Relationships can very fragile, particularly between two people who do not get along well. Before the 1930’s, women strictly held a household role and objectively did not hold much power. Many could not leave their spouse even if they wanted to. In fact, Victorian Era, couples stayed together for appearance if nothing else. Marriage rates were at a record high (Baumeister & Bushman, 2014). However, this does not indicate the happiness of that relationship. Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll House describes this discontent in his play through the relationship of Nora and her husband Torvald.
In the 1880’s it was illegal for a woman to get a bank loan without the permission of her father’s or husband’s signature. Nora needed money to help her husband while he was sick so she forged her deceased father’s signature to obtain a loan (Ibsen). She did not tell her husband because she knew this would embarrass him. However, she secretly paid off the loan. A man named Krogstad blackmails Nora, threatening to spill Nora’s secret unless she convinces her husband not to fire him. Torvald receives Korgstad’s letter and proceeds to berate Nora calling her unfit to raise the kids. A maid then appears with a second letter claiming that Krogstad had a change of heart and will no longer blackmail them. Torvald claims his love for Nora but Nora simply leaves him and the kids. She claims that she is nothing than a doll and she must go find herself.
Early on in the play, Torvald refers to Nora with pet names such as little squirrel and playfully remarks that she’s spending too much money (but we know it’s being used to pay off the debt). Here we see the characteristics of a romantic relationship, a true one in fact, but there is a major flaw in it. Nora is dishonest about the source of the money, albeit for good reasons. At the end, we see Torvald more concerned for his personal reputation than Nora’s intentions. Yet when he realizes he’s free from Krogstad’s blackmail, then he is back to loving Nora. Nora is aware of how Torvald treats her (allegedly) like a doll, almost as if he owns her (Baumeister & Bushman, 2014). Nora stays with him because she has already invested lots of time and resources (time, money and kids) in this relationship. Furthermore, as a single lady in her 30’s, she doesn’t have many options readily available to her. Despite this, she leaves her husband and her children to go find herself. Nora’s dishonesty, arguably justifiable, is their undoing. Their marriage falls apart once Nora’s secret is revealed.
Baumeister, R.F. & Bushman, B.J. (2014). Social psychology and human nature. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.
Ibsen, H. (1879). A Doll House. Copenhagen, Denmark. Royal Theatre.