A Doll’s House

“infobox Book “
name A Doll’s House
original title Et dukkehjem
image caption Student edition
author Henrik Ibsen
translator Michael Meyer
country Norway
language Original: Norwegian
Translated: English
genre(s) Social issues
publisher Hard Press
release date 1879
media type Hardback and Paperback
pages 122

A Doll’s House (literally translated A Doll’s Home, from the original Norwegian title, Et dukkehjem) is an 1879 play by the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen.

A Doll’s House, written two years after The Pillars of Society, was the first of Ibsen’s plays to create a sensation and is now perhaps his most famous play. It is often required reading in many secondary schools and universities. The play was highly controversial when first published, as it is sharply critical of 19th Century marriage norms. It follows the formula of a well-made play up until the final act, when it breaks convention by ending with a discussion, not an unraveling. It is often called the first true feminist play, although Ibsen denied this.

The first English production starred Janet Achurch in the role of Nora in 1893. The most acclaimed American stage production of the play was in 1902 starring Minnie Maddern Fiske.

A Doll’s House has been adapted into numerous films, including two versions released in 1973 – one directed by Joseph Losey starring Jane Fonda, David Warner and Trevor Howard, which went directly to U.S. television, and one directed by Patrick Garland which was released to theatres and starred Claire Bloom, Anthony Hopkins, and Ralph Richardson. Dariush Mehrjui’s film Sara (1992) is based on A Doll’s House, where Sara, played by Niki Karimi, is the Nora of Ibsen’s play.

A celebrated wireless version of the play, available from Retro-Media.co.uk, and starring Basil Rathborne as Torvald, was broadcast in the US 1947 by the Theatre Guild.

Character Summaries

Nora Helmer

A woman with a secret that threatens to unravel her carefully curated existence. Nora starts the play as a naive young woman but ends it with her eyes opened to the possibilities of a life of freedom away from her husband.

Torvald Helmer

Nora’s husband, and, in many ways, her keeper. Torvald is in love with the idea of Nora as a possession more than he is in love with the person.

Mrs. Linde

Nora’s childhood friend who helps her realize the true ways of the world.

Dr. Rank

Nora and Torvald’s friend.


Torvald’s colleague at work who he hates because of the man’s poor reputation. Krogstad blackmails Nora throughout the play for something bad she did in her past.


Plot Summary

Act One

The play begins on Christmas Eve, where Nora Helmer is returning home, arms laden with presents and also bringing a Christmas tree. Showing her generosity, Nora generously pays the porter, and then begins eating macaroons.

Nora’s husband, Torvald, thinks of her as like a little pet, a little bird. He is affectionate to her, but also exerts complete authority. When Nora shows Torvald the things that she has purchased that day, he calls her a spendthrift. Nora explains that Torvald is earning a lot of money, so they can certainly afford to enjoy it. However, Torvald reprimands her, saying that the position doesn’t start until next year, and that they would be in trouble if they borrowed on credit like she suggested.

After a bit of an argument, Nora concedes to Torvald’s point of view. Torvald, realising Nora is upset, offers her money for Christmas. This cheers Nora immensely, and she shows him all of the gifts she has purchased. When asked what she wants as her own gift, Nora initially says she needs nothing, but then hesitantly tells Torvald she would like some money to purchase her own gift. To this, Torvald responds to that Nora is wasteful, and that wastefulness is a genetic trait. However, he assures her that he loves her just the way she is.

Torvald then asks if Nora has eaten any macaroons that day, as she is known for having a sweet tooth. She says she hasn’t, and Torvald gives up asking. The couple then talk about Dr. Rank, and if they should invite him to Christmas dinner. Dr. Rank is a good friend of the family.

Nora and Torvald then continue to discuss how good Torvald’s job and income is. Torvald talks about how last Christmas was very boring for him because Nora spent three weeks making Christmas ornaments, but seemingly did not make very many. Nora says that it was the cat who destroyed all of the ornaments. Torvald says that it’s good that they don’t have to worry about money.

