How Does the Author Use Nora to Explore a Social Issue in "A Doll's House"

How does the author use Nora to explore a social issue in 'A Doll's House'? Nora, the main character of the novel, represents the rebellion of patriarchal society and shares her identity crisis. Her character is seen torn between the current demand of the metamorphic transformation and traditional values. She is one of the mystery characters in the story. There are two very distinct dimensions of her personality i.e. the ‘doll’ Nora and the ‘real life’ Nora. She prefers to show her naive, childish and innocent and side to the world. She waltzes around the house, without any care in the world and often begs her husband for money to spend on decorations and clothes, who is quite clueless to everything going on around him. Whereas inside, she is quite full of abilities, aware and capable of tackling situations around her and seems to be proud. But hints of her double personality, which she tries hard to hide, slips up occasionally. Her life is devoid of any and every individuality. Her life is designed on the lines set by her father, formerly and her husband, later. She is only a passive actor in her own life, blindly following what is told and acting as expected of a ‘good’ daughter, wife and mother, respectively. Her personality is marred by societal expectations and she is forced to live the life of a puppet, manipulated in the hands of the puppet master. If all the people especially Nora’s father and husband had not treated her wrongly, this crisis in her personality and life could have been avoided.

Nora is wife of Torvald Helmer in 'A Doll's House', who is a person with an orthodoxical mentality, selfish and he only cares about his reputation. Transformation in her character is psychologically observed throughout the play and how she deals with her identity crisis against patriarchal society. She shifts from her child-like behavior to a woman concerned about her home and children and determined to keep it intact, and lastly to a mature woman, who recognizes her true identity and value and finally pulls herself out of the vicious norms of patriarchal set up.

Torvald Helmer’s toxic masculinity and harmful mentality played a major role in Nora’s identity crisis and dual personality conflict in the play. He views her as a doll who is naive silly girl, whose sole purpose is to please him, listen to him, follow his commands, take care of his children and maintain his reputation when they are in public.

Nora as the Main 'Doll' at Her Home

At play beginning, Nora seems like a happy house wife who does not mind being disparaged by a teasing manner of Helmer. Nora lived her life as a doll or puppet. She was, at her home, her father’s doll child which means her father played with her whenever he pleased so. Her father dictated her all her life, telling her what to and what not to do, making her life choices and taking her decisions for her. She did not object to it but as she had been betraying and hiding her true self, she used to sneak into the maid’s room to hear stories. Similarly, when she got married to Helmer, he dictated her in the same manner and their relationship was no different from her relationship with her father. He forbids her from eating sweets seemed like their relationship is more that of father-child rather than husband-wife. He had her strings in his hand and allowed herself to be objectified by Helmer. Her husband treated her as an unruly child, who is in need of constant assistance and guidance, calling her an ‘extravagant little person’, ‘sweet little spendthrift’, ‘sweet little skylark’, ‘child’, ‘featherhead’, throughout the play. It was also observed that she has a rebellious side, which could be seen when she lies to Helmer about eating macaroons when he asks her in a fatherly manner, almost reprimanding a child, “Hasn’t the little sweet-tooth been breaking the rules to-day?”

She denies him and assures him that she will never do anything against that he disapproves of. As the play progresses further, it is revealed that she is not as innocent as Helmer thinks, nor is she the “silly girl” he claims her to be. Getting treated as a child and having no outlet, made Nora a victim of a very severe identity crisis and various anxieties. Rather than facing her anxieties and identity crisis head-on, she built an invisible wall around herself, encaging her true self and hiding her identity as an individual.

In order to please Torvald and gain his affection, she, at numerous instances, kept secrets from him. But it seemed to me that she has a clever side to her which Helmer did not know about, because she kept it to herself. As she opens up to her friend about her secret, it came to known that she was not only capable of making deals like debts to save Helmer’s life but she was also strong and courageous enough to keep a secret and forge her father’s signature, for the trip they took which saved her husband from dying. She has been paying off the debt she took from Krogstad, all by herself and Helmer has not been aware of it. The duality is evident from the tiniest details found in the play for example, her demeanor in the presence of Mrs. Linde changes from that of a childish girl to a very much mature woman who is quite mindful of her duties and responsibilities as a wife and as a mother. She plays the game of hide and seek, hiding herself in the presence of Torvalds and only revealing her identity in his absence, she seeked his assistance but felt proud of herself in his absence, thus she was not as ‘silly’ as she seemed to be.

