In the three-act play A Dolls House by Nora Helmer, Nora Helmer’s transformation from child to woman is clearly seen by analyzing her treatment of Torvald and Krogstad. Nora Helmer has an undeniable treatment towards Krogstad that provokes him into acting out in response. Nora Helmers’ behavior toward Torvald is more neutral, but Nora Helmer’s actions toward Krogstad change drastically and Nora Helmer changes her attitude towards Torvald only slightly.
Both Nora and Torvald treat Krogstad as an inferior before Nora’s transformation into a woman. Before Nora’s transformation, she had agreed with Torvald that he was “impossible to deal with” (Helmer 159), and later says of him:
There is something thoroughly mean about him… He wants his salary raised so as to be on a level with other clerks in the Bank; I suppose all those who have passed examinations must be on the same grade… And he thinks himself such a great man, too! I really can’t understand how father could stand it (Helmer 160).
However, Nora Helmer’s treatment of Torvald does not change much after Nora becomes a woman. Nora Helmer still describes him as “impossibly tiresome” (Helmer 228) to his face and even says:
Oh good heavens! Will you never learn what is the proper form for things like these? When one has come home to one’s husband with news of this kind, I think one ought to confine oneself to saying ‘yes’ or ‘no'” (Helmer 229).
Despite Nora Helmers’ behavior towards Krogstad before her transformation into a woman, Nora’s treatment of Krogstad changes drastically after she becomes a woman. After Nora Helmer becomes a woman, Nora Helmer treats Krogstad with more respect. Nora Helmer says of him:
To begin with, I was not like this before; I would never have said such things to you if I had not been driven desperate (Helmer 146).
Nora and Nora’s husband, Torvald have a very loving relationship. Nora is presented as that stereotypical house wife who is known for “her smiles and cheerfulness” (32). In this Act Nora deals with typical house woman items such as Christmas presents, childrens clothes etc. Nora deals with her chores in a way that makes the audience see Nora has a carefree spirit, “Nora skipped from one thing to another… laughing directly at her own stupidity”(35-36) This suggests that Nora doesn’t take any of her tasks too seriously because she assumes they aren’t serious.
She takes pleasure out of doing these menial tasks because it gives her something to do, someone to care for while making everyone around her happy. Nora’s character also shows the audience that Nora is a loving mother to her children. Nora cares for them, and they in turn adore her. The family atmosphere Nora has created “is invariably bright with humour”(41) This suggests Nora cannot go through one day without smiling or being happy. In Act II Nora becomes melancholic when her husband mentions a bill from the doctor.
Torvald assumes Nora is sick but she replies with a simple “I don’t know. “(97). As this conversation about Nora’s health progresses we see that Nora isn’t herself, instead she has become distant and clearly unhappy. After Torvald informs Nora of going to Dr Rank for check-up it becomes clear that Nora suffers from hysteria which is triggered by Nora’s emotions. Nora becomes enraged with her husband’s ignorance towards the doctor’s diagnosis, his attitude towards Nora is almost like she has done something to deserve this illness.
Nora lashes out at Torvald for not caring about how she feels, not knowing why she is sick. Nora becomes offended when Torvald asks her whether or not she has “been naughty” (114) which is a question many children are asked when they’re in trouble. Nora interprets this as Torvald saying that Nora is acting childish and irresponsible by losing control over herself in this way. After Nora leaves the room Torvald talks himself into believing that Nora has been on some sort of holiday excursion, to find away around the truth Nora has been to the doctor for this illness.
When Nora returns she tries to set things right by explaining what her visit was all about and how “Dr Rank says that you [Torvald] must take more care of me” (121) Nora also explains her behaviour as a result of suffering from hysteria, Nora explains why she lashed out at Torvald because “It has come over me lately-that I’ve been happy; too happy”(127). Nora feels guilty for being so happy while suffering such an illness.
This indicates Nora’s unhappiness with feeling like a child due to having this illness and the fact that Nora thinks it is important to be taken seriously when suffering from such an illness. Nora believes happiness should not be experienced until Nora is cured of this illness. Nora’s anxiety peaks when she talks about how important it is that she be cured because “I cannot bear to bring children into the world unless I am freed from these terrors”(136) Nora wants to be an independent, accountable human being before having children.
Nora does not want to become a mother out of fear for her own life or the lives of her children. Nora has felt like a child because of this disease but now Nora knows all too well what it means to grow up and live as an adult, Nora states “Now I know myself! Now I’ve learned to know myself! “. The conflict between Nora and Torvald sets in motion many dramatic events which result in Nora realizing what it’s like to live as an adult and Nora realizing how unfair it is that women are not held accountable for their actions.
Nora desires her own independence so badly, Nora reaches a crossroads with Torvald where Nora must choose between what’s best for Nora and what’s best for the family. Nora decides to leave and claim her responsibility that Nora and others like her cannot be expected “to submit tamely to such an imposed control” (191) Nora finally understands how important it is for Nora to know who she is before continuing on doing the things people expect of Nora. Nora Helmer in A Dolls House by Henrik Ibsen undergoes a significant amount of transformation throughout the play.
Nora begins as a young woman, clearly still very much a child who takes life for granted and is naive of her position in society. Nora’s experiences with Dr Rank provide Nora an opportunity to learn about herself, Nora makes emotional progress towards adulthood through her interactions with Torvald and then Krogstad that Nora not only learns more about herself but Nora also learns what kind of responsibilities Nora has as an adult. By recognizing Nora’s need for independence, Nora realizes how unfair it is that women are expected to remain submissive while men are empowered by their positions in society.