his sickroom.
As we have learned more about Torvald and Nora from their interactions with the supporting characters in the play, we are now ready to see how they compare to one another. Torvald who believes he to be the strong one in charge of all has been alluding himself. He is the weaker of the two, he is the one that needs to be sheltered not Nora. Torvald is childishly trifling; he cannot handle the thought of his authority being threatened and craves the respect of society to hide his insecurities. Nora on the other hand is just the opposite; when Dr. Rank brings up the idiom of society, Nora's response is "What do I care about tiresome Society?" (A Doll's House, Act 1). Nora is not so much obsessed with her place in society; she is concerned for Torvald whom she knows places a large hold on how society sees him.
Torvald is purported to be a perceptive businessman, at least we gather this from his recent promotion as the head of the bank. Like Torvald Nora too, must be a savvy businesswoman. How could she not be? In order for a woman that is un-widowed of her time to pick up paying jobs it is unheard of. She would have to at the very least have good negotiation skills. Nora shows us how crafty she really is as she uses her manipulation skills to get what she needs from Torvald. When Torvald inquires as to what Nora would like for Christmas she knows just how to play him to get more of what she wants, money.
The bond that makes Nora and Torvald alike in this play is how they have concealed their true feelings and thoughts, from each other, their immediate friends, and from society. Nora and Torvald are both stuck in a lie.
- Templeton, Joan. "Ibsen: A Doll's House." Scandinavian Studies 68.1 (1996): 135+. Literature Resource Center. Web. 2 Mar. 2010.