Analysis of Nora Helmer’s Character From Henrik Ibsen’s Play “A Doll’s House”

Subject: Literature
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Study level: College

The play “A Doll’s House,” written by the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen in 1879, refers to the genre of social drama and reflects problems that go far beyond the limits of family psychology. Contemporaries called Ibsen’s works a new drama since his plays contained entirely personal views on problems of the man in society. One of the principal characters in the play is Nora Helmer, a married young woman, a wife of a rather successful lawyer. At first looking very simple, she is gradually becoming a strong personality who uncompromisingly struggles for her freedom and with all her might tries to become a woman who can make her own decisions and be responsible for her actions.

Artistic Power of the Image

The author reflects the position of the girl in society and the family, her problems and experiences, and the picture of Nora in “A Doll’s House” can be called a manifesto of feminism, a direction which is so unusual for the 19th-century literature. Being a hostess of a cozy house, Nora appears before a reader as a very spoiled doll, that’s why the title of the play appeared. Her husband Torvald jokingly calls her different affectionate words – a bird, a squirrel, a butterfly, a doll (Ibsen 8). However, despite her external lightness and carelessness, Nora appears in the image of a woman who is absorbed into cares about her home and family, about a comfortable and prosperous existence. Nevertheless, caught in the situation of a “social heroine,” Nora firmly does not fit into this role. Probably, she is represented as a carefully guarded by men (first father, then a husband), a gentle and feminine creature, not only flirtatious but sometimes femininely insidious.

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When a reader learns about the situation with the loan of a large sum of money that Nora once borrowed from her husband’s colleague, Krogstad, to help Torvald, it becomes apparent that there is a clash of characters, and each of them causes sympathy. Nora, who committed a crime for her husband’s sake and forged the signature on the bill, acted solely on the call of her heart and did not want her actions to lead to danger. According to Holledge et al., Ibsen managed to present one of the most striking female images with drama and power that corresponds to the style (113). Another example of the manifestation of the strength of Nora’s character is revealed in the episode when she dances the tarantella and knows that the revealing letter of Krogstad to her husband is in the mailbox. She realizes that the whole her world suddenly changes under the influence of circumstances, and the woman has to adapt to this world; she is fighting for her family, and it is a reason to respect her.

Interaction with the Other Characters

The peculiarity of Nora Helmer’s character is that her interaction with the characters in the play is completely different, and the whole range of her acquaintances also concerns her in various ways. For example, the woman does not deprive herself of the pleasure of teasing Dr. Rank, who has long been in love with her. As Bradford notes, Nora behaves playfully with her husband, but rather obediently than on equal terms (par. 4). In other words, she communicates differently with each of the characters, thereby creating for herself an image of the woman who knows how to adapt to circumstances and show female cunning.

Once she had the courage to commit a crime for the sake of her family, and she lived with the memory of her misdeed for many years and paid a certain amount of her debt secretly from her husband. The emergence of a traditional Ibsen’s fatal character, the so-called “outsider” Krogstad, inevitably leads to the fact that the past breaks into the present. Then it turns out that a calm, tender woman is just visibility. It was her who insisted that they all together should spend a year in Italy because the southern climate could have caused Torvald to be cured of the disease. As Rodriguez claims, such a deed demonstrates the ideals of realism (par. 4). Nora’s desire to prove that she also can be useful, that she wants to take care of her husband is one of the proofs of her kind and caring nature.

Her essence is being determined gradually. When Nora understands that her husband will not be proud of her after finding out all the details of her secret, she changes. The woman can no longer play the role of a happy, slightly frivolous mistress of her “doll house.” That is why she immediately removes not only from her husband but also from children. It is evident in the situation when Torvald promises her to change, and Nora responds to this that “perhaps – when your doll is taken away from you” (Ibsen 121). Perhaps, this is the moment when it becomes apparent that the woman has changed, and now her life and communication with the people around her will become entirely different.

Reasons for Nora’s Leaving the Family

Nora is feminine and fragile in appearance; the image of a small girl created by her husband is most likely a kind of her game. Probably, she is primarily a person who is morally oriented. When it turned out that her ideas about life are naive, childish and wrong, the woman dares to make an honest and truthful conclusion about herself: the lady has no right to be neither a wife nor a mother. That is why Nora leaves her home, although she feels that she is making a very serious and perhaps even a not fully considered step. If it were not for this decision, perhaps she would have to spend the rest of her life in a cage, the key to which only her husband had.

