The play A Doll House (1879), by Henrik Ibsen, has a realistic feel that compels the reader to identify with the main characters and the situation that they find themselves facing. The wife, Nora, is in all but one scene, and nearly all the scenes occur in a single room. She is the main character, and it is her unraveling and self-discovery that the reader is spectator to.
Act I begins by introducing Nora Helmer. She enters the room carrying packages and eating macaroons. Nora's husband, Torvald, enters the living room as Nora quickly hides her sweets from him. This interaction sets the world of the play, acting as the prologue. We learn that Torvald has forbidden her to eat macaroons, or any sweets, in order to keep her teeth nice. He does so as a parent admonishes a child instead of as a husband speaking to his wife.
The inciting event follows quickly. Nora shows Torvald the presents that she bought for their children for Christmas. He calls her a spendthrift and then accuses her of eating sweets. Nora lies, denying that she has, allows the reader to understand that she lies to her husband when it suits her. This is a small lie and a small secret but the stage has been set for bigger untruths and bigger secrets.
Mrs. Linde, a childhood friend of Nora's, and Dr. Rank, Torvald's best friend, both arrive at the Helmer home at the same time. Dr. Rank retires to Torvald's study, and Mrs. Linde reacquaints with Nora. The two have not seen one another in about a decade. Nora acts very much like a naïve child throughout the conversation with her friend. She tells Mrs. Linde about Torvald's approaching appointment to bank manager and expresses how relieved she is that they will soon have all the money they might need. Mrs. Linde chides her for fixating on money and Nora replies by telling her that she and Torvald have worked very hard for what they have. Nora shares with Mrs. Linde about the vacation they took to Italy and how it was her father who had paid their way. The reader is suspicious; Nora may be lying, and, in fact, the reader quickly finds that she is.
When Mrs. Linde makes an off-hand remark about how naïve and childish Nora is, Nora rushes to boast that in fact her father did not pay for their vacation but that she, Nora, had taken out a loan herself in order to save her husband's life. This is the beginning of the rising action, with the first complication following as the reader learns that Torvald does not know of Nora's actions even after eight years of marriage. Nora goes a step further as questioning continues and admits to Mrs. Linde that she'll keep the revelation of that secret from Torvald until such time as she needs it for leverage, such as when her looks and charm wear off.
Just how important the `secret' is to the play becomes evident in the chain of events surrounding the misunderstood Krogstad's first visit to the Helmer home. Krogstad loaned Nora the money and now works...