Then the doorbell rings. Dr. Rank and a lady have arrived. The lady is Mrs. Linde, who Nora initially does not recognise. Mrs. Linde is Nora’s old childhood friend, and it has been nearly a decade since they have seen each other.

Nora says that her friend looks pale and thin, and apologizes for not writing to her when her husband died. Nora then asks about Mrs. Linde’s inheritance from her husband, which was unfortunately a very paltry sum. Mrs. Linde also has no children.

Nora says that life for Mrs. Linde must be awful and then immediately begins to talk about her own three children. She then quickly apologizes for not being a better friend – but them immediately starts talking about Torvald’s new job.

Mrs. Linde tells Nora that it would be great to be financially secure, and Nora agrees, expressing her enthusiasm over just how much money Torvald will be making. She then reveals that she used to have to work as well, though, because they once were not so financially secure. Torvald also had to go to Italy for his health, but it is much improved and life for them is great. Once again, Nora apologizes for how much she is talking about herself.

Mrs. Linde then explains how she was not particularly fond of her husband, but because of her ailing mother and younger siblings, felt that she had to accept the proposal to look after her family. Unfortunately, after Mr. Linde died she was penniless, as his business went bankrupt. She is in town because her  mother is dead too, and she is looking to take up some work in an office.

Nora says that Mrs. Linde shouldn’t work, and Mrs. Linde becomes angry, saying that Nora could never understand her life and the work required to live. She then apologizes, saying that she has grown bitter because of her situation in life, and that she is selfish because she has nobody to look after anymore. She is also happy that Torvald has a new job, because it might mean good future prospects for her own self – to which Nora says that she will talk to Torvald about helping to secure some work for her old friend.

Mrs. Linde says that because Nora has experienced no real hardships in her life that she has never really had to grow up and become a mature adult. Nora replies that she has experienced hardship – her husband’s illness, for which she was his saviour. She was the one who convinced Torvald to go to Italy when he didn’t want to spend the money, and that saved his life. She was able to raise some money of her own to fund the trip (money that she borrowed), but kept that secret from Torvald, instead telling him that it was money from his father. Mrs. Linde says that Nora shouldn’t keep that secret, but Nora says that Torvald’s pride would be hurt if he thought he was indebted to her.

She also says that she doesn’t spend her allowance on herself, she spends it on paying the debt for the trip to Italy. This was also why she took on some additional work, and that it was this copying work she was doing last Christmas when she told Torvald she was making ornaments. She is glad to think that soon the debt will be paid off and she will no longer have to worry about being anything but a wife and mother again.

Then, a man named Krogstad, who is a lawyer and a widower that Mrs. Linde knows, comes to talk to Torvald about business. Nora isn’t interested in hearing about Torvald’s businesses. Krogstad goes in to see Torvald and Dr. Rank leaves. He has a low opinion of Krogstad.

Nora offers Dr. Rank a macaroon, to which he replies that he thought they were banned by Torvald. Nora simply lies and says that Mrs. Linde brought them. Torvald then comes out of his study, and Nora introduces him to Mrs. Linde and asks Torvald to give her a job. Torvald says that there might be a job available. He, Dr. Rank and Mrs. Linde then leave, to return later on for the Christmas party.

Nora’s three children then arrive, accompanied by the nanny, Anne-Marie. Nora and the children then play together for a while, until Nora is startled by Krogstad, who has not left. He says that he was not looking for Torvald, but that he wants to talk to her. He wants to know if the woman Nora was talking to was Mrs. Linde, to which Nora says yes. Krogstad says that he used to know Mrs. Linde, and asks if she will be employed at the bank. Nora says that she already knew that the two were acquainted, and that yes, Mrs. Linde will be employed because of Nora’s great influence over her husband, even if she is a woman.

Krogstad then asks if Nora can use some of her influence to help him, and Nora is surprised that he would need her help with his job at the bank. Krogstad thinks that Nora must know something secret, and seems to think that when Mrs. Linde is hired, he will be dismissed. Nora then replies that she actually has no influence at all.

