If drama is tension, then Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House must be an all-out war, with Ibsen taking on the role of a Realistic Period Patton. The play, first published in 1879, tells the story of Nora, a middle-aged house wife living in a society in which she has no rights or voice. However, with disregard to societal norms and the law, Nora forges her father’s signature to borrow money so that she and her family may go on a vacation that is responsible for saving her husband’s life. With Nora’s action unbeknownst to him, Nora’s husband, Torvald, fires the man from whom Nora loaned the money. Ibsen foreshadows, introduces, and resolves the conflict flowingly, leaving the reader in suspense throughout the entire play.
Ibsen doesn’t blatantly present the conflict to the reader at the onset of the play. Instead, he gives the reader subtle clues that suggest conflicting character traits may later serve as catalysts for the tension. For instance, the play opens during the Christmas season. Nora is returning home from buying a tree for her house and gifts for her children. Nora calls Torvald into the room to “come and see what [she has] bought,” (12). Though Nora is obviously proud of herself for buying her family gifts, her husband’s sardonic tone shows his opinion that she has been too excessive in her spending: “Did you say you bought? All that? Has Madame Extravagant been throwing money away again?” (12). If the Helmers disagree on spending money on Christmas gifts, then the same argument would surely occur over borrowing a large sum of money. Ibsen leaves it up to his reader to fill in the blank for this syllogistic foreshadowing.
In reply to Torvald’s reprimand, Nora reminds her husband of his new, higher-paying promotion, and of the always-available option of borrowing money, if the need arises. This suggestion sets off Torvald’s temper in an even worse way. “Nora, you know how I feel about all that. NO DEBTS. Never borrow! When a home has its foundations built upon borrowing, upon debt, then some part of its freedom, some part of its beauty is lost,” Torvald exclaims (13). Torvald’s declaration is another prime example of Ibsen’s use of foreshadowing. As the play progresses, the reader discovers that a while before Christmas, Nora went against her husband’s beliefs and wishes and borrowed money which she used to go on a vacation that saved his life. By saving the life of the “head of the house” with a loan, Nora forces Torvald’s passion to become ironic; he is vehemently against that which he doesn’t yet know saved his life.
Ibsen continues to build relationships to reveal the source of the central tension to the reader as the story continues. One principal example of such a relationship is the one between Nora and her friend, Mrs. Linde. Mrs. Linde attended the same school as Nora. When Mrs. Linde arrives at Nora’s house, Nora explains the situation with the Italian vacation and Torvald, including the financial details. When Mrs. Linde...