Nora Helmer- mother, housewife, protagonist
Anne Marie- Nora's childhood nurse, now the Helmer children's nurse Mrs. Christine Linde- Nora's old friend
Emmy Helmer- Nora's daughter
Helen- Helmer housemaid
Nora Helmer, our main character, strives to achieve the perfect ideal that is set before her by the contexts of her society and her husband, Torvald. She is a direct contrast with the other female characters presented in Ibsen's "A Dollhouse". Nora herself is trapped within the "dollhouse" that is her physical home. Torvald, her husband, has built a wonderful little life for his wonderful doll wife, and their wonderful dolly children. Nora's eventual transformation comes later as she discovers her role in the dollhouse society forced upon her and the desperate need to get out, at any cost.
Nora vs. Anne Marie
While Nora is the main character and our protagonist, there are other female characters in the play (listed above). Anne Marie, the Helmers' nurse, embodies everything that Nora is not. She is a direct contrast to Nora Helmer. Anne Marie was Nora's childhood nurse and eventually became her Emmy, Ivar, and Bob's nurse later in Nora's life. In order to survive in the society in which she lives, Anne Marie very willingly gives up her only daughter for adoption simply saying, "I was obliged to, if I wanted to be little Nora's nurse" (Roberts 1209). Anne Marie's "tragedy" as Nora calls it, is simply life as usual to the old nurse. She accepts the role society has placed upon her within contest and is content with two letters from her daughter in her lifetime.
This event is where one might say that Nora and Anne Marie are similar, as well as contrasting. While Anne Marie accepts her position, so does Nora to an extent. When Torvald explains to dear Nora that having a deceitful mother poisons the children, she accepts this as truth, eventually deciding to leave her precious dollies. Just as Anne Marie complacently accepts her position in society, Nora allows Torvald to unknowingly choose her place in life, thus showing a side of Nora that the reader may not have gotten earlier. However, Nora's decision to leave Torvald and the the children is not a blind acceptance of what society attempts to force upon her. Nora Helmer makes a real transformation as will be discussed later in this section.
Nora vs. Mrs. Christine Linde
Mrs. Linde enters the plot very early. She is essentially an old childhood friend of Nora's who has come into town to look for work. Mrs. Linde's husband passed away leaving her a widow and eventually she is jobless. Mrs. Linde become somewhat of a "female helpmate" since she eventually helps Nora cover the secret money she owes Krogstad. In the early conversations between Mrs. Linde and Nora, Mrs. Linde alludes to the dollhouse theme by demeaning Nora's simple way of life. Mrs. Linde explains, "How kind you are Nora...for you know so little of the burdens and troubles of life...My dear! Small household cares and that sort of thing!--You are a child, Nora" (Roberts 1197). When Nora hears this she is no less than outraged. She cannot believe that her deal old friend, Christine, is just like everyone else; no one takes Nora seriously, and no one sees her as the individual she claims to be.
Despite this upset, Mrs. Linde still helps Nora in numerous ways. Nora confides in her about the secret loan from Krogstad and later about his plans to ruin her life by exposing her lies to Torvald. Eventually, Mrs. Linde tells Krogstad to let things be and let Nora and Torvald settle things on their own thus removing her title of "helpmate". It can be argued though that this decision by Mrs. Linde is indeed helping Nora most of all, because it is after this that Nora comes to the realization that she lives in a dollhouse created by Torvald, and Papa in the past. She has been supressed and simple her entire life and has allowed every man to define who she is. This realization and desire to leave the situation is what makes this a feminist play. Ibsen, knowingly or unknowingly, gave women, fictional and true, a voice.
But how will little Emmy grow up without a mother?
Emmy is the only daughter of Nora and Torvald Helmer. While she, and the other children, are not prominent characters in the play itself, they are seen as symbols of what Nora's life is and what she is defined by. In the beginning, she plays with the children, buys them gifts and showers them with affection, thus symbolizing that in this stage of Nora's life, she is defined by her children. Nora, as well as the majority of the women in her time period, were who their family was. Their lives were defined by the home they kept (which was actually most often kept up by housemaids and servants, anyway), the children they bore and raised (which were 85% raised by nursemaids), and the husbands they had managed to catch.
