A Doll's House - Henry Ibsen Flashcards Preview

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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.