Nora tells Krogstad that she will soon have repaid all of her debts, but he says that he isn’t concerned just about that, he is concerned about losing his job at the bank. He says that he has made a mistake that has ruined his reputation and that he wants to rebuild it because of his family. He threatens Nora, telling her that she has the ability to help him repair his life and that he has the power to make her do so.

Nora says that Torvald would be unhappy to know that she has borrowed money from him, and that he would fire Krogstad because of it. Krogstad threatens Nora with the knowledge of her forging her father’s signature on the promissory note, which is a serious offence similar to what he did to ruin his own reputation. Nora says that what she did was for the right reason, and therefore it isn’t as bad. Krogstad says that she still broke the law, no matter her intentions. With a final threat he leaves, and Nora’s children again enter. Nora is upset, and sends her children away. She then goes about trying to decorate the Christmas tree.

As Torvald returns he notices that Krogstad is leaving. He assumes that Krogstad asked Nora to speak to him, and Nora says yes. She is then reprimanded by Torvald for speaking to Krogstad, and Torvald tells her not to lie to him. Nora tries to talk to Torvald about his costume for the evening instead. She then asks about what Krogstad did that was so bad, and Torvald says that not only did he get caught forging signatures, he was unmanly enough to not admit it. Torvald then says that such lies corrupt one’s household, and that most mothers of criminals are liars.

Nora is then too terrified to see her own children for thought of corrupting them with her own lies, but then says that that would never happen.

Act Two

Christmas Day does not bring joy to the Helmer household, at least not for Nora. She is worried about her situation, to the point where she asks the nanny about what would happen to her children if she disappeared from their lives. Mrs. Linde comes, and Nora tells her that Dr. Rank is ill with a sexually transmitted disease passed down to him by his promiscuous father.

Mrs. Linde believes Dr Rank to be the one who loaned Nora the money, but Nora says it isn’t. Mrs. Linde says that Nora seems different all of a sudden, and Nora sends Mrs. Linde away to see her children when Torvald returns.
Nora asks Torvald about saving Krogstad’s job, to which Torvald says that Krogstad is an embarrassment to the bank who Mrs. Linde will thankfully replace. Torvald says that the only reason he is so familiar with Krogstad is because they went to school together, and that he actually hates him and is embarrassed to know him. Nora says that this is all poor on Torvald’s part, and Torvald becomes angry and sends a letter dismissing Krogstad immediately, then leaves.

Dr. Rank then arrives, saying that he will die soon. He doesn’t want Torvald to see him sick, so he will send Nora a special message when his time is nigh. Nora then flirts with Dr. Rank a little, telling him that she has a big favour she wants him to do for her. Dr. Rank then tells her that he loves her before she has a chance to ask him for help, and Nora is upset by this revelation. She does tell him that she wants him to stay around for Torvald’s sake, though, and that she has only feelings of friendliness towards him that he has misinterpreted. She says that she likes to be friends with different kinds of people to the ones she likes to love – for example, she preferred to be in the company of her maids as a child (even though she loved her father) because they didn’t tell her what to do.

Helene the maid then enters and gives a calling card to Nora. Nora then sends Dr. Rank to the study with her husband. It is Krogstad who then enters, telling Nora that he has now been fired. He tells Nora that everything could be resolved if only Torvald would give him a good job in the bank. Nora says that she will never tell Torvald about anything that has been going on, that she would rather die instead. Krogstad says that even if she was dead, he would still besmirch her reputation. On his way out he puts a letter containing all of the details about what Nora has done into the letter box.

Mrs. Linde returns to Nora being upset that Torvald has put the revelatory letter in the mailbox. It is revealed to Mrs. Linde who it was who really loaned Nora the money, and that Nora forged a signature. Mrs. Linde is coerced by Nora to promise not to reveal anything to Torvald, who would be held accountable if Nora disappeared – Nora is hinting at something happening.

Mrs. Linde reveals that once upon a time she had a relationship with Krogstad, and that she will speak to him on Nora’s behalf. Torvald returns, and Nora keeps trying to stall him from reading the mail.