Assuming that Nora’s departure from the family is not hysteria but a balanced and well-realized act, it is possible to say that she will not return. Nevertheless, Ibsen’s contemporaries were wary of such a finale of the play, that it why it got a feminist status. The author even invented another melodramatic denouement: the woman does not go away, and at the last moment she stops as if changing her mind. However, in the original version “Nora pursues a new type of liberty” (Muhammed and Muhammad 204). She realizes that her relationship with husband will never be the same again; she tells him that he has never loved her and probably comes to one of the most important decisions in her life.

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Perhaps, the final point that convinced Nora of the need to leave was the words of Torvald, who accused her of deception. She expected her husband to appreciate her efforts, and according to Rajeswari, this was an example of Nora’s passionate devotion to Torvald (177). She naively assumed that the man values her more than anything in his life, and only when she understood all his priorities, did she begin to realize the futility of her sacrifice. Now she accuses Torvald of the thing that he and her father did so that her life was like the life of a doll. All these circumstances led to Nora’s leaving her home, quite a sudden but sufficiently conscious deed, especially when comparing this situation with modern norms of morality and family values.

Changes in Nora’s Character in the Course of the Play

Nora realizes that she was always a toy in the hands of others. At the same time being cheerful and entertaining someone does not mean being happy, even despite an external well-being, which, apparently, hid a deep anguish. To cultivate a genuinely free person who respects herself, she needs to throw off the mask of the doll, become independent, and for this sake, she decides to leave Helmer’s house. The events depicted in the drama do not make Nora different but only reveal the previously hidden features of her character and force her to look at her place in the family and herself.

As Torvald more and more shows his aversion to his wife after revealing the fact of forgery of documents, the main character understands that her husband is not the person whom she always considered him. Gradually, it comes to her awareness that the whole marriage is nothing more than a game, where each of them played his roles with talent. In Bradford’s opinion, that monolog, where Nora calmly and even somewhat coldly tells all her thoughts to her husband, is perhaps the best moment in the Ibsen’s play (par. 11). The realism that helps the author to convey all the emotional changes of a beautiful but yearning lady is seemingly the only way to vividly show how the life of an ordinary and quite prosperous young wife can radically change.

All these transformations fully justify Norah’s desire to leave the “doll’s house,” this “big nursery.” Nothing can bring her back to her former life, so she chooses an uncertain future full of dangers and difficulties, decides to live an independent life. Nora needs to leave to understand everything, to raise herself. The main character throughout her marriage life did many things that were considered to be sinful by the manly society that surrounded her (Muhammed and Muhammad 210). Probably, that is why when she saw a glimpse of freedom the woman decides to change her life radically and give up all the instructions and moralizing that of which she has already got bored.

Nora is gradually becoming a strong personality who uncompromisingly struggles for her freedom and tries to become a woman who can make her own decisions and be responsible for her actions. Therefore, the finale of the play remains open: the woman has not won yet, but the victory is already close. “You have never loved me. You have only thought it pleasant to be in love with me” (Ibsen 114). It is Nora’s phrase that reflects Ibsen’s idea and is the leitmotiv of the whole play, which remains relevant and topical on the stage even today, after almost 140 years of writing.

Works Cited

Bradford, Wade. “Nora Helmer: The Protagonist of “A Doll’s House.” ThoughtCo.

Holledge, Julie, et al. A Global Doll’s House: Ibsen and Distant Visions. Springer, 2016.

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Ibsen, Henrik. A Doll’s House. Translated by William Archer, The Gresham Press, 1889.

Muhammed, Ashti, A., and Muhammad, Asma, A. “Realism in Ibsen’s a Doll’s House: a Critical Study.” International Journal of Humanities and Cultural Studies, vol. 3, no. 4, 2017, pp. 203-216.

Rajeswari, Tara. “Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll House” and R. K. Narayan’s “Dark Room” – an Appraisal.” Research Journal of English Language and Literature, vo. 1, no. 3, 2013, pp. 175-178.

Rodriguez, Stephanie. “A Doll’s House.” Prezi, 2013. Web.