Role of Women vs. Men

Helmer. Well, well, out with it!

Nora. You could always give me money, Torvald. Only what you think you could spare. And then I could buy myself something with it later on.

Helmer. But Nora…

Nora. Oh, please, Torvald dear! Please! I beg you. Then I’d wrap the money up in some pretty gilt paper and hang it on the Christmas tree. Wouldn’t that be fun?

Helmer. What do we call my pretty little pet when it runs away with all the money?

Nora. I know, I know, we call it a spendthrift. But please let’s do what I said, Torvald. Then I’ll have a bit of time to think about what I need most. Isn’t that awfully sensible, now, eh?

Helmer. Yes, it is indeed–that is, if only you really could hold on to the money I gave you, and really did buy something for yourself with it. But it just gets mixed up with the housekeeping and frittered away on all sorts of useless things, and then I have to dig into my pocket all over again.


Throughout the first two acts of this play, one cannot help but notice the very different roles that each character, especially depending on gender, plays in the household. The most notable comparison comes with the relationship between Helmer and Nora. Husband and wife, this couple would certainly maintain an equal partnership in maintaining the house, family, etc. in today’s society. However, it is clear here that such a relationship is not present, surely reflective on how such partnerships were constructed during this time period.

In this passage, it is more than obvious who calls the shots in this relationship. Nora must beg her husband to even consider allotting her any extra money, implying that he assumes full control of the family’s finances. Even though we later find out that her intentions for wanting the extra allowance were in fact very good-natured, Helmer is adamant in believing that she will do nothing but waste it, the reason for which we can assume is because she is a woman and therefore has no regard for monetary value. While Nora seems to lead a more “Lady Macbeth” type role in this play as she cryptically runs the household behind her husband’s back, Helmer refuses to believe that she has enough sense to even handle a small bit of extra money.

I chose this passage because it represents something very prevalent that I noticed throughout the first two acts. Helmer (as well as the other male characters) neglect to see that Nora is in fact a strong character that is worthy of respect and possibly more sensible & able than one might think upon first interaction. It will be interesting to see how this cryptically strong woman can overcome the obstacles of such an ignorant society in order to thrive under the pressure of very obvious and troubling acts of sexism and disrespect.

3 thoughts on “Role of Women vs. Men

  1. mcclellanjosh108

    This post really interested me because I was able to immediately see how Nora’s desire to surround herself with perfection affects how she acts and reacts, and you can even go so far to say it affects how others treat her throughout the majority of this work in regards to gender roles in the time period.

    Even in the very beginning of Act I, Nora is goes “cautiously to her husband’s door” in order to check if he is home. As we learn throughout the play, however, Nora’s actions represent a very interesting complex of perfectionism that she expresses a keen desire for, a desire so strong, she is willing to go behind everyone’s backs in order to reach it. Because of this, even more questions are raised.

    Is she cautious because she is afraid of her husband’s reaction? That it might ruin this perfect mental construction that Nora has masterminded in her conscience? What length does she go to prevent the slightest imperfection from reaching her awareness?

    I think one could go so far that Nora isn’t necessarily subject to her husband, or anyone for that matter. This unhealthy desire of perfection is most certainly something that has her in shackles, but she manipulates this desire to show through other forms like playful optimism and in this passage, begging for approval seems to fit that niche. She is able to satisfy her own wishes and essentially reach some form of temporary peace while keeping others’ perception of her at a certain medium.

    I believe Nora understands her gender roles and the time period she is in. She may not like it, and she definitely does not, but the imbalance of her relationship is something she views as necessary. Although her husband’s actions along with the rest of the men in the play are a force attempting to pull her back into the traditional mindset of the time, While Nora may have the best intentions in breaking the majority of the rules put in front of her, “The Law cares nothing about motives,” and the consequences she faces throughout the rest of the work suggests that Krogstad’s virtue holds true, even for Krogstad himself.

  2. mcclellanjosh108

    *fixing typos

    “Although her husband’s actions along with the rest of the men in the play are a force attempting to pull her back into the traditional mindset of the time, Nora’s moral code that she has created for herself is a stronger force.”

  3. philipes

    First of all, I do not disagree with your point, that Torvald underestimates Nora’s capability in this passage and throughout the rest of the play. At this point in the play, we have seen her ability to manipulate the people that she knows, and to take action in secret. Torvald and the other male characters use disrespectful, sexist language in reference to Nora, which is likely a symbol of sexism during that time period in Norway. However, I would consider, looking beyond those obsolete moral values of the time period, how Torvald might be right in his reluctance to give extra allowance to Nora.
    Let’s consider the other instances in the play, in which Nora has spent, or been responsible for money. As soon as the play began, Nora was spending money carelessly. She paid the porter a tip that was nearly double what he had requested. This may seem insignificant, but because it is the opening scene of the play, one must consider it as especially representative of her character.
    The other major expenditure made by Nora is even more telling. To fund a life-saving trip for her husband, she borrows a loan from Krogstad, on which, due to her father’s untimely sickness, she is forced to forge her father’s signature. Although it is not direct spending, this action illustrates Nora’s misconceptions in regards to money, debt, and more generally, the people in the outside world. She has lived in a doll house her entire life, with little to no contact with any other people, besides a small group of friends. At this point in Nora’s life, she does not yet comprehend the fact that, in the outside world, her actions effect other people; people that she doesn’t know; people that don’t care about her, or her husband’s life-and-death situation. Society’s definition of “wife” has confined Nora to this isolated status. Torvald is guilty of manifesting that confinement, but I would argue that, to an extent, Nora has as well, whether she knows it or not.


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