A Doll's House - Henry Ibsen Flashcards Preview

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Flashcards in A Doll's House - Henry Ibsen Deck (52):

Background of author

Henrik Ibsen was born in Skein, Norway on March 20, 1828. After spending most of his early years in poverty, he eventually made a name for himself as one of the most respected playwrights of all time.

He wrote about money and marriage, for both had a devastating effect on his life. Ibsen's father had lost it all and had to live in extreme poverty. The father began to drink and abuse his mother. He was antisocial. THE FATHER'S VIOLENCE GENERATED AN AWARENESS OF FEMALE POWERLESSNESS.


What did Henry Ibsen help to popularise?

He is often called "the father of modern drama" because he helped popularise realism.


Ibsen's view on human rights

Once when he was being honored by the Norwegian Society for Women's Rights he said, "I am not even quite sure what women's rights really are. To me it has been a question of human rights".


Which character(s) are caged in by society?

Torvald, Nora's husband, is just as caged by society as his wife. Society has programmed them both into their prescribed roles: dominant provider husband, submissive homemaking wife. In Ibsen's mind, all human beings have a sacred duty to themselves — self-actualisation.


Nora's character traits
before she confronted Torvald at New Year's midnight

• playful, naïve child who lacks knowledge of the world outside her home. Irresponsible
• completely happy (seems at first)
• materialistic (e.g. money)
• cares about her family / ignorant to others
• childish giddy
• unfulfilled / underappreciated potential
• loud
• proud
• acting
• rebellious (at times) (e.g. macaroons)


Nora's character traits
during and after she confronted Torvald at New Year's midnight

• serious
• calm
• independent
• confident
• focused and clear about her situation and future
• intelligent
• motivated to self-actualisation and asking questions


Torvald's character traits

• Dominant and strong
• He treats Nora like a child, in a manner that is both kind and patronising.
• He does not view Nora as an equal but rather as a plaything or doll to be teased and admired.
• Selfish: overly concerned with his place and status in society
• Cowardly: Allows his emotions to be swayed heavily by the prospect of society’s respect and the fear of society’s scorn
• sincerely believes that he loves Nora
• can be insistent to the point of insensitivity
• possessive (Nora and her beauty: "worth seeing, if you ask me!" and happy that after Rank dies, "you and I have no one but each other")
• a conformist: it does not occur to him to question the rules of society


"A Doll’s House" - associations

small/insignificant, lifeless, fun/pleasure, nostalgia, childish, someone in control, utopia, fake, stage set, innocence, safety, ignorance is bliss, product, naive women, pretending to be a family


Realism features of Doll’s House

• Characters talk in a conventional day-to-day way (informal)
• Plot is obviously and unapologetically contrived
• Melodramatic devices like top-secret letters
• Doorbell rings at convenient times, bringing trouble for Nora
• People enter and exit just when Ibsen needs to move on to the next scene and bring on new ideas.


Shocking Revelations in Doll's House - REVERSAL OF EXPECTATION

The open-ended conclusion was shocking to nineteenth-century spectators conditioned to expect definite and moralistic closure. This ambiguous ending *forces* the audience to think and interpret endings and actions.

•Kristina has no money, no children, didn't love her husband, has to work
• Kristina’s depressing story (incl. sick mother, two brothers, death of mother, depression)

• Nora brags about money; borrowed money without husband’s permission (illegal) and she is proud of it;
• works in secret and loves it: pride and fulfilment though masculine pleases (work +money); gives her confidence
• Nora discusses her husband’s masculines pride in a condescending and belittling way, making him seem vulnerable and less dominant
• she knows that she is only playing for him “dancing and dressing up for him” and he will always want that, being “strict”

• The fact that is starts without tension, normal, makes the audience expect something harmless. Ibsen broke expectations of the social roles. The scene with the most tension, from the contemporary audiences (or today’s audience) perspective, is the moment she slams that door because the audience did not expect her leaving but rather Nora staying or dying. THIS IS CONTEXT!



1. The sacrificial role of women of all economic classes in the western society
2. Parental and Filial Obligations (parent should be honest)
3. The Unreliability of Appearances (misinterpreted first impressions)
4. The damage society does to self by refusing women to be equal with men.
5. The tragedy of a particular marriage


Characterisation of Krogstad

Krogstad too reveals himself to be a much more sympathetic and merciful character than he first appears to be. The play’s climax is largely a matter of resolving identity confusion—we see Krogstad as an earnest lover.