At the beginning of Act Two when Anne Marie is talking about leaving her daughter, Nora cannot understand how a mother could do such a thing. Anne Marie then says one line that resignates throughout the entire play and becomes a montra for Nora later when she is deciding to leave the children. This sentence helps justify Nora's departure.
Nora: Do they ask much for me?
Anne: You see, they are so accustomed to have their mamma with them. Nora: Yes, but, nurse, I shall not be able to be so much with them now as I was before. Anne: Oh well, young children easily get accustomed to anything. Nora: Do you think so? Do you think they would forget their mother if she went away altogether?
It is that last line of Anne Marie's that really hits home with Nora later in the play. It does appear so, however, that Nora begins contemplating the concept in her last line.
Nora v. Torvald Helmer
Nora's unique relationship with her husband appears at first to quite a loving one. Indeed she loves Torvald, but it is really only because that's what she's supposed to do. Women are to love their husbands. Period. Torvald does not allow Nora to prosper as her own self, as was the custom of the times.
Torvald's use of what resembles baby talk when talking to his wife suppresses Nora's intense intellectual desire; she is smothered under Torvald's defiance of respect. Torvald says in the very first scene, "Is that my little lark twittering out there?". This phrase sets up the character and his relationship with his wife. While some suggest it is the structure of the home itself that plays into the doll house effect, most critics will argue that Torvald's demeaning nature taken with Nora is the reason she leaves.
Nora's Final Escape: Self Accountability or Serious Selfishness A long chain of events sets off the resistance shown by Nora. Once she begins thinking she can escape to a create a better life for herself, there is no changing her mind. In the last few scenes, the reader/audience should have noticed an intense transformation occurring in Nora. She no longer identifies herself as Torvald's little lark, or his baby squirrel.
Nora feels she can better herself and leaving her husband and children are the only way to do it. She has been freed through self actualization, and escaping the dollhouse becomes her greatest triumph. I n this sense, Nora is indeed the epitome of the modern woman. In creating Nora's role (or as the quote on the homepage suggests, creating her being and destiny) Ibsen was way ahead of the times. This play gave women a voice, a chance to stand up for themselves no matter the cost and most modern women would agree. While it is a common concept for today's women and girls to have the same opportunities, it was not at all present in Ibsen's culture. This is why Nora is the mother of the modern world. Feminism:
Henrik Ibsen's drama A Doll House is a firm declaration for female equality, especially on the social and personal levels. Ibsen uses the dialogue of his drama to reveal the qualities of his characters - this lucid characterization illustrates the transformations the protagonist, Nora, undergoes. The dynamism of Nora, her interactions with her husband and other male characters reveal Ibsen's feminist message. Nora at first submits to the dominance of her husband, Torvald, under the guise of love, but after finding her essence and inner-strength, she asserts her individuality, leaving Torvald and his suffocating home. In addition, Torvald's objectification of Nora is flagrant and Nora's interactions with other male characters draw sharp attention to the tension in this relationship. Ibsen's A Doll House collectively asserts that women are equals on all levels; often their complexity is neither recognized nor respected by their male counterparts. These men will often attempt to confine women to domestic roles or reduce them to objects of sexual gratification. Ibsen's dialogue between characters speaks for itself about prominent male attitudes toward women. "Little sweet-tooth hasn't by any chance been on a rampage today," "Can't have a pouty squirrel in the house," and "My wastrel is a sweetheart, but she does go through an awful lot of money." These quotes illustrate Torvald's objectification of Nora. He calls her little animal names and, consequently sees her as nothing more than one - a sweet, beautiful creature dedicated only to his pleasure and enjoyment. Ibsen is disgusted by Torvald's treatment of Nora. Thus, the dialogue imparts the intense strain in their relationship. Nora understands that she is more than an object, but she is unable to express it before her husband for fear of upsetting him and his little world. She submits and dilutes herself only because she has been offered no other option and sees no way out. Nora is faced with a both an external and internal conflict in A Doll House; both of which result in her choice to escape from the restraints of her home. Initially, these conflicts trap Nora. She must find a way to quiet Krogstad and prevent Torvald from discovering she borrowed money to save his life, in addition to escaping the oppressive control of Torvald and forging an independent identity. Ibsen focuses intensely on these conflicts and the psychological and emotional effects they have upon Nora. At one point