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Free Barron's Booknotes-A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen-Free Book Notes
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Christmas Eve has turned into Christmas Day.

After the presents and excitement, the symbolic tree has been stripped and the candles are burned out. For everyone else, the waiting is over, but for Nora it's just beginning.

In the first act, Torvald called her a squirrel and a bird; now she paces like an animal that's newly aware of its cage. She's trying to convince herself that Krogstad won't carry out his threat, but nevertheless she checks the mailbox and listens fearfully for visitors.

Anne-Marie, the nursemaid, enters. The short dialogue that follows between Nora and Anne-Marie serves three important functions:

6. It tells us that Anne-Marie was Nora's own nursemaid. This underscores the fact that Nora went straight from her father's "nursery" to Torvald's home, without having to grow up.

7. It reveals that Anne-Marie had to give up her own illegitimate daughter to nurse Nora. Nora knows that she might be in a parallel situation, forced to give up her children for their own good.

8. It establishes that Anne-Marie will be there to "mother" the children even if Nora isn't.


In the conversation between Nora and Anne-Marie, you can see how Ibsen "loads" his dialogue with additional meanings. For example, Nora responds not only to what Anne- Marie says, but to what she might be implying about Nora's current predicament. Where else in the play have you seen characters in the same discussion talking about two completely different things? How could this be related to the pattern of secrets?

When Kristine Linde arrives, Nora begins to discuss with her Dr. Rank and his "inherited" illness. Nora suggests that his fatal illness (possibly syphilis) is the result of his father's sexual escapades. Again, Ibsen connects two generations with a moral taint. Later on, the old doctor expresses the idea that sometimes one family member must suffer for the sins of another.


Ibsen wrote his plays before Sigmund Freud advanced his theories about our conscious and subconscious being influenced by our parents and our childhood experiences. But notice in this play how frequently what the characters do and say is attributed to the fact they have been conditioned physically and morally by past events beyond their control. Ibsen calls this influence heredity, but how would you characterize it?

Kristine recognizes and reveals to Nora the sexual component of Nora's relationship with Rank, and connects Rank with Nora's earlier fantasy about a rich admirer. (The sexual longings for a parent figure also play a large part in Freud's teachings.)

When Torvald returns home, Kristine goes off to repair Nora's peasant-girl outfit for the costume party. Torvald unwittingly continues the heredity theme by reminding Nora that her father wasn't above reproach in the business world.

Nora again pleads on Krogstad's behalf, and Torvald's replies are even more revealing. He doesn't mind that Nora is trying to influence him, but he minds very much that it would appear that way to others. To him, appearance and reputation are everything. He even admits that it isn't Krogstad's moral failings that bother him. It's that Krogstad is an old boyhood friend who has the nerve to call him by his first name in front of everyone at the bank!

Even Nora recognizes these as petty concerns. When she says so, Torvald feels threatened and insulted. To prove his "power," he immediately sends the letter of dismissal to Krogstad.

Then Torvald forgives Nora and assures her that whatever comes, he'll bear "the whole weight" of it for both of them. Nora thinks he'll take the penalty of her forgery upon himself should it be revealed. As Torvald leaves, she's frantic. She can't let her crime ruin her husband-she's got to find an escape! The stage directions here suggest impending doom: "During the following scene, it begins getting dark."

Dr. Rank enters with news of a sad discovery. Nora, in her anxious state, is so sure he's discovered her crime that she's almost relieved at his real discovery-he doesn't have long to live. In this scene, Dr. Rank forces Nora along her path to adulthood. He tries to make her confront two things: his impending death and his love for her. Like a child, she calls him "naughty" for bringing up indelicate subjects and refuses to discuss them. At this point Nora, like Torvald, is concerned with appearances. She doesn't mind that Dr. Rank loves her, but, as a married woman, she minds very much that he improperly brings the subject out into the open.

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