Category Archives: Nora Helmer

Little Songbird

In Act I of A Doll’s House, we are immediately forced to form an opinion of Miss Nora, and an unfavorable one at that.  Her husband Torvald repeatedly patronizes her using words such as “pretty little,” “spendthrift,” and various comparisons to birds (a trope pertaining to women found often in literature, suggesting that Nora is somehow caged).  Nora does nothing to change our initial impression of her, if not she worsens it in her lie to Mrs. Linde.  In speaking of her trip to Italy, Nora tells Mrs. Linde that she procured all of the funds for said trip by herself.  At first she attempts to tell the truth, she got a loan in secret despite the legal issues it could possibly bring, but in hearing her friend’s response she fabricates a lie.  This lie paints her in a better view in the reader’s eyes (Nora is a strong woman, working to keep her family), yet nevertheless, she is later outed to us by Krogstad.

In the reveal that she owes Krogstad the entire sum of money spent on the Italy trip, we learn why her husband comparing her to birds is not just a term of endearment (at least metaphorically).  Nora is in debt and, putting it bluntly, she is being blackmailed by this man.  There is no clear way for her recover from this, especially with her husband refusing to listen to her forced pleas about allowing Krogstad to keep his position at the Bank.

Society and Self Worth: A Discussion of Act I

After reading through Act I of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House I gathered some interesting insight regarding humanity through the fictional characters of Ibsen’s play. Through his writing, a certain facet of human beings has been brought the light, and I find that the comparison made between the fictional characters of yesteryear and the millennials of today share some of the same qualities. But before I go ahead and underline a possible vice of my generation and species, I would first like to point out that I am an instigator of this facet.

As a future teacher, I have founded a creed, that “the best of part of life is playing a positive role in someone else’s story. And that it is enough to make you happy for the rest of your life.” Essentially, I find purpose in life by interacting and hopefully inspiring those under my tutelage so that they might pursue and succeed in their life’s ambitions. While it seems that this reason for living is self sustaining, I have come to find that it is not. I have found that for me to feel as though I have a purpose in life, I must derive that purpose from other human beings. That I define my self-worth from other people. While this reason might seem a little farfetched I have found that many of the characters of Ibsen’s play also derive their self worth from other places

In the beginning of the play we find two characters at very different emotional states. Nora, is over the moon with happiness. While Kristine seems to be stuck grounded to the earth, in spite of the her recent misfortunes. Nora seems elated because of those who surround her; she has three lovely children of whom she barely interacts with because of the nanny, and a financially well off husband that will not even allow her to snack on macaroons. Despite the glaring problems within Nora’s family she seems completely content, deriving much of her happiness and self worth from children she can boast about and a husband she can get an allowance from. She states “I must say it’s lovely to have plenty of money and not have to worry. Isn’t it? (Isben 9)” I guess it is Nora! Meanwhile as Nora enjoys her over controlling husband and vacant children, Kristine goes to further underline this human quality. After losing her mother and her brothers grow old enough to find sustainable jobs, Kristine finds herself in the need of another purpose in life, deriving it from Nora. In a conversation with Dr. Rank, Kristine states “I have come to look for work”, to which Dr. Rank responds”is that supposed to be some kind of sovereign remedy for being run down?” Kristine responds adamantly, saying “one must live, Doctor (Isben 18)” So it seems that after every person Kristine derives her purpose from goes away, only then does she resort to finding work. And not even work she finds by her own merit, rather work she asks for from a friend she has not seen in years.

So do we as humans only find happiness by deriving it from others? By receiving a purpose given to us by other human beings. It may seem that way, but I digress.

Mrs Linde vs Nora – the difference money makes

From the outset, Doll’s House has a negative view of women. The first women that is introduced is Nora, a spendthrift” and selfish housewife who seems not to think of anyone but herself. In the opening chapters, Nora is repeatedly scorned by her husband Helmer for “wasting money.” Nora spends money at such a rate that Helmer had “overworked himself dreadfully” in order to keep up with her spending.

The second women we meet, is Christine Linde. Mrs Linde is a women that has been so stressed that Nora could not recognize her since seeing her a decade before. However, Mrs Linde has experienced somewhat similar events to Nora, but their circumstances turned out completely differently because of the legacy money Nora had been left from her “papa”. Both Christine and Nora’s husbands had fallen ill, but Nora was given money from her father in order to pay for the doctors and rest time that Helmer needed, but Christine’s husband but away, leaving Christine without “even a sorrow or grief to live upon”. So while Nora “spent a whole year in Italy,” and went on holiday so Helmer could rest, Christine was forced to “turn my(her) hand to anything I (she) could find” in order to try and support her brothers and mother. Nora is riddled with good fortune, while Christine is left to fend for herself in a world that seems far more harsh.

The vast difference in their circumstances is exaggerated when Christine says her troubles are at end because her mother has passed away and her brothers have moved on so she doesn’t have to look after them, while Nora believes her ‘problems’ are over because Helmer was named manager of the bank and now has “heaps and heaps of money.” The only real difference in their respective stories is that Christine had “no father to give me money for my (her) journey.” This just highlights the influence of money and status on the fortunes of individuals, especially in the era Ibsen is writing in.