Theme in detail: The Unreliability of Appearances

Nora initially seems a silly, childish woman, but as the play progresses, we see that she is intelligent, motivated, and, by the play’s conclusion, a strong-willed, independent thinker. Torvald, though he plays the part of the strong, benevolent husband, reveals himself to be cowardly, petty, and selfish when he fears that Krogstad may expose him to scandal. Krogstad too reveals himself to be a much more sympathetic and merciful character than he first appears to be. The play’s climax is largely a matter of resolving identity confusion—we see Krogstad as an earnest lover, Nora as an intelligent, brave woman, and Torvald as a simpering, sad man.

Situations too are misinterpreted both by us and by the characters. The seeming hatred between Mrs. Linde and Krogstad turns out to be love. Nora’s creditor turns out to be Krogstad and not, as we and Mrs. Linde suppose, Dr. Rank. Dr. Rank, to Nora’s and our surprise, confesses that he is in love with her. The seemingly villainous Krogstad repents and returns Nora’s contract to her, while the seemingly kindhearted Mrs. Linde ceases to help Nora and forces Torvald’s discovery of Nora’s secret.

By the end of the play, we see that Torvald’s obsession with controlling his home’s appearance and his repeated suppression and denial of reality have harmed his family and his happiness irreparably.



1. Nora’s Definition of Freedom
2. Letters



1. Christmas Tree
2. New Year’s Day
3. Door and Doorbell


Symbol in detail: Door and Doorbell

-- Every time the house bell rings, it marks the arrival of a new conflict.
-- A bell represents openly asking the household for incoming, opposed to the more secretive knocking, which shows a more determined character, and Kronstadt (who knocks and comes in) doesn't ask Nora but forces her to ask her husband about the blackmailing.
-- “The door is a jar”: the secret of Nora is not very secret. The secret is contracted to leave an uncertainty of the relationship between Kronstadt and Nora. Their house represents their relationship. The slightly open door represents a crack, a vulnerability of the secret. It was her who left the door open, which means she left the door open for problems. She has signed the paper and committed the crime, it is her fault. The door is already open for him.


Symbol in detail: New Year's Day

The action of the play is set at Christmastime, and Nora and Torvald both look forward to New Year’s as the start of a new, happier phase in their lives. In the new year, Torvald will start his new job, and he anticipates with excitement the extra money and admiration the job will bring him. Nora also looks forward to Torvald’s new job, because she will finally be able to repay her secret debt to Krogstad. By the end of the play, however, the nature of the new start that New Year’s represents for Torvald and Nora has changed dramatically. They both must become new people and face radically changed ways of living. Hence, the new year comes to mark the beginning of a truly new and different period in both their lives and their personalities.


Symbol in detail: Christmas Tree

The Christmas tree, a festive object meant to serve a decorative purpose, symbolises Nora’s position in her household as a plaything who is pleasing to look at and adds charm to the home. There are several parallels drawn between Nora and the Christmas tree in the play. Just as Nora instructs the maid that the children cannot see the tree until it has been decorated, she tells Torvald that no one can see her in her dress until the evening of the dance. Also, at the beginning of the second act, after Nora’s psychological condition has begun to erode, the stage directions indicate that the Christmas tree is correspondingly “disheveled.”

Christmas adds to a sense of spiritual death and rebirth; Nora's own life is beginning anew.


Motif in detail: Nora’s Definition of Freedom

Nora’s understanding of the meaning of freedom evolves over the course of the play. In the first act, she believes that she will be totally “free” as soon as she has repaid her debt, because she will have the opportunity to devote herself fully to her domestic responsibilities. After Krogstad blackmails her, however, she reconsiders her conception of freedom and questions whether she is happy in Torvald’s house, subjected to his orders and edicts. By the end of the play, Nora seeks a new kind of freedom. She wishes to be relieved of her familial obligations in order to pursue her own ambitions, beliefs, and identity.



Many of the plot’s twists and turns depend upon the writing and reading of letters, which function within the play as the subtext that reveals the true, unpleasant nature of situations obscured by Torvald and Nora’s efforts at beautification.

Krogstad writes two letters: the first reveals Nora’s crime of forgery to Torvald; the second retracts his blackmail threat and returns Nora’s promissory note. The first letter, which Krogstad places in Torvald’s letterbox near the end of Act Two, represents the truth about Nora’s past and initiates the inevitable dissolution of her marriage—as Nora says immediately after Krogstad leaves it, “We are lost.” Nora’s attempts to stall Torvald from reading the letter represent her continued denial of the true nature of her marriage. The second letter releases Nora from her obligation to Krogstad and represents her release from her obligation to Torvald. Upon reading it, Torvald attempts to return to his and Nora’s previous denial of reality, but Nora recognizes that the letters have done more than expose her actions to Torvald; they have exposed the truth about Torvald’s selfishness, and she can no longer participate in the illusion of a happy marriage.