in the drama, Nora is afraid to see her children because Torvald delivered a philippic about Krogstad, positing that a lying parent poisons the minds' of a household's children. Nora knows she has lied to Torvald and does not want to corrupt her children. This puts her in a fragile mental state - she bounds through the house, preparing for Christmas, with paranoid mutterings issuing from her lips. Nora's only confidante is Mrs. Linde, a childhood friend, who carefully listens to Nora's predicament. Ibsen uses Linde to point out that women who have made it to the workforce have still not broken the barrier of male dominance, having not truly rebelled against it. This is represented by Linde's story of privation and Linde's initial misperception of Nora as a capricious and unburdened woman. Nora's situation itself is utilized by Ibsen to comment further on the male dominance of society and the necessity that has developed for women to assert themselves as equals. The dialogue of A Doll House is also used to characterize Nora through interactions with other males who do not represent the domineering forces that Torvald does. For instance, Dr. Rank is a sensitive and understanding gentleman and friend of the Helmer Family, who often listens to Nora discuss her life and feelings. Rank treats Nora respectfully recognizing her personal strength. Furthermore, Rank confesses his love to Nora while she comes to him for consolation during a highly stressful period of conflict between her and Krogstad. Nora rebukes Rank, though his expression of love was subtle and passive, and Rank respects Nora's denial and offers his help to her in any way. Moreover, Nora and Krogstad's communications depict Krogstad treating Nora economically as an equal and threatening her like any creditor would do to a male in that position. Krogstad threatens Nora with a fate that he himself experienced, recognizing her as an equal by expecting her to understand the complexities of the laws of society despite living in a sheltered home. Although Nora does not fully understand the transgression her heart has made against the law, it is all part of the transformation that supports Ibsen's belief in the fortitude and intelligence of women. Nora begins the drama under the dominance of Torvald but at the end, she has asserted her personal sovereignty over her mind and body. Nora is portrayed as capricious and sly early in the play but only out of necessity. She is left with no option but to hide her actions from her husband, fearing his wrath. She could not bear to lose her husband at that time or be separated from her children. But as the play progresses and Krogstad comes closer and closer to revealing his deal with Nora to Torvald, Nora begins to realize that her duty is not to gratify her husband and care for the children. Her obligation is to establish herself as an individual and equal in the household. The only option that Torvald leaves her, because of his inability to look past his assumptions about women, is to leave the house indefinitely. Nora calmly asserts her wishes and expounds her reasoning shattering Torvald's world. He is flummoxed, distraught, and repented, but there is nothing he can do besides watch her go. She is her own person now. The transformation is complete. Nora finally forces Torvald to recognize her equality. She refuses to force herself to gratify a man who only treats her like an object. The people surrounding her show her a world that exists outside of Torvald's dominance. Not only does Nora deal with being treated as an object of sex, but she fights a battle most men could not fight themselves without breaking down. She attempts to pay back an enormous loan to a shady creditor bent on keeping a job that Torvald is bent on filling with someone else. Originally, Nora could not bear the thought of Torvald discovering this deal, but she realizes that the discovery of it may be the only way that Torvald would recognize her as an equal. Unfortunately, Torvald reacts to the discovery like an impetuous child - only concerned with his own preservation. In addition, he places all of the blame on Nora and questions all her actions, instead of feeling indebted to her. Nora then takes the course of action she knows is necessary: she leaves. Thus, Ibsen has conveyed his theme, regarding the mental and emotional fortitude of females. "Why did Ibsen write these plays as he did?" Ibsen was a writer of drama and realism. Realism by definition is "a manner of treating subject matter that presents a careful description of everyday life, usually of the lower and middle classes" (Realism). Feminism was an issue among all classes during the 19th century. Based on the definition of realism, a piece of literature that depicts the everyday inequalities that exists between men and women would qualify as realism. Ibsen did not set out to write a piece on feminism; nor did he specifically set out to write plays to empower women. He was only trying to capture life's situations. Ibsen wrote the following in his personal notes when preparing to write "A Doll's House": A woman cannot be herself in modern society. It is an exclusively male society, with laws made by men and with prosecutors and judges who assess feminine conduct from a masculine standpoint (Meyer 446).