It is true that a major concern of Ibsen’s plays is the development of characters. However, the fact that “A Doll’s House” has a backdrop in the form of a flawed society suggests that society dictates the ways in which characters mature. Take the character Nora as a starting point. Torvald defines her character precisely when he says things such as: “Is that my little sky-lark chirping out there?” (1). At the start of the play, Nora is just an object to Torvald. The fact that she laughs and plays along with what can only be described as insults and teases, shows the audience that she is a weak character unable to amount to much.Order now
However, as the play progresses, we start to see hints that suggest Nora is not as marginalised as she first appears. Torvald says: “My little sweet tooth surely didn’t forget herself in town today?” (5). The fact that she looks Torvald straight in the eye and lies about not eating the macaroons shows that she does have the potential to be subversive and stretch herself beyond what is accepted by her husband: “I assure you Torvald…!” (5). Nora then later on says to Mrs Linde: “But little Nora isn’t as stupid as everyone thinks.” (9). Again, this sentence reveals just a little bit more about her character and shows that despite Torvald’s teasing, she is capable of more than being his little “squirrel” or “sky-lark”.
Eventually, we learn exactly what Nora has been keeping under wraps from Torvald, she says: “I was the one who saved Torvald’s life” (13). By revealing this dark secret of hers, we learn a great deal about Nora’s character. The fact that she thought to borrow the money (a concept surely unthinkable to most women of this time) shows that she is intelligent and at the same time courageous for being willing to break the law out of love for her husband. The way in which she pays back the loan is also quite admirable, I have had some other sources of income, of course. Last winter I was lucky enough to get quite a bit of copying to do. So I shut myself up every night and sat and wrote through to the small hours of the morning. Oh, sometimes I was so tired, so tired. But it was tremendous fun all the same, sitting there working and earning money like that. It was almost like being a man. (16)
Her years of secret labour, which she has undertaken to pay off the debt, show Nora’s fierce determination as well as ambition. The last sentence: “It was almost like being a man” also reveals more about her character, she enjoys and longs to experience the power and freedom which men can experience, which is perhaps a catalyst for her later actions. In the final scene, when all is revealed about Nora’s loan and her secret toil, Torvald’s response is to shun Nora and blame her for tarnishing his reputation: “Now you have ruined my entire happiness, jeopardised my whole future.” (76). As far as Nora is concerned, this moment in the play is the turning point for her.
Her mistreatment and urge for transgressive behaviour which have been kept under control by her throughout the play finally overpower her and she finally awakens to what is happening around her, 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. This moment is powerful in terms of the revelation of Nora’s character, she will no longer be marginalised and she can finally be free from Torvald’s tyranny.
Torvald is another character who is gradually revealed throughout the play. He begins as a domineering and forceful husband and although he tries to maintain a hold on Nora, he is later revealed to be a weak and self conscious man. Nora hides the fact that she is the reason he is still alive and Dr Rank will not let Torvald visit him on his death bed because he believes: “Torvald is so fastidious, he cannot face up to anything ugly”. It is almost as if Torvald is like a child, unable to face up to the truth and as a result he must be sheltered from the realities of life.
The idea of Torvald being uncovered as a childish character comes into play again later on when he reveals the reason he objects to working with Krogstad. We knew each other rather well when we were younger. It was one of those rather rash friendships that prove embarrassing in later life. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t know we were once on terms of some familiarity. And he, in his tactless way makes no attempt to hide the fact, particularly when other people are present. (43) With this speech, Torvald shows just how immature and petty he actually is, sacking somebody on the basis that they are too friendly and not his “equal”.
Torvald rejects Nora’s plea that he keep Krogstad on at the bank because of his self consciousness and concern at what others might think of him should he give in so easily to his wife’s requests. Oh, nothing! As long as the little woman gets her own stubborn way…! Do you want me to make myself a laughing stock in the office?…Give people the idea that I am susceptible to any kind of outside pressure (42) This act of selfishness shows that he prioritises his own reputation over his wife’s desire.
The character of Krogstad is another which is gradually revealed in the course of the play. As the play’s antagonist, Krogstad appears as a villain at first, but we later see that he, like Nora has been wronged by society and has also contemplated suicide as a way out: “Most of us think of that to begin with. I did, too; but I didn’t have the courage…” (53). Although the revelation of his character is not as clear as Nora’s and Torvald’s, there is still a change in him from the beginning. We as the audience are compelled to feel at least some sympathy for him, as he tries in vain to salvage his reputation in order to save his children from hardship.
In conclusion, it is fair to say that a major concern of Ibsen’s play is the revelation of characters, however, we cannot ignore the criticisms of society which are without a doubt present in his works. In “A Doll’s House”, Ibsen shows us how Nora transforms herself from a submissive and marginalised housewife, to a free and independent woman, while Torvald loses the power he thought he had. Perhaps it is because of society that people can only gradually reveal their characters. Nora longs to say “damn”, but because it is seen as socially unacceptable to say it, she must refrain. Ibsen could be seen as criticising society’s boundaries because they stop people from expressing themselves.