Dr. Rank’s method of communicating his imminent death is to leave his calling card marked with a black cross in Torvald’s letterbox. In an earlier conversation with Nora, Dr. Rank reveals his understanding of Torvald’s unwillingness to accept reality when he proclaims, “Torvald is so fastidious, he cannot face up to anything ugly.” By leaving his calling card as a death notice, Dr. Rank politely attempts to keep Torvald from the “ugly” truth. Other letters include Mrs. Linde’s note to Krogstad, which initiates her life-changing meeting with him, and Torvald’s letter of dismissal to Krogstad.


foreshadowing in play

Nora’s eating of macaroons against Torvald’s wishes foreshadows her later rebellion against Torvald.


climax of play

Torvald reads Krogstad’s letter and erupts angrily.


falling action in play

Nora’s realisation that Torvald is devoted not to her but to the idea of her as someone who depends on him; her decision to abandon him to find independence.


Important Quotes

• “I must give a performance” (For Torvald & society) representing all women to that time
• "Free. To be free, absolutely free. To spend time playing with the children. To have a clean, beautiful house, the way Torvald likes it."
• "I have been performing tricks for you, Torvald. That’s how I’ve survived. You wanted it like that. You and Papa have done me a great wrong. It’s because of you I’ve made nothing of my life."


Gender Roles

• Women are being led, have to play a subservient role, no in charge of their own decisions, being judged for looks.

• The play plays with our expectations of the women, we expect Nora to be happy and incident, but it turns out not to be the case.

• Women who want to be free need to sacrifice: Christine has to give her whole live for freedom and handwork and Nora has to leave her social status and children to achieve self-actualisation.


Importance of the children scenes (hide and seek importance)

- showing her with her children sets her in a different environment and makes the character more believable and explores more depths of her character, new aspects revealed, new facets — characterisation.

- it shows that she loves her children, playing with them even though the family have a nurse, she always tells people how sweet they are. This makes it clear that the sacrifice of leaving the family at the end of the play and that decision is very important for her, worth leaving her beloved children behind — shocking.

- they play hide and seek:
• a metaphor for hiding her work
• she is hiding her inner feelings, intentions from the family and society
• the fact that she is hiding first makes her brave but also scared
• represents the seeking of her children after she leaves the home, which foreshadows her leaving


what way do the characters speak

In a naturalistic language (dialogue written in a style to mimic real life conversation),


Torvald's endearments/nicknames for Nora and their lexical field

• Squirrel: small, cute, always eating, sneaky
• Squander-bird: neologism, the squandering is more cute than of harm, it is critical but also cute
• Skylark: great singers
• Songbird: aka Skylark
• Spendthrift: aka squander-bird
little-ms-independent: child belittlement

- lexical field: nature and animals, little and cute, everything is forgivable and fun


The names in themselves are not necessarily demeaning but in conjunction with Torvald’s behaviour the word towards Nora become belittling. List some of the ways in which Torvald treats Nora like a helpless, clueless child:

• [Goes up to her and takes her playfully by the ear.]
• [laughing]. That's very true,--all you can. But you can't save anything!
• [wagging his finger at her]. Hasn't Miss Sweet Tooth been breaking rules in town today?
• [Taking out his purse.] Nora, what do you think I have got here? Nora [turning round quickly]. Money! (giving her money, hence, in control)
• she sits on his lap


Nora’s subtle rebellion against the status quo:

• she eats macaroon (sweets) and is breaking thereby Helmer’s rules

• When confronting Torvald about taking money from people, she does not agree with what he says “Very well Torvald. As you Say.” This shows that she passively denies what he says, still however avoiding confrontation.

• “I should not think of going against your wishes.” while childishly lying to avoid the fact that she are sweet stuff in town, she drops a non-passive lie, telling him exactly what he wants hear. Is More than white lying it’s the lying with the obvious intent of deception.


When Nora prepares for the ball, she realises that she is a performer in her own life. List all the ways in which she performs a role in her own life.

• mother of three children
• She has acted the part of the happy, child-like wife for Torvald
• and, before that, she acted the part of the happy, child-like daughter for her father.
• performed according to the rules of society, a traditional housewife


In her journey, do events happen to Nora or does Nora actively engage in her journey?

