Characters and Characterization in A doll’s House Study Guide
A Doll’s House Character List
The protagonist of the play and the wife of Torvald Helmer. Nora initially seems like a playful, naïve child who lacks knowledge of the world outside her home. She does have some worldly experience, however, and the small acts of rebellion in which she engages indicate that she is not as innocent or happy as she appears. She comes to see her position in her marriage with increasing clarity and finds the strength to free herself from her oppressive situation.
2. Torvald Helmer
Nora’s husband. Torvald delights in his new position at the bank, just as he delights in his position of authority as a husband. He treats Nora like a child, in a manner that is both kind and patronizing. He does not view Nora as an equal but rather as a plaything or doll to be teased and admired. In general, Torvald is overly concerned with his place and status in society, and he allows his emotions to be swayed heavily by the prospect of society’s respect and the fear of society’s scorn.
A lawyer who went to school with Torvald and holds a subordinate position at Torvald’s bank. Krogstad’s character is contradictory: though his bad deeds seem to stem from a desire to protect his children from scorn, he is perfectly willing to use unethical tactics to achieve his goals. His willingness to allow Nora to suffer is despicable, but his claims to feel sympathy for her and the hard circumstances of his own life compel us to sympathize with him to some degree.
Nora’s childhood friend. Kristine Linde is a practical, down-to-earth woman, and her sensible worldview highlights Nora’s somewhat childlike outlook on life. Mrs. Linde’s account of her life of poverty underscores the privileged nature of the life that Nora leads. Also, we learn that Mrs. Linde took responsibility for her sick parent, whereas Nora abandoned her father when he was ill.
5. Dr. Rank
Torvald’s best friend. Dr. Rank stands out as the one character in the play who is by and large unconcerned with what others think of him. He is also notable for his stoic acceptance of his fate. Unlike Torvald and Nora, Dr. Rank admits to the diseased nature (literally, in his case) of his life. For the most part, he avoids talking to Torvald
about his imminent death out of respect for Torvald’s distaste for ugliness.
6. Bob, Emmy, and Ivar
Nora and Torvald’s three small children. In her brief interaction with her children,
Nora shows herself to be a loving mother. When she later refuses to spend time with her children because she fears she may morally corrupt them, Nora acts on her belief that the quality of parenting strongly influences a child’s development.
The Helmers’ nanny. Though Ibsen doesn’t fully develop her character, Anne-Marie seems to be a kindly woman who has genuine affection for Nora. She had to give up her own daughter in order to take the nursing job offered by Nora’s father. Thus, she shares with Nora and Mrs. Linde the act of sacrificing her own happiness out of economic necessity.
8. Nora’s father
Though Nora’s father is dead before the action of the play begins, the characters refer to him throughout the play. Though she clearly loves and admires her father, Nora also comes to blame him for contributing to her subservient position in life.
Analysis of Major Characters
At the beginning of A Doll’s House, Nora seems completely happy. She responds affectionately to Torvald’s teasing, speaks with excitement about the extra money his new job will provide, and takes pleasure in the company of her children and friends. She does not seem to mind her doll-like existence, in which she is coddled, pampered, and patronized.
As the play progresses, Nora reveals that she is not just a “silly girl,” as Torvald calls her. That she understands the business details related to the debt she incurred taking out a loan to preserve Torvald’s health indicates that she is intelligent and possesses capacities beyond mere wifehood. Her description of her years of secret labor undertaken to pay off her debt shows her fierce determination and ambition.
Additionally, the fact that she was willing to break the law in order to ensure Torvald’s
health shows her courage.
Krogstad’s blackmail and the trauma that follows do not change Nora’s nature; they open her eyes to her unfulfilled and underappreciated potential. “I have been performing tricks for you, Torvald,” she says during her climactic confrontation with him. Nora comes to realize that in addition to her literal dancing and singing tricks, she has been putting on a show throughout her marriage. She has pretended to be someone she is not in order to fulfill the role that Torvald, her father, and society at large have expected of her.
Torvald’s severe and selfish reaction after learning of Nora’s deception and forgery is the final catalyst for Nora’s awakening. But even in the first act, Nora shows that she is not totally unaware that her life is at odds with her true personality. She defies Torvald in small yet meaningful ways—by eating macaroons and then lying to him about it, for instance. She also swears, apparently just for the pleasure she derives from minor rebellion against societal standards. As the drama unfolds, and as Nora’s awareness of the truth about her life grows, her need for rebellion escalates, culminating in her walking out on her husband and children to find independence.
Torvald embraces the belief that a man’s role in marriage is to protect and guide his wife. He clearly enjoys the idea that Nora needs his guidance, and he interacts with her as a father would. He instructs her with trite, moralistic sayings, such as: “A home that depends on loans and debt is not beautiful because it is not free.” He is also eager to teach Nora the dance she performs at the costume party. Torvald likes to envision himself as Nora’s savior, asking her after the party, “[D]o you know that I’ve often wished you were facing some terrible dangers so that I could risk life and limb, risk everything, for your sake?”
Although Torvald seizes the power in his relationship with Nora and refers to her as a “girl,” it seems that Torvald is actually the weaker and more childlike character. Dr. Rank’s explanation for not wanting Torvald to enter his sickroom—”Torvald is so fastidious, he cannot face up to anything ugly”—suggests that Dr. Rank feels Torvald must be sheltered like a child from the realities of the world. Furthermore, Torvald reveals himself to be childishly petty at times. His real objection to working with Krogstad stems not from -deficiencies in Krogstad’s moral character but, rather, Krogstad’s overly friendly and familiar behavior. Torvald’s decision to fire Krogstad stems ultimately from the fact that he feels threatened and offended by Krogstad’s failure to pay him the proper respect.
Torvald is very conscious of other people’s perceptions of him and of his standing in the community. His explanation for rejecting Nora’s request that Krogstad be kept on
at the office— that retaining Krogstad would make him “a laughing stock before the entire staff”—shows that he prioritizes his reputation over his wife’s desires. Torvald further demonstrates his deep need for society’s respect in his reaction to Nora’s deception. Although he says that Nora has ruined his happiness and will not be allowed to raise the children, he insists that she remain in the house because his chief concern is saving “the appearance” of their household.
Krogstad is the antagonist in A Doll’s House, but he is not necessarily a villain. Though his willingness to allow Nora’s torment to continue is cruel, Krogstad is not without sympathy for her. As he says, “Even money lenders, hacks, well, a man like me, can have a little of what you call feeling, you know.” He visits Nora to check on her, and he discourages her from committing suicide. Moreover, Krogstad has reasonable motives for behaving as he does: he wants to keep his job at the bank in order to spare his children from the hardships that come with a spoiled reputation. Unlike Torvald, who seems to desire respect for selfish reasons, Krogstad desires it for his family’s sake.
Like Nora, Krogstad is a person who has been wronged by society, and both Nora and Krogstad have committed the same crime: forgery of signatures. Though he did break the law, Krogstad’s crime was relatively minor, but society has saddled him with the stigma of being a criminal and prohibited him from moving beyond his past. Additionally, Krogstad’s claim that his immoral behavior began when Mrs. Linde abandoned him for a man with money so she could provide for her family makes it possible for us to understand Krogstad as a victim of circumstances. One could argue that society forced Mrs. Linde away from Krogstad and thus prompted his crime. Though society’s unfair treatment of Krogstad does not justify his actions, it does align him more closely with Nora and therefore tempers our perception of him as a despicable character.