Her fear of getting rejected by Torvald at an old age lead her to do things behind his back. She was fearful that at a later age when ‘she is no longer as nice-looking’, Torvald would lose interest in her, he’ll be ‘no longer as devoted’, and her ‘dancing and dressing-up and reciting’ would pale on him. All her life, she had been on his mercy, putting on a show for him, been the wife he wanted her to be, the mother to their children. It had never been about her desires or wishes, instead always about Helmer. In order to counter her fear and to be good in eyes of Helmer, she forged documents and borrowed money from Krogstad in hopes that this deed of her would be a ‘good thing’ as a ‘reserve’, something that could bind Torvalds’s reins and keep him limited to her. Her anxiety of losing her beloved husband and her happy nest led her to behave according to the set patterns of Torvald. The play was full of instances where Nora is very much carful of Torvald’ s likes and dislikes, ‘Torvald can’t bear to see dressmaking going on’.

To please Torvald, her whole life revolved around Torvald and what he liked, and in doing so she unknowingly lost herself. Furthermore, the reality of their marriage was something Nora never wanted to face, she was ready to stay contained in the improvised bubble of happiness of hers, afraid that any sort of confrontation would pop that bubble. She kept fantasizing and overestimating Torvald’ s love for her, expecting him to take the blame of her misdoings and save her, no matter what. She hid herself from the cruel reality, ‘What nonsense! That time will never come’. She was never ready to face the reality of their conventional life, betraying her anxieties by covering them up with superficiality, ‘pleased we are’, ‘I feel so relieved and so happy’.

In fear of getting caught, Nora behaved even more frantically and childishly, she danced ‘Tarantella’ aggressively and ‘violently’. Doing anything and everything in her power to keep Torvald from reading the letters, trying to save the sinking ship of her marriage. She desperately tries to stop Torvald from reading the letter by Krogstad exposing her secrets, ‘No, no! don’t do that, Torvald’, ‘Please don’t. there is nothing there’, she fantasized Torvald to be a knight in shining armor who will save her from every sort of trouble. Expecting him to shoulder her burdens and solve her problems for her. As she says, ‘you shall not suffer for my sake…. You shall not take it upon yourself’.

Turning Point in Nora's Self-View 

Till the very end of the play she was living in the imaginary world of hers. Reversal of their roles is marked by the first and only serious talk between them when letter revelation happened. He cursed her, for ruining his reputation and she realized that all he cared was about, himself, his ego and his reputation in the society. She finally became aware of her value in his life which was near to nothing and she confronted him about it, “I have been performing tricks for you, Torvald.”

But When she confronted him about his actions and the truth about their marriage, it showed that she was not naive all this time. Even if unconsciously, but she was aware of the oppression she faced and the wrong treatment she had received from Helmer. This was the point where she realized, she holds no more meaning in his life than an object placed in the house. She made him see that they never had a true marriage filled with sincerity, honesty and love. However, she does not realize that she is lacking an identity until Helmer started cursing at her when he finds out her truth Here, she decided to leave the house, leaving Helmer and her children behind. She made the decision to educate herself, know herself and live on her own wishes. But When he rejoiced upon reading Krogstad’s decision to not tell anyone and forgive her, tried to convince her to stay but she finally stands up for herself and decided that she would not let herself be played anymore, “But our house has been nothing but a playroom. Here I have been your doll wife, just as at home I used to be papa’s doll child.”

It is a moment of realization for Nora as she hears him rant about his reputation in the society. She now knew that no miracle will happen, and Helmer would not risk his reputation or life to save her. She completely channeled her inner rebellious self at the end of the play, a striking contrast from the start of the play where she showed herself as a childish stubborn girl. She left as her ticket to independence and a self-exploring journey, where she can build her own identity. She was by heart a strong willed and determined young woman who could take her own decisions and does not need to be dictated like a child.

She never really thought seriously and realistically of her life problems and that is precisely what lead to the intensification of the problem. The reality of the situation at the end of the play hits her hard, the truth that she had been, “living with a strange man and had borne him three children” for eight years. It is not an easy thing to admit let alone say out loud- to realize that all her life is a sham and whatever she is taught is only to the benefit of the people around her, minus herself, where she thought she was happy but it is at this time that she decides to face her anxieties head-on and ventures on the journey of self-identification. She must find her own self first and decided to walk out on him and even leave her children. She was at one time, living two lives, two personalities, to please everyone, but the exhausting contrast took over her at last and she decided to leave.


A dual personality conflict or split personality was seen in Nora’s character. Ibsen had presented Nora as a character full of action-based tension and anxiety to shed light on the internal and external conflicts of the modern man., Nora’s character faced a transformation, a psychological journey through the play, dealing with an identity crisis and dual or split personality conflict. The psychological journey of Nora here is of remarkable importance as she transformed herself. It is only by the middle of the play that she started to realize that she was not what she showed herself to be. She had to take her decisions because she lacked education and firsthand knowledge of how things worked in the practical world. At this point though, she realized that she needed to educate herself and it should be her foremost priority that now she had to take up a duty towards herself. Nora’s actions and decisions proved that only the resistance can establish a person’s true identity. She had to build an identity in order to find peace with herself.

21 Jun 2023
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