Henrik Ibsen wrote about realism in drama in the 19th century. He talked about issues relevant to the age and made predictions of where people were headed in his work. The structure of this play is three acts but it ends with a discussion. Ibsen moved away form tradition with his characterisation. There is a strong feminist message in this play, with the unlikely heroine of a housewife, Nora, who transforms herself through the duration of the play into an independent women.
The themes that the play ‘A Doll’s House’ comments on are gender, the roles that people play in life, for example the role of the dutiful wife or the husband, Torvald, to protect and control. The most common, but perhaps not the most obvious, theme in the play is the theme of deception. Every character is guilty of it in one way or another. Mrs. Linde looks like an innocent character when it comes to the theme of deception. She is an independent woman who had to look after her sick mother and younger brothers. She tells Nora of how she, ‘had to fend for myself, opening a little shop, running a little school…’, so she is obviously a very intelligent person.
She is, ‘proud and happy’, when she thinks of how she made her mother’s life easier towards the end. She is condescending towards Nora because Nora has not, ‘known much trouble or hardship’, in her life and she often tells Nora that she is a child. Although, when she comes into the Helmer’s home, she has nothing. She feels, ‘unutterably empty….nobody to live for anymore’, and she is bitter because of her position. She has no money, children and her husband is dead, ‘…not even a broken heart to grieve over.’
This is just one clue that her aforementioned marriage was for money. During a discussion with Krogstad she tells him that he, ‘mustn’t forget I had a helpless mother and two young brothers,’ to look after and that is why she had to marry someone else. Krogstad was the man that she was really in love with. Mrs. Linde did indeed use the other man for security. She lied about being able to do something about ‘the letter’ to Nora. She also kept knowledge of Nils’s loan to Nora from Torvald and met in the apartment with Nils. All these examples showing the cunning and deception that Mrs. Linde is capable of. The character Torvald is a male chauvinist. He has names for his, ‘little skylark,’ or wife. They are all the names of small creatures, which is what he likes to think she is. Just another one of his possessions.
Torvald deceives himself into believing he is the big man, the breadwinner he can do anything. He feels safe and secure because he has a new job at the bank, ‘…safe job, and a good fat income’- ‘it’s a good thing we’ve seen the back of those lean times’. He deceives himself by keeping checks on Nora and trying to control her. When Nora tells him of the Christmas presents she bought he says, ”bought’ did you say? All that? Has my little spendthrift been squandering money again?’ and controlling what she can or cannot eat, ‘ my little sweet tooth surely didn’t forget herself in town today?’ when he thinks she has been eating the forbidden macaroons.
He never takes the time to get to know his wife. He tells her that she is, ‘just like your father. Always on the lookout for money…just seems to slip through your fingers’. This shows that he didn’t think much of Nora’s father and does not think much of her common sense, but he would not want his, ‘little songbird to be the least bit different’, because he likes to feel superior. He fires an old school friend, Nils, because he calls him Torvald at work. He tells Nora he loves her, then he is so quick to let her go at the slightest sign of imperfection. He is so fickle and self obsessed that it is hardly surprising that Nora leaves him at the end of the play.
Krogstad is the most obvious case of a character that is deceitful. He is a shady character with a mysterious past. He is looked down on in society and has a bad reputation but he is very cunning. He takes advantage of Nora’s naivete and lack of knowledge considering the law, he says, ‘did this never strike you as fraudulent..?’ when he is interrogating Nora about her I.O.U . He is threatening towards Nora when he says things like.
‘It depends entirely on what sort of Christmas you want to have’ when he is trying to make Nora help him save his job. He is one of the few, if not the only, character that does not think Nora is as dull-witted as she acts, ‘you needn’t pretend to me you don’t know’. He knows that she carries influence with Torvald and he tries to use that fact to has own advantage. Making a new life for himself is very important to him. He wants respectability for his sons’ sakes, ‘if necessary I shall fight for my little job in the bank as if I were fighting for my life’. He is a deceitful character, but he needs to be in order to get back onto his feet.
Dr. Rank is supposed to be the upstanding character in this play. He is a mischievous character. When Nora told Mrs. Linde and Dr. Rank that she want to say, ‘damn’ to Torvald he is at first shocked and says, ‘are you mad?’, but then says ,’say it! Here he is!’. He didn’t tell his ‘friend’ Torvald that he loved his wife and came to visit then everyday and he didn’t tell anyone but Nora that he was dying. Consequently Dr. Rank does display that he is guilty of some deception, but nothing too awful.
When you hear the word doll you are reminded of a figure that is pretty and perfect, she is manmade, an object that is false, and naturally does not talk back. Nora seemingly fits this description beautifully until you look closer at her character thought the play. By the end of the play we discover a human being with few of the qualities connected with a porcelain toy. Nora wears a mask in front of others to give the perception of being vapid. From the beginning of the play, Nora plays up to the stereotypical image of the perfect wife. Happy buying gifts for Christmas and shrieking, ‘money!’ when her husband so generously gives her some extra money for the housekeeping.
However, we see some of her rebellious attitude with her favorite treat, macaroons. Her husband Torvald detects guilt in his wives eyes and asks her if she has been eating the forbidden macaroons and she replies, I would never dream of doing something you did not want me to’, which is an outright lie. When Mrs. Linde is condescending towards Nora, Nora tells her out right that, ‘little Nora isn’t as stupid as everybody thinks’. That comment along with, ‘you all think I’m useless’, proves to the reader that Nora knows everyone around her thinks she is naï¿½ve. She deceives them into believing that for her own protection. Nora lies about why she wants to help Krogstad keep his job to Torvald.
She lied to Krogstad when she said the signature on the I.O.U was her father’s. She also lied to her husband about the odd jobs that she had to do to pay back her IOU. Nora lets people think that she is happy with her life, but she mentions to Mrs. Linde that the fact that Mrs. Linde’s mother is dead and brothers’ grown up, ‘must be such a relief’, because Mrs. Linde has no one to look after and can be independent.
Nora slowly takes off her mask of deception and breaks away from the ‘Doll’ image that she projected. At the end of the novel she leaves her home, children and husband to concentrate on herself. A complete turn around from the, ‘little skylark’, that we were introduced to. All the characters in this book are guilty of some form of deceit. Some are more innocent than others in their intentions, but they are all selfish characters in their own way.