She is passive at the beginning and then gradually develops into an active protagonist. At first she does not have any control against Kronstadt but as the story goes on, she takes her decisions into her own hands. The actively borrows money and buys the maroons. At the end, she was more certain and involved, it mirrors her choices and character development.

While we have a time period during the play, the key events happen before the play, by borrowing her money and working the loans off. These steps count towards the event off leaving Torvald.


fancy dancing dress - symbolic meaning

symbolic of her performances in life, DOLL, as a daughter for her father, as a wife for Helmer…
• she wants to rip it in 1000 pieces, at one point, meaning she is done performing in her life and wants to be her true self


the loan (piece of paper) - symbolic meaning

what the whole conflict evolved from and marks her independence to safe her husbands life and work for herself, also breaking the rules


Why was the subject matter of dolls house topical during the 19th century?

Agitation for women's rights had been mounting steadily all over Europe and America since the French Revolution. Women did not have a right to property, could not easily divorce and would loose custody of her children.


what is Nora for Torvald?

an object, a work of art for her husband to stare at and enjoy, a mother and a housewife


why was the stark development of Nora throughout the play so special for the 19th century?

The early 19th century perceived "character" as a fixed set of traits displayed with consistency throughout the narrative. They might learn from experience, but not take charge of they own growth as Nora chooses to do.
The change from the flighty girls of Act 1 to the sober figure seated at the table with Torvald in Act 3 seemed incredible.


How does Ibsen establishes Nora as a figure with great zest for life (lebensfreude)?

she takes pleasure in the Christmas tree, the taste of macaroons and champagne. She's physically expressive and at ease, frequently touching and kissing Helmer affectionately and playing with her children. Her instinct is to reach out to people, and we see her embrace the nurse, Ms. Linde and Dr. Rank.

She has a kind of natural democracy; her cheerful admission that she preferred the talk of the servants in her father's house is a refreshing contrast to her husband's traditional thinking.


She reaches out to many people to talk about her problems, which means she is constantly in motion. What could that mean?

Her physical vitality reflects the dynamic nature of her inner journey.


Nora's upbringing and its limitations

It is clear from the care with which the text imparts an understanding of Nora's backgrounds that she is the product of her upbringing and its limitations.

In assuming that the law will "understand" her motivation of borrowing that money, snobbish attitudes to Krogstad and her smug refusal to consider the problems of the "stranger" are not attractive qualities, but they stem from an ignorance of the world that, by the end of the play, she intends to put right. She is aware that she knows nothing beyond the "play-room", which both her father and Torvald have seen as her natural sphere.


Nora has a desire to do right: give examples

• she has acted decisively to save her husband's life
• she does what she can for Mrs Linde
• in her relationship with Dr Rank she passes from sexual manipulativeness to honesty, at some cost to herself (once she knew that he is in love with her, she aborts her mission to ask him for money - an ethical choice)


what was the effect of her ethical choice not to ask Dr Rank for money?

after that she finds it almost impossible to return to her old behavior with Helmer; the tarantella (dance) is a more complex message than her usual flatteries.
Her faith that Helmer will prove his love by attempting to take the blame on himself is a product of sentimental social conditioning (his as well as her); but her behavior with Dr. Rank is honorable and tactful and entitles her to expect more from Helmer then hypocritical cowardice.


Why does she decide to leave this marriage and find herself?

By the end of the play, Nora is aware that her personality has been largely constructed by others - by the men who love her, and beyond that by a hegemony of male authority from the law to the church. To all of them she has been an object to be played with or looked at; in order to become a subject, she must shape a new self.
She places fantasies of marital heroism with modest expectations. The decision to stay the night with Mrs. Linde and find work indicates that she does not expect her life to be better than that of Mrs. Linde. She is also profoundly aware of emotional costs. She has already made the break with the children; now she also considers that neither she nor Torvald feel real love for the other. She pays tribute to his kindness, admits that she will often "think of him", and implies that her desire for him has not died.
But for the first time she speaks of "duty" rather than simply of love; she has become a person with the beginnings of a considered moral code rather than loving instincts.


How does Torvald live in a doll's house?

While he sings the virtues of honesty and condemns both Krogstad and "lying mother", he blissfully is unaware of how powerfully he is protected from harsh realities: his doctors keep his illness from him, his friend will not expose him to the horrors of his deathbed, and his wife even prevents him being Mrs. Linde sewing. He is being manipulated by Nora to give her money or allow Mrs Linde to work for him.

Nora would rater lie to him than challenge him, even over something as trivial as a bag of macaroons - a "doll" protected from society - by women out of deference to his masculinity, by men out of concern for his weakness.