Mrs. Linde returns at dinner time, telling Nora that she has left a note for Krogstad but that he has left town, to return tomorrow night. Nora says that she now has thirty-one hours before her secret is revealed.

Act Three

Mrs. Linde is waiting for Krogstad in the home of Nora and Torvald. Krogstad finally arrives, saying he received a note from her. It is made clear that the relationship between Krogstad and Mrs. Linde was once romantic, but she ended it to marry Mr. Linde for financial reasons. Mrs. Linde tells Krogstad that while she believed her marriage was necessary to help her family, she does regret not staying with him, and now she hopes to get back together. Krogstad agrees whole-heartedly.

Mrs. Linde realises that Nora and Torvald will be there in a moment, so she tells Krogstad that his letter remains in the mailbox. He thinks for a moment that she has ulterior motives to help Nora, but she tells him that although she originally wanted him to take the letter back, now she believes that Torvald should know the truth. As Nora and Torvald are on their way back downstairs, Krogstad leaves, saying that he will wait for Mrs. Linde.

Mrs. Linde is about to leave too, glad to have been able to follow her heart. When Nora and Torvald enter the room, Torvald is friendly to Nora in front of Mrs. Linde, then exits to find a candle. Nora is quickly told by Mrs. Linde about what has happened between the latter and Krogstad, and Mrs. Linde tells her that she has to tell Torvald what she has done. Nora says that she knew what was going to happen, but refuses to tell Torvald anything. Mrs. Linde simply reminds her that Krogstad’s letter is still in the mailbox, then leaves.

Torvald, who thought Mrs. Linde to be boring, is glad she is gone. Nora tells him off for watching her all the time, but Torvald says that she is his prized possession and he is entitled to watch her. He continues to make Nora uncomfortable until she asks to be alone.

Dr. Rank then arrives, much to Torvald’s annoyance, who thinks the man to be drunk. In reality, he has stopped by to tell Nora that he is certainly going to die. Then, Torvald goes to check the mail. Inside are the two coded calling cards that Dr. Rank said he would leave when he would die. Nora explains what they mean and Torvald is sad to think of the loss of his friend, but in a way he will be happy because he and Nora will have to be dependent on each other. He goes so far as to tell Nora that often he has wished for her life to be in danger so he could save her.

Nora tries to persuade Torvald to open his letters, and after some trying is able to. He goes away to read the mail and Nora is alone. She contemplates killing herself and as she is about to run away, Torvald returns, furious at what Krogstad has written. Nora tells him that it is all true, and that it was because she loved him so much. Torvald’s anger will not be extinguished however, and he calls Nora a liar and says that he should have known this would happen because of the character of her father. He says that his life has now been ruined by her actions and that he is at the mercy of Krogstad.

Nora wants to leave but Torvald forbids her. He says that she has to stay and pretend everything is okay, but she is not allowed to see their children. He will try to buy off Krogstad’s silence.

Nora is horrified about what has happened and what her life will now become, but Krogstad has written another letter. He says that he will no longer blackmail Nora and he also has sent the forged promissory note.

Torvald destroys it and says that everything can go back to normal now, that they can simply forget everything that has happened. He has forgiven her completely, and that her dependence on him is overwhelmingly attractive.

However, Nora cannot simply go back to the way things were. They are finally speaking to each other properly, and she has realised that she didn’t love Torvald, she loved what being married to Torvald represented. She has just been living in a dollhouse of Torvald’s own making, and she has never enjoyed a single second of it.

Torvald admits some fault and says that he will try to treat Nora and the children better. However, for Nora, it is too little too late. She wants a life of her own, and she is going to leave. Torvald tries to forbid her, but Nora says he no longer has control over him, and she doesn’t care about anything people say about her now. Torvald tries to convince her to stay by saying that being a wife and a mother are her duties, but Nora says that she has a duty to herself to find out more about herself and the world.

Nora leaves, and says that Mrs. Linde will come and pick up her things the next day. Torvald is at a loss, and asks if she will forget him and her children. Nora says she won’t, but that they will never have a true marriage again.