A Dollhouse by Henrik Ibsen is the story of one woman’s struggle to free herself
from a world of guilt and false livelihood. The story is based on the author’s own account
of a fellow friend and journalist named Laura Peterson Kieler who was burdened with a
hidden crime just as Nora, the main character, is(Ibsen, 1785). According to Ibsen, Kieler
illegally borrowed money with the help of a bank associate by forging the signature of her
wealthy father. The money was used to pay for her ailing husband’s medical needs.
Ibsen’s storyline in A Dollhouse is an exact replica of the events of Kieler’s conflicts, but
the character of Nora is based on another figure, Ibsen’s wife Suzanna(Ibsen, 1787).
Nora’s doll-like demeaner and appearence is how Ibsen supposedly viewed his wife. This
doll/independent woman identity crisis harbored by Nora becomes the other main conflict
in the story. This false personality is based on the dependence she has on her husband and
her fear of being alone. This doll appearance becomes more prevalent after her crime is
committed because she feels she has to keep everything in perfect, “dollhouse” order or
her secret will be revealed. Because her true self, strong and independent, is held back
and baracaded with with lies and fear, she almost loses her mind as the story unfolds.
Although her main conflicts are held within her trapped and confused mind, other main
struggles are created through her numerous and overbearing relationships with the other
characters in the play. These relationships along with the relationships between other
characters evolve into continuous strains on the already puzzled mind of Nora and become
as important as any other conflict in the play.
The central relationship in the play revolves around Nora and her husband Torvald.
The titled “dollhouse” is created because of the way they act toward each other. Nora,
being Torvald’s baby and unmovable attachment, and Torvald being the domineering
master of the household. Their entire relationship is based on a false sense of reality
created by their baby-like banter and the nievity in which they carry out the day to day
actions of their lives. For example, Torvald calls Nora his “little lark”(Ibsen, 1668) and
“little squirrel”(Ibsen, 1668). Although this simple name-calling may be considered
romantic and loving, there is a hidden side to both characters that is concealed in these
childish actions. Helmer grows accustom to being the father figure to Nora and in essence
begins to believe in its false meaning.
Their relationship is need-based not only from a financial standpoint but from the
need for future respect as well. The author states “Nora is happy because she sees the
future in wholly economic terms.”(Hemmer, 1790) Nora has to keep her doll-like image to
ensure her future and also to keep her secrets and true identity from being revealed.(Ibsen,
71) She believes that if her strong independent side is shown to her husband he will find
out all the things she is hiding including her criminal relationship with Krogstad. Torvald
keeps his place in the acting dollhouse because he has hidden feelings like Nora’s that will
ruin his “good-guy” reputation if out in the open. Their true relationship isn’t one of
lovey-dovey talk and romanticism but rather one of deceit and betrayal. Their lies are
kept secret throughout the story by their perfectly executed acts of life, but in the end their
real relationship breaks through and their true feelings surface.
Nora’s importance to the story is also shown in her relationship with the character
of Dr. Rank. Rank, the town doctor and family friend of the Helmer’s becomes one of the
key players in Nora’s dollhouse. At the beginning of the play, Rank is in the Helmer’s
house where has supposedly come to visit Torvald. Because Nora and Rank have been
good friends for such a long time, nothing unusual is noticed between the two. As the
play moves along we find out that Rank has secrets like the other characters of the story.
He is in love with Nora. Nora relies on him for sympathy and understanding but can’t
accept the fact that he is in love with her. When he tells her his true feelings, she simply
disregards them as foolish talk and goes about her business. She soon comes to find out
that he is being sincere is his remarks and this provides Nora with another dilemma. This
becomes a huge turning point in the story because her main ally, Dr. Rank,