A Doll’s House is built on lies, secrets, illusions, and delusions. The characters lie to each other and to themselves. Nora is keeping many secrets and lies from her husband, Torvald. Torvald is under the illusion and delusion that his wife is an innocent little creature that needs his guidance in all matters. Torvald has no idea about what is truly happening in his own house or in the lives of those close to him. For example, Torvald’s best friend, Dr. Rank, is keeping secrets from him even though Dr. Rank visits the house every day. Other characters keeping secrets from Torvald include Mrs. Linde and Nils Krogstad. Torvald is the most tragic figure in this play. Love and honor are both illusions in this play causing conflict within and between each character.
Torvald’s idea of love is to control his wife, Nora, in every area of her life. He controls her spending by giving her just enough money to run the household. She has to beg for any additional money. He even controls her eating by forbidding her to eat sweets. Later in the play, Torvald instructs Nora in preparing the dance of the Tarantella for a party. Torvald’s idea of love is sick and twisted and has nothing to do with honor. The only honor concerning Torvald is his own appearance and reputation. He wants to mold Nora into something she is not, just to enhance his standing in the community and in his career.
For example, when Torvald finds out about his wife’s deceptions, through Krogstad’s letter, he says to outsiders, everything must appear as it always has. They must continue to pose as the happy couple. He wants to try to cover up his wife’s crime of forgery to save both of their reputations. Torvald goes so far as to say that he does not want Nora to assist in raising their three children because he wants the children free from her negative influence.
Ironically, Torvald’s desire to save his reputation shatters his honor and he does not even realize it. Torvald is willing to engage in deception to save his reputation. All along honor has been one of the virtues that Torvald considers the most important. At this instant, he becomes what he hates the most. He becomes a hypocrite and a liar, the very actions he accuses his wife of committing.
Another irony is that Nora committed all of her deceptions out of love for her husband and her desire to help her husband. It is through this irony that love and honor conflict with each other in Nora’s character. Nora was faced with impossible choices when her husband became ill a few years prior to the events in A Doll’s House. When her husband became so ill he required a trip to a different climate to save his life, they did not have the money to finance this trip. At the same time, her father was suffering his last illness. Nora was forced to choose between love for her husband and love for her father. No one should have to make this choice. She chose her husband.
This choice forced Nora to compromise her honor. She did not want to burden her father with a request for money and paperwork in his final illness to help save her husband. Therefore, Nora sacrificed her honor and forged her father’s signature on the bond (loan) papers. Krogstad loaned her the money. With the loan money, Nora and Torwald were able to go on the trip to Italy that helped Torwald regain his health. During the time both Nora’s husband and father were ill, Nora was in a situation where love and honor conflict with each other.
One can argue that Nora acted out of love for both her husband and her father and she did not sacrifice her love for either. She obtained the money on her own to save her husband’s life. At the same time, she saved her dying father additional stress by not burdening him with the loan or loan papers.
Other characters in A Doll’s House are faced with the choice between love and honor. Dr. Rank is caught in the conflict between love and honor in more ways than one. Dr. Rank loves Torvald as a friend and wants to spare Torvald from the knowledge that Dr. Rank is dying. Dr. Rank is compromising his honor because of his love of his friend. Specifically, Dr. Rank is compromising his honesty with his dearest friend.
Dr. Rank is compromising his honesty with Torvald in another subject. Dr. Rank loves Nora. Naturally, Dr. Rank is not going to say anything to Torvald about this. Love and honor are in conflict here, as Dr. Rank would never do anything to hurt his friend Torvald. He loves Nora but out of a sense of honor and decency, he will not act on his love for Nora. It would not be right for Dr. Rank to act on his love for Nora as Nora is married to his best friend.
