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A Doll’s House - Explore Ibsen’s Presentation of Nora in the First Act of the Play

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Explore Ibsen’s presentation of Nora in the first act of the play.

‘A Doll’s House’ is a play by Henrik Ibsen, in which Nora Helmer is the main protagonist. In the first act, we are shown the complexity of Nora’s character as we learn more about her varied characteristics. Nora is introduced as a middle-class, irresponsible mother and while all this remains true, as the act goes on we see that she is much more than that and has a few other qualities to her name. The main form of characterisation in respect to Nora is through her relationships with other characters and with this, Ibsen shows us the various elements of Nora’s character through the stage directions, dialogue and sound, among other devices.

Nora’s childish and immature nature is highlighted through her character interaction with her husband, Torvald Helmer. As this relationship of Nora’s is the first we see, many assumptions can be made in regard to her character. Ibsen uses the stage directions to investigate their marriage, ‘she walks stealthily across and listens at her husband’s door.’ The use of the adverb, ‘stealthily’ tells us that Nora is doing something she perhaps should not be and so she does not want to get caught. From this description of her actions, we can see that Nora, while inquisitive and curious, holds the position of many middle-class women of that time. She is considered as not as intellectual and has restrictions put on her by her husband. To add to this, Nora is shown as naïve and childish through her dialogue with Torvald. Ibsen uses what is known as “baby language” when Nora speaks, for example ‘lots and lots of money.’ Also, Nora has very immature thoughts as she says ‘we can always borrow.’ This response to quite a serious statement shows that Nora has a lack of responsibility in the home, and is perhaps quite impulsive with her actions, without thinking of the implications that her actions may hold. Torvald Helmer is clearly a realist as well as an educated businessman as so he provides a stark contrast with Nora, which highlights her fanciful yet impractical nature.

Nora’s relationship with Mrs Linde also further develops the characterisation of Nora as although they are the same age, they act in very different manners. Through the dialogue between them, we can see how Nora, although cannot help it, has a very self-centred nature. Nora repeatedly says things such as, ‘What a thoughtless creature I am!’ however she does not hesitate to talk about her ‘three lovely children’ and ‘the great stroke of luck we’ve had.’ We can assume that this selfish nature comes from the dynamics in Nora’s life. Nora has very little interaction with the external world and so is defined within the home. Ibsen uses the setting to highlight this, as the audience only see Nora in her house, as a mother and wife. The difference in maturity between Nora and Mrs Linde is accentuated through the gestures and movement of the two characters. The audience can see how maternal Mrs Linde is towards Nora as she ‘strokes Nora’s hair.’ This affectionate gesture indicates that Mrs Linde is used to comforting and protecting Nora, perhaps due to how much Nora needed it previously. To add to this, visually the audience would be able to see the difference in personalities as Nora places herself in the rocking chair and Mrs Linde is sat in the armchair. This formation would mean that while Mrs Linde would stay poised and completely still throughout their dialogue, Nora would be rocking continuously just as a child who cannot sit still for too long.

Although, so far Nora has been portrayed as submissive, self-centred and childish, her secret shows a perhaps quite surprising side of her character. It is clear that she knows how to take initiative and is resourceful as she finds a way to get the money in order to save Torvald’s life. To add to this, Nora is also presented as very strategic in keeping her secret. In the beginning of the act, she does not deny it when her husband calls her a ‘little spendthrift.’ This subtle detail shows her Nora wants people to make assumptions about her while at the same time she ‘always bought the simplest and cheapest things.’ By doing this, Nora would be able to pay off the money she borrowed, without anyone suspecting a thing. As Nora talks, we are shown the real nature of her mind, and she seems to be quite insecure. Nora fantasises about ‘some rich old gentlemen [who] had fallen in love with’ her. From this thought, we can see that Nora perhaps does not see herself as someone who that may happen to and that she longs to feel desirable. Finally, through Nora’s dialogue we can see that she has a tendency to be too optimistic and does not think things through



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