Helmer’s Little Squirrel: What Nora Means to Him

“Helmer: You can’t deny it, Nora dear. [Puts his arm round her waist.] My pretty little pet is very sweet, but it runs away with an awful lot of money. It’s incredible how expensive it is for a man to keep such a pet.” (4)

In this quote the audiences gets a real sense of who Helmer is as a man and a husband. Thus far, it has become extremely clear that he values material goods over most anything else. He is concerned with money, whether he has it or not. Furthermore, he fears that Nora is spending it on frivolous things that the family doesn’t need. This does not only demonstrate his obsessive nature about money but also his opinions on his wife.

Throughout the first section, Helmer calls his wife a variety of derogatory nicknames: “little sky-lark” (1), “little squirrel” (2), “little spendthrift” (3), etc. At first glance it might seem sweet that he calls her by all these names when in reality they are very demeaning. They all begin with “little” and who wants to be called a squirrel? Also, in the quote above he actually calls her “it.” The use of these names shows that Helmer thinks very little of Nora and that he does not believe that she has very much value. At this point, he does not even treat her as human. He describes her as his pet, as something that he owns and for which he is responsible.

The characteristics that Helmer has shown up to this point allude to his view of women in the world. He only sees Nora as a silly woman who wants to spend his hard-earned money. Later, of course, we learn that she is a lot stronger and more clever than Helmer believes. This notion of women’s place in the world does reflect the times as the play was published in 1879 when women were not expected to work or have any serious responsibilities.

Nora and the Role of Women

(I have a different edition, so page numbers will vary.)

Mrs Linde. So it has all had to come out of your own necessaries of life, poor Nora?

Nora. Of course. Besides, I was the one responsible for it. Whenever Torvald has given me money for new dresses and such things, I have never spent more than half of it; I have always bought the simplest and cheapest things. Thank Heaven, any clothes look well on me, and so Torvald has never noticed it. But it was often very hard on me, Christine–because it is delightful to be really well dressed, isn’t it?

Mrs. Linde. Quite so.

Nora. Well, then I have found other ways of earning money. Last winter I was lucky enough to get a lot of copying to do; so I locked myself up and sat writing every evening until quite late at night. Many a time I was desperately tired; but all the same it was a tremendous pleasure to sit there working and earning money. It was like being a man. (14)

Throughout Nora’s conversation with her friend Mrs. Linde, we learn that Helmer, Nora’s husband, has recently recovered from a potentially deathly illness, but he did not have the funds to travel for his treatment, so Nora (illegally) borrowed them. She has since been working in secret to repay her debts.

This particular passage stood out to me because Nora states that working is “like being a man (14),” which provides us with an interesting insight regarding the role of women in the time during which this play was written. Helmer treats Nora in an almost childlike way. Here, we see it in the way he gives her money like a parent would a child’s allowance. Because of the time period, it is uncommon for a woman to earn her own money. She is dependent on her husband a similar way to how children are dependent on their parents. We can find more examples of this childlike treatment in other places in the text, such as the scene near the beginning in which Helmer states that Nora is forbidden from eating macaroons and she replies that she “should not think of going against [your] wishes (5).” Some of his conversations with her seem almost as if he were speaking to a child instead of an adult woman. For example, his “sweet little spendthrift (5)” speech near the beginning of the play came across to me as very condescending. To a modern reader, the fact a simple act of adult independence such as earning her own money makes Nora feel like a man reads as an interesting comment on women’s place in society at the time.

A Fool’s Fool: A Look at Nora’s Character

“Helmer: Forgery, that’s all. Don’t you know what that means?

Nora: Mayn’t he have been driven to it by need?

Helmer: Yes, or like so many others, done it out or heedlessness. I am not so hard-hearted as to condemn a man absolutely for a single fault.

Nora: No, surely not, Torvald.

Helmer: Many a man can retrieve his character if he owns his crime and takes the punishment.

Nora: Crime?” (Act I, pg. 46)

In this conversation between Nora, the protagonist, and her husband, Helmer, Nora is trying to persuade Helmer to forgive Krogstad for something that Nora herself has done in the past, of which Helmer knows nothing of. I thought this conversation was very risky of Nora to have with Helmer, even though Krogstad just came to threaten her if she didn’t. To me, Nora is giving too much away in the way she is reacting to what Helmer is saying, but Helmer, being a naive husband that he is, doesn’t think for one second that his “little lark” could do anything so incriminating.

Nora is portrayed in a very complicated light throughout the first act. She is portrayed as a shopaholic, maybe even a gold-digger, and dependent on many occasions, but then she is portrayed as strong-willed, persuasive, and decisive on all other occasions. Nora seems to only have the weak persona when Helmer is around or near. When Christina is with her, she divulges just how decisive she was in saving her husband’s life, and the strong-willed actions she took in order to do it. When she is confronted with Krogstad, even though by all means this is the time when she is allowed to seem weak, she stands up to him and does not let him rattle her, though he has all the evidence he could need to incriminate her and bring shame upon her family. Yet in the scenes when it is just her and Helmer, she is always asking for money, though we learn why, dancing and humming about, and doing anything and everything to appease her husband.

The role of appeasing wife seems to take import on Nora’s character, even though it makes her out to be foolish on multiple occasions. Thankfully the audience knows better by the end of the act than to only think of her as a “little lark”, but Helmer’s character remains in the dark and therefore is even portrayed as a fool himself.