Nora is caught up in Dr. Rank’s deceptions. The doctor has asked Nora not to tell Torwald that the doctor is dying. Nora of course will not say anything to Torwald about the doctor loving her. Again, love and honor conflict because the honorable thing to do would be to let Torwald know his friend is dying. It might be for the best to keep from Torwald the fact that the doctor loves Nora. Since the doctor is dying, his love for Nora is not a true issue at this point.
Another character with secrets of her own is Mrs. Linde. At one point, before Mrs. Linde was married, she was dating Krogstad. At this time, Krogstad did not have much money and she had another suitor, Mr. Linde, with more money. Mrs. Linde broke it off with Krogstad to marry Mr. Linde. Mrs. Linde made this choice because her father had died and she felt financially responsible for her invalid mother and two younger brothers. Mrs. Linde’s husband has since died so now she feels free to talk to Krogstad about what happened all those years ago. She had to choose between the love of her family and the romantic love of Krogstad. She made what she felt was the honorable choice. She made a marriage that would help her take care of her family. Mrs. Linde had to choose between love and honor and she chose honor over romantic love.
It is rather amazing how intertwined these character’s lives are. Through Torwald’s new position at the bank, he has the power to fire Krogstad and he does so because Krogstad has made some immoral choices in his career. Remember, Krogstad is the one who loaned Nora the money she needed to save her husband.
Another reason Torwald fires Krogstad is because Nora has asked Torwald to hire Mrs. Linde in a position at the bank. In order to create a position for Mrs. Linde, Torwald had to fire Krogstad. After all these years, Mrs. Linde still has feelings for Krogstad.
Something must have happened to Krogstad’s wife because near the end of the play, Mrs. Linde asks Krogstad if she can have the position at the bank and use it to help care for Krogstad’s children and if they can build a life together. Krogstad agrees and feels badly about the letter he sent to Torwald telling him of Nora’s actions. Mrs. Linde says that letter is necessary to bring issues out into the open between Torwald and Nora. It is poetic justice that even though Mrs. Linde had to give up Krogstad all those years ago, they can be together now.
The opposite is true for Torwald and Nora. In the end, Torwald’s honor costs him the love of Nora. As soon as he finds Krogstad’s second letter where Krogstad says he will not expose Nora, suddenly everything is all right for Torwald and he wants everything with Nora to be as it was before. Nora’s eyes have been opened to Torwald’s true nature and she does not want to be his little pet anymore. She does not want Torwald to control every area of her life. She recognizes that her father controlled her while she was growing up and her husband has controlled her now during her married life. She explains to Torwald that she is leaving him to go explore the world for herself and make her own decisions. She is disappointed that Torwald chose honor over her. Torwald made the wrong choice when he chose honor over Nora’s love.
Torwald is the only person in this play who does not know what real love is. He thinks love is molding Nora into what he wants her to be. He has not even allowed her to think for herself. It only gets worse after Torwald “forgives” Nora for her deception in obtaining the loan all those years ago. He wants to “shelter” and “protect” Nora. He wants to be her “conscience”. He wants to “advise” her and “direct” her. This is why Nora leaves Torwald. Torwald will have to recognize that wives are equal partners in a marriage if he ever wants Nora to return.
Torwald needs more love and less honor. Krogstad would have benefited from acting with more honor. He made immoral choices in his career that have harmed his reputation in the business community. Mrs. Linde acted out of honor and lived a large portion of her life without love. Through the lies that Dr. Rank is living, he is depriving himself of both love and honor. Nora may have acted without honor but she acted out of love.
The characters and relationships in this play are ruined by their illusions of the meaning of love and honor. This play makes readers question if love and honor are always in conflict with each other. Love and honor seem like they go together. Wedding vows include the promise to love and honor each other. How did love and honor become so distorted in Ibsen’s play? The answer is that the characters were caught in difficult situations where sacrifices and choices had to be made. The characters did the best they could. That is all that people can ask of each other.
Ibsen, Henrik. A Doll’s House. Gutenberg.org. Project Gutenberg. 2008. Web. 1 March 2012.