Condescending Masculinity

Helmer. Is it my little squirrel bustling about?

Nora. Yes!

Helmer. When did my squirrel come home?

Nora. Just now. [Puts the bag of macaroons into her pocket and wipes her mouth.] Come in here, Torvald, and see what I have bought.

Helmer. Don’t disturb me. [A little later, he opens the door and looks into the room, pen in hand.] Bought, did you say? All these things? Has my little spendthrift been wasting money again?

Nora. Yes but, Torvald, this year we really can let ourselves go a little. This is the first Christmas that we have not needed to economise.

Helmer. Still, you know, we can’t spend money recklessly.

Nora. Yes, Torvald, we may be a wee bit more reckless now, mayn’t we? Just a tiny wee bit! You are going to have a big salary and earn lots and lots of money.

Helmer. Yes, after the New Year; but then it will be a whole quarter before the salary is due.

Nora. Pooh! we can borrow until then.

Helmer. Nora! [Goes up to her and takes her playfully by the ear.] The same little featherhead! Suppose, now, that I borrowed fifty pounds today, and you spent it all in the Christmas week, and then on New Year’s Eve a slate fell on my head and killed me, and–

Nora [putting her hands over his mouth]. Oh! don’t say such horrid things.

Helmer. Still, suppose that happened,–what then?

Nora. If that were to happen, I don’t suppose I should care whether I owed money or not.

Helmer. Yes, but what about the people who had lent it?

Nora. They? Who would bother about them? I should not know who they were.

Helmer. That is like a woman! But seriously, Nora, you know what I think about that. No debt, no borrowing. There can be no freedom or beauty about a home life that depends on borrowing and debt. We two have kept bravely on the straight road so far, and we will go on the same way for the short time longer that there need be any struggle.

Nora [moving towards the stove]. As you please, Torvald.

I chose the above passage from A Doll’s House as it was part of the opening of the story, but also because it sets the time period, and the way both Torvald and Nora will be interacting throughout. By calling her a name like squirrel I believe that Torvald is already putting Nora is a position of being below him. A name like “squirrel” is putting her as someone who is basically helpless and needs a lot of support. My assumption is further proven when Nora asks for Torvald to come check out what she had bought, and he blows her off by saying “Don’t disturb me.”

A Doll’s House was first published and performed in December 1879 in Denmark. The perceived role of women back in that period was much different than now, and is something that needs to be recognized by the reader. Torvald is consistently condescending throughout the story, but this is something that was considered OK. Men took the dominant role in marriage, and this makes life very difficult for Nora. Torvald gives Nora a hard time for spending money on gifts, even though Torvald has a higher rank at the bank starting in the new year. When Nora attempts to justify, Torvald makes up a possible reason why he could end up losing the job, and what would she do to pay back the debit of buying things on credit. When she says it wouldn’t matter at that point, he generalizes that what she said is typical of a woman.

3 thoughts on “Condescending Masculinity

  1. sarahl

    While Torvald does refer to Nora multiple times as a “spendthrift” or a “squirrel” and other odd labels multiple times throughout the first two acts, I’m very curious as to how actors and actresses would perform and interpret the interactions between Torvald and Nora. While these labels can seem very condescending and obnoxious, the stage directions and actions of the characters do not give me a vibe of a controlling husband. For example;
    Torvald: [laughing]. That’s very true – all you can. But you can’t save anything!
    Nora: [smiling quietly and happily]. You haven’t any idea how many expenses we skylarks and squirrels have, Torvald. (page 4)
    Throughout the two acts, Nora does not seem offended. However, I must acknowledge that it is difficult to interpret the emotions without the narrative of one of the characters and without seeing their facial expressions and hearing their tones of voice. While the language may seem condescending, I question the control Torvald has over his wife as well as the impact this control has on Nora.
    Also, times certainly have changed over the past century – women are ABLE to take more control – however I can’t help but think of some women who allow their husbands to take the dominant role and go to them for money so they can be “spendthrifts”.

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  2. rlong

    I would like to elaborate on Scott’s point that Helmer believes that Nora’s comment about not caring about owing money is “typical of a woman.”

    When Nora tells Helmer that it wouldn’t matter whether she owed money or not if he died, she is somewhat justifying her own actions. She borrowed money illegally in order to save her husband’s life. ON the contrary, Nora is far from being a “typical” woman. In fact, this action of hers puts her far away from the diminutive role Helmer tries to place her in. Instead of being a foolish spendthrift, she is a quiet, thoughtful, and intelligent protector of her family.

    Rebecca Long

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  3. Shannon Thornhill

    I agree with Rebecca. Nora is not the “typical” woman. Helmer thinks that his wife is a “normal” housewife. She obeys his orders and looks after the house the kids and him, and that is all he sees. The only problem that Helmer thinks that Nora has is that she spends too much money. But I believe that Helmer actually likes the fact that she spends so much money because then she will come to him more often in need. He likes that she has to be submissive and act like his “little squirrel” to get something from him. But Nora I feel is playing him. She knows how to keep her husband happy and how to be a hard worker. She has sacrificed to find jobs and to work and to keep all of this from her husband. Granted she has done all the of this for the sake of her husband and keeping him alive. But at the time most women would have let their husbands die, instead of doing illegal deals and working off the debt. She truly was not a “typical” woman of her time.

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