Sympathy for Nora in Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House
In "A Doll's House," Henrik Ibsen primarily addresses issues not only relating to women in Norway, but to women embarking on twentieth century life in general. To achieve his desired effect, he employs the use of contextual dialog and places Nora as the central character, which gives her a great edge. Because of her prominent role throughout the play, she becomes familiar, and what is familiar is favored. With the lone exception of the exchange between Mrs. Linde and Krogstad at the beginning of Act III, there is not a single scene that features a dialog that in some way does not include a prominent part from Nora. It soon becomes apparent that Nora emerges from the dramatis personae as the pièce de résistance Ibsen intends to win our sympathies.
In Act I, scene I, the stage is set, bringing the meaning behind the plays' title into sharp focus. Here, Ibsen uses contextual dialog to demonstrate that Nora is indeed, as the title implies, little more than a doll in a toy house, a plaything that Torvald doesn't take seriously. For instance, Torvald asks: "Is that my little lark twittering out there? Is it my little squirrel bustling about?" (Ibsen, 500). A short pace later, he calls her "a poor little girl," and then adds "you needn't ruin your dear eyes and your pretty little hands" (502). Nora appears to willingly-if not a little naïvely-play into this role: after clapping her hands she replies, "No, Torvald, I needn't any longer, need I! It's wonderfully lovely to hear you say so" (503).
A second issue Ibsen presents for consideration in the first scene is a discussion of money, Nora appearing to play the role of the pampered child with a penchant for shiny coins clinking together:
Nora (playing with his coat buttons, and without raising her eyes to his). If you really want to give me something, you might-you might-
Helmer. Well, out with it!
Nora (speaking quickly). You might give me money, Torvald. Only just as much as you can afford; and then one of these days I will buy something with it.
Helmer. But, Nora-
Nora. Oh, do! dear Torvald; please, please do! Then I will wrap it up in beautiful gilt paper and hang it on the Christmas tree. Wouldn't that be fun?
Helmer. What are little people called that are always wasting money?
Nora. Spendthrifts-I know. Let us do as you suggest, Torvald, and then I shall have time to think what I am most in want of. That is a very sensible plan, isn't it? (Ibsen, 501)
For all appearances sake, we are led to believe that Nora has her every whim indulged by her husband, the two engaged in a mutually dependent game-just as one might expect when playing a game of tea time with the frilly dolls arranged expectantly around the table. Few are the vestiges of respectability and maturity; the exchanges seems almost saccharine and we are inclined to view both characters askance. Ibsen, however, has a few tricks up his sleeve: he...