Dr. Rank's function in the play

To act as a detached observer, possible offering advice to the protagonist but doing little to change the course of action - a role familiar in "well-made plays" and one often given to a doctor as the wise man of the community.


what was the consequence and effect of all the "tricks" and "flirtatiousness"?

They are harmless themselves, but have allowed Nora to hide the problems in her marriage from herself as well as her husband.


symbol of money

It stands for pretenses, false promises and the misuse of power - a fitting symbol of their marriage.
It also stands for Nora's first step into the society outside her "doll's house" and marks pride that she earned money.


translation of the play

No translation can be exact, and even the simplest sentence in translation carries a slightly different weight of meaning from the original.


language and style of Nora vs. Helmer

While Nora's awareness of multiple layers of language permit her pt grow (SUBTEXT), Torvald's rigidity is reflected in the way he takes discussions liked the midnight confrontation at face value and never looks below the surface of his own language.
For instance, he repeatedly employs the endearments "skylark" and "squirrel" without reflecting that these are wild creatures - that Nora's domestic setting as become a cage. The audience, however, realizes that Torvald has built a kind of linguistic prison, for Nora and himself. He is completely lost in their final confrontation.


space itself is used to illustrate Nora's journey to independence - how?

Nora never enters through either of Torvald's doors, is increasingly confided and isolates herself in the room, sending the children away; and later still she is locked in by Torvald.
• Her final transit through the house is a slow reclamation of freedom; slamming the door making her decision ultimate.


the triggers that propel Nora through her self-discovery - timeline


In the first conversation with Nora, Mrs. Linde says she feels empty because she has no occupation; hoping that Torvald may be able to help her obtain employment. This strengthens Nora’s belief that work is indeed fulfilling and fun, as she has already experienced by herself by repaying her debt to Krogstad.

The fact that she breaks the law by borrowing money and enjoys it.
Krogstad comes and shows that they have committed the same crime. She now understands that her doings were illegal and have real consequences. Before that, she judged Krogstad, like everyone else, without really knowing his crimes and motives, which are the same as well. And because Torvald hates Krogstad for those reasons, he would also hate her the same way. She thought her motives would explain her doings and make it legal, but she realises because of Krogstad.

Torvald ensures Nora that mothers can poison their family with sins and bad traits, especially affecting the children. She is scared that her lie with the loan poisons her family, pushing her to leave the household.

She tears up the dress, her performance.

She talks to Ann the Nanny about her leaving her child to work, she had to take the job, we hear that her husband was good for nothing, so she had to leave her child, it alludes to it. Nora sees it as evidence that her kids will remember her, that men can indeed be not in such a glorified light as she has been used to. But she romanticises it, thinking that she will get back to her children. Even though it outlandish, this is what she wants to hear.

When she tries to ask Dr. Rank for money, but when he reveals her love for her, then she stops her filtering and realise that it would be highly immoral to ask a sick, loving man for a favour. Her shock that she was about to that makes her leave this household, scared to break even more rules in the future and poison the family. She asks for a lamp, the darkness represents tension (artificial light her inner conflict with morality and lies). This would be a peak in the tension graph because she does not see a way out after not asking Dr. Rank.

Torvald reads Krogstad’s letter and is outraged. He calls Nora a hypocrite and a liar and complains that she has ruined his happiness. She was hoping a different reaction (taking the blame and apologising). He declares that she will not be allowed to raise their children. Helene then brings in a letter. Torvald opens it and discovers that Krogstad has returned Nora’s contract (which contains the forged signature). Overjoyed, Torvald attempts to dismiss his past insults, but his harsh words have triggered something in Nora. The fact that he forgives HER, makes him not a hero but a pathetic person. She declares that despite their eight years of marriage, they do not understand one another.


The purpose of the break between the first and second act:

The caesura, a pause, is caused by the end of the Act I. The last sentences is Nora: “[pale with terror]. Deprave my little children? Poison my home? [A short pause. Then she tosses her head.] It's not true. It can't possibly be true.”

The pause makes both the audience and character think about the role of a woman and independence. Ibsen takes the audience on a journey of self-reflection and realisation, just as Nora is on such journey. Ibsen is a teacher of moral questions. He leaves the audience with great tension, putting weight on great moral question of independence for women. This makes the audience more difficult to judge Nora, because the audience knows she has not done anything for selfish reasons. This puts the audience on the spot and in an ethical dilemma and not so quick to dismiss. The Act II begins with Nora being nervous, reflecting her slow realisation of her situation.

The purpose of the break is to make the audience question their moral judgements and maybe come to the conclusion that she has her reason for her doings.