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Free Barron's Booknotes-A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen-Free Book Notes
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THE PLAY

THE PLOT - SHORT SCENE SUMMARY (Synopsis)

(The following edition was used in the preparation of this guide: Henrik Ibsen, Four Major Plays, Vol. I, trans. by Rolf Fjelde, Signet Classic, 1965.)

It's Christmas Eve. Nora Helmer, a beautiful young wife, has been out doing some last-minute shopping. When she returns, her husband Torvald immediately comes to see what his "little squirrel" has bought. They playfully act out their roles-Torvald the big, strong husband, Nora the dependent, adoring wife.

This is a happy Christmas for the Helmers and their children because Torvald has recently been appointed manager of the bank. Soon they'll be well off and won't have to scrimp. However, Torvald will still control the cash in the house, because he feels that his irresponsible Nora lets money run through her fingers, a trait she "inherited" from her father.

An old school friend, Kristine Linde, comes to visit Nora. During the conversation, Kristine reveals that she had married a wealthy man she didn't love in order to support an invalid mother. Her husband's death three years ago left her penniless and she's returned to seek work. Nora promises to speak to Torvald about a job in his bank.

Having had such a hard time herself, Kristine is scornful of Nora's easy married life until Nora describes a secret she has been concealing for many years. Early in her marriage, when Torvald became seriously ill, she secretly borrowed a large sum to finance a year-long stay in a warmer climate. Since he did not know the extent of his illness, and since, even if he had known, borrowing money would have been against his principles, she pretended the money was from her late father. Since then she has been struggling to repay the debt by economizing from her personal allowance and by secretly working at home.


The women are interrupted by the arrival of Nils Krogstad, a clerk in Torvald's bank. When Krogstad goes into the study, Dr. Rank, an old family friend, comes out. Knowing of Krogstad's reputation as a forger, Rank tells the women that Krogstad is one of those "moral invalids." Unknown to any of them, Torvald is firing Krogstad. This leaves a vacancy, and, 9when Torvald joins them, he agrees to give Kristine the job. Torvald, Dr. Rank, and Kristine then leave together.

As Nora is playing happily with her three young children, Krogstad reappears. It turns out that he is the one who had lent the money to Nora. He also knows that Nora not only forged her father's signature as cosigner of the loan but dated it several days after his death. Krogstad leaves after threatening to expose Nora unless he gets his job back.

Nora pleads with Torvald to reinstate Krogstad, but he refuses. She is frantic, imagining that once Krogstad reveals the truth, Torvald will himself assume the blame for the forgery and be ruined.

The next day Dr. Rank, who is suffering from a fatal illness, comes to visit. He speaks openly of his impending death and tells Nora that he loves her. Nora is upset, not because he loves her, but because he has told her so and ruined the innocent appearance of their relationship.

The arrival of Krogstad interrupts their conversation, and Nora slips down to the kitchen to see him. He tells her he has written a letter to her husband, which explains the debt and the forgery. Then as he leaves, he drops it into the locked mailbox. In despair because Torvald has the only key to the box, Nora thinks wildly of suicide.

When Kristine learns about the forgery, she offers to intercede with Krogstad on Nora's behalf, because she and Krogstad had once been in love.

Meanwhile, Nora gets Torvald to promise to spend the rest of the evening helping her practice the tarantella-the dance she's to perform at a masquerade party the next night. Torvald sees a letter in the mailbox, but true to his promise, he ignores it and concentrates only on Nora's dance.

The next night, while the Helmers are at the party, Krogstad and Kristine meet in the Helmers' drawing room. They forgive each other's past mistakes and are reunited. Krogstad offers to ask for his letter back, unread, from Torvald, but, unexpectedly, Kristine stops him. She has had a change of heart and says he should leave the letter-Nora and Torvald must face the truth.

Torvald drags Nora away from the party the minute she finishes the dance. He is filled with desire for her and is glad when Kristine leaves. Shortly after, Dr. Rank stops by to bid a final farewell. Nora realizes he is returning home to die alone.

Overwhelmed by his feelings for Nora, Torvald says he wishes he could save her from something dreadful. This is her cue. Nora tells him to read his mail. She is certain that now the "miracle" will happen: Torvald will nobly offer to shoulder the guilt himself. He retires to his study with the mail. Rather than see Torvald ruined, Nora throws on her shawl and starts for the hall, determined to carry out her suicide plan.

But instead, her fine illusions about her husband crumble when an outraged Torvald storms out of his study, calling her a criminal and accusing her of poisoning their home and their children. Since his reputation is at stake, he feels completely in Krogstad's power and must submit to the blackmail. Still, he insists that they must maintain the appearance of a happy family life.

Then a second letter arrives from Krogstad, dropping the charges and returning Nora's forged note. Torvald is relieved and immediately wants to return Nora to the status of pet and child. But she has seen him as he really is. She realizes that she went straight from her father's house to her husband's and has never become her own person. She has always subordinated her opinions and her identity to those who she assumed were nobler. Now she sees that both Torvald and her father were weak, and have kept her weaker only to have someone to bully.

Nora decides to leave Torvald's house to discover who she is. She says she's not fit to raise her children in the state she's in- she's been teaching them to be mindless dolls, just as she was. When Torvald asks if she'll ever return, she replies that she could only return if the greatest miracle happened and they were truly equals, truly married.

Torvald is left clinging to this hope as his wife departs, slamming the door behind her.

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