A Doll’s House starts out on Christmas Eve. Leading character, Nora Helmer, enters her impressively furnished sitting room – the setting of the entire play. She is carrying multiple packages. Nora’s husband, Torvald Helmer, hears her arrive and leaves his study to greet her. At first, he is warm and loving towards her, but, he soon reprimands her for having spent so much money on Christmas presents.
As their conversation continues, it is revealed that the Helmer family had to be cautious with their money for several years, however, Torvald has recently taken a new role at the bank where he is employed that will allow them to live a more comfortable way of life.
The maid, Helene, announces to the couple that their dearest friend, Dr. Rank has stopped by to visit. Arriving at the same time, is another visitor, an unknown guest. Much to Nora’s surprise, her long time school friend Kristine Linde enters the room. It has been several years since the two women had last seen each other, but Nora mentions having read about the passing of Mrs. Linde’s husband several years earlier.
Kristine goes on to tell Nora that, at the time of her husband’s passing, she was left broke and childless. Nora tells her friend of the first year she had been married to Torvald. She goes on to explain that the two of them had very little money and of how they had been forced to work long and tiring hours. Torvald fell ill, she explains, and the two of them were required to travel to Italy so that he could recover.
Nora continues to prompt for more information about the life of her newly returned friend, and Kristine explains that for many years she had the responsibility of caring for her ailing mother and her two younger brothers. She expresses that her mother had passed away, and seemed unrelieved by the fact that her younger brothers were now past the age of needing her. Instead of finding solace in her freedom, she appears almost remorseful – stating that she feels ‘empty’ because of her lack of a real occupation. She asks Nora is Torvald might be able to help her obtain gainful employment.
Nora promises her friend that she will speak with her husband, and soon reveals that she has a great secret to confide in her. Without the knowledge of her husband, Nora has illegally obtained money for the trip that she and Torvald had taken to Italy. Nora proclaims that the money had come from her father and that she had spent the last several years working and saving, in secret, to repay the debt and it will soon be repaid in full.
Krogstad, one of the menial employees at the bank where Torvald is employed, arrives to the home and proceeds to the study. Nora appears displeased by his presence, and Dr. Rank, after exiting the study, states that he believes Krogstad to be ‘morally sick.’ As soon as he has finished his meeting with Krogstad, Torvald joins the women in the sitting room and informs that that he can hire Kristine at the bank.
Soon, Torvald, Dr. Rank and Kristine exit, leaving Nora alone. Her children have returned along with their nanny, Anne-Marie. Nora entertains her children until she notices Krogstad in the room with them. During their conversation, it is revealed the Krogstad is the actual source of the loan that Nora had been keeping from her husband.
Krogstad expressed to Nora that, because of his poor reputation, Torvald wants to fire him from his position at the bank. He asks Nora to use her influence over her husband to protect his job. After she refuses, Krogstad reminds her that he is in possession of a document containing the forged signature of her father.
Blackmailing Nora, Krogstad threatens to make knowledge of her crime public, bringing shame to both her and her husband, if she is incapable of preventing Krogstad from being fired. Krogstad exits the home just before Torvald returns. Nora tries to plead with her husband not to fire Krogstad, but Torvald considers him to be an immoral man and expresses his distaste for men with such flawed personality traits.
Act two commences on Christmas Day. Nora paces her sitting room floor, alone and anxious. Kristine Linde soon arrives to help mend Nora’s costume for the ball she is to attend at the home of her neighbor the next evening. Nora informs Kristine that Dr. Rank has a debilitating illness that he has inherited from his father. Nora’s peculiar behavior causes Kristine to ascertain that Dr. Rank is the true source of Nora’s loan.
Nora vehemently denies this, but refuses to reveal the cause of her anxiety. Torvald returns home, and Nora once again pleads with him not to fire Krogstad, but again her husband refuses. When Nora continues to urge her husband, he reveals that it isn’t just Krogstad’s awful behaviour that bothers him, but also his overly familiar attitude. Torvald and Nora continue to argue, until Torvald finally dispatches the maid to deliver a letter of dismissal to Krogstad.
After Torvald leaves, Dr. Rank arrives and informs Nora that he can feel that he is close to death. In an attempt to lift his mood, Nora flirts with the doctor. It appears as though she is readying herself to intervene in her struggle with her husband, but suddenly, the doctor reveals that he is in love with Nora. Taken aback by this revelation, Nora is unable to ask for Dr. Rank’s assistance.
After Dr. Rank leaves, Krogstad enters and demands that Nora provide him with an explanation for his termination letter. He demands respect, and has altered the terms of his blackmail. Now he insists that Nora should not only get him rehired at the bank, but also in a more senior position. He then places a letter outlining Nora’s forgery and the debt in the letterbox outside. In a fit of nervousness, Nora tells Kristine everything, and Kristine instructs her friend to do whatever she can to stall Torvald from opening the letter while she goes to reason with Krogstad.
In a bid to distract her husband, and to prevent him from going to the letterbox, Nora starts to practice that tarantella that she will perform at the costume party later that evening. In her nervous state, she dances violently and emotionally, much to the displeasure of Torvald. Somehow, Nora manages to convince her husband not to open the mail until after her performance that evening. Soon, Kristine returns and indicates that she has left a note for Krogstad, but the he will be gone until the following evening.
The following day, as the costume party is happening upstairs, Krogstad meets Kristine in the Helmer’s sitting room. The pair discuss how they once had a deep love for one another, but how Kristine had left Krogstad for a more affluent man who could support her family.
She expresses to Krogstad that she is now free of her obligations to her family and that her desire is to be with Krogstad and to care for his children. Krogstad is overcome with joy and promises to demand his letter back from Torvald before Nora’s secret is revealed. Kristine, however, insists that he leave the letter – stating that she feels that the pair will be better off once the truth comes out.
Not long after Krogstad leaves, Nora and Torvald enter the room, having returned from the costume ball. After showing Kristine on her way, Torvald tells his wife how wonderfully she danced. Dr. Rank, who also attended the party, comes to say good night and quickly interrupts Torvald’s attempts to swoon his wife. After the doctor leaves, Torvald finds in the mailbox two of Dr. Rank’s visiting cards, each with black crosses adorned over the name. Nora realizes that these cards signify that the doctor will soon pass, and informs her husband of this. She then insists that he read the letter left by Krogstad.
After reading the letter, Torvald is enraged. He calls his wife a liar and a hypocrite and proclaims that she has robbed him of his happiness. He insists that she will play no part in the raising of their children. Their argument is interrupted by Helene, who has come to deliver another letter. Upon opening it, Torvald learns that Krogstad has returned the contract containing Nora’s forged signature. He is overcome with relief and attempts to take back the insults he had hurled at his wife only moments before.
However, his harsh outburst has ignited something inside of Nora. She proclaims that, despite their eight years of marriage, they are strangers to each other. There is no understanding in their relationship. Nora goes on to state that Torvald has become accustomed to treating her like a doll, something to be played with and admired. She makes the decision to leave her husband, stating the she must ‘make sense of herself and everything around her.” She leaves, slamming the door as she exits.
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