The Heroic Nora Helmer in Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House
What does it mean to be a hero? According to Webster, a hero is someone "of great strength [and] courage" who is "admired" for his or her "courage and nobility."1 Stretching this definition a bit further, I would argue that a hero is someone who uses this strength, courage, and nobility to help or save others. Nora Helmer, in Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House, leaves her husband and family at the end of the play-a move that can be viewed as either very selfish or very heroic. Because Nora uses her strength and courage in effort to save others and herself from the false "doll's house" life they are living in, her final act of leaving home is truly heroic. Nora saves her children from being raised by a mother who doesn't know the first thing about being a mother and she saves Torvald by no longer enabling him to live the false life he has built for himself. Finally, she saves herself by taking herself out of the "doll's house" and into the real world to discover who she is and what she believes.
Although leaving her children is quite possibly one of the most difficult things for a mother to do, Nora, through great strength, does this to save them from being raised by herself: a woman who doesn't know how to be a mother. Some may argue that Nora's move is purely selfish because her children, who love her dearly, have their lives wrapped up in her very existence. She is their playmate and, very likely, the only parent who will take any time for them since their father seems much more interested in his job than his children's lives. How can she just abandon her children, leaving them helpless?
These arguments are solid, but they are overlooking the kind of mother Nora is. When her children arrive at home for the first time, she treats them like little dolls, toys to play with. This can be seen when she calls her youngest child her "sweet little baby-doll," and later when she reassures her children that "the doggies wouldn't bite [her] pretty little dollies" (22).2 Nora seems to be overlooking the fact that these little, doll-like figures are real people that she is responsible for. In this same scene, Nora plays hide-and-seek, "laughing and shrieking," with her kids (23). As the argument-that Nora is being selfish-states, she is her children's playmate. Yet, shouldn't a mother be more than just a fellow playmate? A mother has a responsibility to teach and train her children, not just play with them. This scene is the only time we see direct interaction between Nora and her kids; it suggests that being a playmate or else using them as her play toys, are two of the only ways Nora knows how to be a mother. Nora herself admits to Torvald, in their final confrontation, that the children "have been my dolls" who "thought it was fun when I went and played with them" (81).
Later in the play, after this first scene with her...