Nora Helmer in Ibsen’s A Dolls House


Nora Helmer hails from a society that is patriarchal through and through. The society does not place much value on women, and men, in this society, believe that women’s brains are inferior. Women are supposed to take an inferior place while men are expected to lead on matters of “great importance”. Such areas include finances, jobs, and other related areas. However, Nora feels that she can chip in, and salvage a difficult situation. Her husband, Torvald Helmer, had suffered from an Illness that prompted Nora to borrow money from Krogstad, a man of ill repute. She did this for her sick husband sake. However, the society does not allow women to borrow money without a male signatory, and Nora forges her father’s signature to get the loan from Krogstad. The problems that Nora faces as a result of this debt reveal that Nora is a victim of a chauvinist society. Nora’s good intentions are not appreciated, and she is scolded for trying to be helpful in a situation that needed intervention.

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The Sacrificial Role of Women

In Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, is painted a bleak picture of the sacrificial place of women in all social classes. In this play, the female characters exhibit Nora’s declaration thousands of women sacrifice their integrity, but men refuse to do so (Ibsen 23). For instance, Mrs. Linde marries a wealthy man in order to support her mother and two brothers. She does not love this man, but she sacrifices her happiness for the comfort of her mother and siblings. She loves Krogstad, but she has to sacrifice this love. Nora’s nanny abandons her children, and she goes to work for Nora. The nanny tells Nora that she (nanny) was lucky to find the job. She considers herself a young girl who was led astray. This shows that women have a lot of problems in the society. This is because the oppressing society does not empower women. In fact, men make rules that should be observed by all people.

Nora is the most financially advantaged woman among all the female characters in this play. However, she leads a difficult life since the society dictates that men are the dominant patter in marriage. Torvald sets the rules and patronizes Nora. This makes Nora hide her debt since she knows that Torvald could not acknowledge the idea that a woman (to be precise, his wife) had assisted to save his life. In addition, Nora must work (in secret) to repay off the loan, since it is not legal for a woman to procure a loan without the consent of her husband. The plight of women in the society portrayed by Ibsen makes them vulnerable, and Nora is prone to Krogstads blackmail (Ibsen 41). This is because Krogstad understands that Nora (as a woman) is powerless to change the things that engulf her. Nora also has to abandon her children, and this can be seen as an act of self sacrifice. This is because Nora loves her children. This love is evident, because Nora interacts, freely, with her children. Nora chooses to leave these children, because she fees that she needs to be happy. In so doing, she goes against the expectations of her chauvinistic society, since the society expects women to cater for children. Nora is fed up with the expectations of such society, and she defines her self as a human, not just as a woman.

The Dependence on Men

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Nora has a lot of ideas on saving difficult situations, but she always finds herself at the mercy of men. In fact, she complains that her life has been an alternation between control of her father and her husband. The husband, Helmer, is a domineering man who does not want Nora to chip in and help on some things. He is a self-centered man, and he does not approve of Nora’s spending for Christmas. He feels that Nora is being extravagant. However, Nora has different feelings on these things, and she wants to be happy. She is a hard working woman, and she secretly and slowly repays the debt she incurred for the medication of Helmer, in Italy.

The beginning of this story reveals a happy Nora. She seems to be contented with married life, and she is happy. She is happy that Helmer has acquired a new job, and she likes the idea that they are going to have a good life as a result of the extra pay that the husband is going to make at the bank. The beginning of this play shows a woman who is totally dependent on her husband. However, the reader gets to know Nora better as the play progresses (Templeton 59).

In the progress of this play, the audience gets to know that Nora is not the stupid girl, as Helmer calls her. Nora understands the complexities of the patriarchal society, and just like men, she is ready to tackle these complexities to solve her problems. For instance, Nora understands the logistics behind the loan she incurred, and she knows that she needs to repay this loan as fast as possible. Therefore, she works long hours to ensure that this debt is settled. She talks of the hard work that she has to do and the audience gets a feeling that Nora is not a stupid girl; she understands the financial world just as men do. They see Nora’s ambition and determination, and they feel that she is beating all odds to fit in the patriarchal society (Shmoop 63). In fact, the audience retracts its earlier perception that Nora is extravagant; now, they understand that Nora wants to be happy, and she does not want the burden of her debt deny her happiness. In this sense, Nora goes against the principles that men should be the ones to control the financials of the society. Nora is not supposed to acquire a loan, but she does; she is also not supposed to control any finances, but she still does it. This shows that Nora is ready to tackle the complexities and control of the male society.

Nora is also ready to break the law for the good of her family. She is willing to break the law to ensure that Helmer is brought back to good health. This shows a lot of courage on the side of Nora. It is against the law for a woman to acquire a loan without a male signatory. However, Nora forges her father’s signature and borrows money from Krogstad. Later, this money brings her into trouble, after Krogstad discovers that the signature is forged. Nora does not react in a manner that a patriarchal society would expect a woman to react; even after Krogstad faces Nora with the truth, Nora does not give up (Siddall 97). Krogstad tries to blackmail Nora, but Nora does not change her nature. In fact, these things just expand Nora’s mind, and they unveil the hidden potential in this woman. She also discovers that she has been unappreciated all along, and she wishes to change this. In a patriarchal society, this is not expected to happen. At one time, during an argument with Helmer, she tells Helmer that she has been performing tricks for him all her life. Nora comes to learn that. In addition to her dancing and singing tricks, she has been assuming a show all through her marriage. Nora has pretended to be someone else so as to fulfill the role that her father, Helmer, and the whole society have all expected of her.

Nora also stops short of seeking financial assistance from Dr. Rank, because of the latter’s confession of love for her. She feels that Rank’s loan will be taken as a sign of consent, and she does not want it to appear as such. She goes against the expectations of the society since many people of the time would fall for the open opportunity of getting financial assistance (McFarlane 70). However, Nora does not fall for this, and she does not tell Dr. Rank of her debt to Krogstad. This shows that Nora is not ready to accept the dictates of the chauvinistic society.

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Helmer reacts in a very selfish manner when he learns of Nora’s debt to Krogstad. This makes Nora discover the other side of Helmer, and she feels that she cannot continue such relationship. Nora knows that she has a personality that should be appreciated, and she feels that she cannot sacrifice that personality for a marriage, in which she is not appreciated. 


From the above arguments, it is clear that Nora holds values that go against the expectations of the society. The society expects women to be passive recipients of the dictates of men. They should not engage in financial situations, and they should not take matters in their own hand. They should depend on the decisions of their husbands to control their lives. However, Nora feels that her decisions are good, and she uses these decisions to make her life better.

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