"A Doll's House," written by Norwegian Henrik Ibsen, is a play about a seemingly unworldly house wife, Nora Helmer, who is not as naive as she initially appears. Over time, Nora becomes increasingly rebellious toward her overbearing husband, Torvald Helmer. "A Doll's House" first appeared on stage in 1879. In telling the tale of a feminist housewife's spiritual awakening, the play makes the point that appearances are not always what they seem.
When the play first opens, it is obvious that Torvald holds and enjoys the position of authority in his marriage with Nora. He frequently treats her like a child, which in turn causes Nora to engage in child-like behavior, and favors a marriage in which the wife is dependent on the husband. Torvald's condescending nature is characteristic of his beliefs about women; mainly. that women are inferior to men. When addressing his wife, Torvald consistently adds the word "little" to his terms of endearment (e.g., "my poor little Nora") to demonstrate his authority in the relationship.
Given Torvald's condescending character, it is ironic that he is quite immature and childish himself. Not only has Torvald failed to reach a point in his adult life where he is less-than-concerned with what others think of him, but he is easily threatened by others. For example, Nora requests that Torvald retain the services of Krogstad -- someone whom Nora owes a financial debt -- but Torvald outwardly declines to keep Krogstad employed for fear of what the community may think. He doesn't explain his real reason for letting Krogstad go, which is that he is dismissive.
Torvald's positive character traits are few and far between, and hypocrisy is yet another negative trait to add to the list. In the third act of the play, Torvald professes to Nora that he will be by her side no matter what may come. Yet, shortly afterward, Torvald learns that Nora has brought shame on the family and instead of fulfilling his promise, he instead blames Nora for ruining his life. In addition to abandoning her in a moment of need, he also threatens to take their children away from her.
Torvald, despite his negative character traits, in the end often elicits pity from "A Doll's House" audiences. This is because at the end of the play, Nora, who is fed up with being treated like a doll and a child, abandons Torvald. Torvald begs and pleads for her forgiveness, hoping Nora will stay, but she stands firm. The play ends with a crying Torvald who, while upset, still cannot understand how his character traits led to the demise of his marriage.
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