In his play A Doll’s House, Henrik Ibsen raises questions about the freedom of personality and establishing identity. The author brings forth a sophisticated exploration of the protagonists’ souls culminating into a profound personal transformation for each of them. Every single Ibsen’s character – Nora, Torvald, Krogstad, and Christine – is laden with the societal perceptions of propriety which eventually come into irreconcilable conflict with their true identity and self-discovery. The most intense depiction of this conflict is embedded with the character of Nora who will be in focus of the present essay. A Doll’s House is a lucid example of how personal aspirations clash with the often insensitive laws of morality governing the society. Ibsen brings up the question as to whether it was moral for Nora, the protagonist, to have forged a signature on the loan agreement, even though the money she had borrowed helped save her husband’s life. This idea of unjust laws contradicting the person’s inner sense of what is right becomes a leitmotif throughout the entire story.
The first internal conflict between Nora’s own perception of her identity and that by other people arises when Torvald, her husband, contents himself with treating her like a playful child that knows no evil. Ibsen amplifies this illusive playfulness in her character and life in general by illustrating the family’s holiday preparations in the initial parts of the story. The cozy feeling of being surrounded by a loving husband and beautiful children means to emphasize the idea that life is not serious and, in some way, deceptive. On the other end, behind her childishness, Nora’s husband does not recognize her ability to perform any meaningful actions, except for taking care of children and house chores. So when Laura had to explain to Torvald where the money for his treatment had come from, she, not desiring to ruin her puerile image in her husband’s eyes, came up with the story of her father’s heritage. Deep inside, however, Nora was in pain because she knew very well that the uncomfortable truth could destroy the blissful happiness of their family. Nora was secretly paying off the debt and soothing herself with the idea that she was already an independent adult who could make decisions and take responsibility on her own.
As the story unfolded, the truth was sooner or later going to be revealed and Nora’s internal conflict with societal dogmas come into the open. Krogstad, the discredited lawyer who had agreed to lend Nora money, was then trying to build a career at Torvald’s bank. Things did not go smoothly and Torvald was going to fire him. Krogstad, in order to remain in his position, took to the last resort and began to blackmail Nora and demand her to affect Torvald’s decision. Motives which impelled Nora to forge her father’s signature were noble, but Krogstad uttered that “law was not interested in causes” thus instilling a deadly fear in her. The heroine was outraged by Krogstad’s deed and the injustice of laws indifferent to the best moral intentions of hers. As Nora was plunging deeper and deeper into her despair and helplessness under the ongoing conflict between her inner and outer reality, she began contemplating suicide as the only way-out.
Torvald, after having learned what happened, also chose to judge Nora according to the existing norms of appropriateness in the society. He did not wish to acknowledge the internal impulses that had propelled Nora to break the law and lie to him afterwards. “Oh, what an awful awakening! In all these eight years – she who was my pride and joy – a hypocrite, a liar – worse, worse – a criminal!”, shouted he angrily. The socially appropriate image of Nora as his obeying child was irreversibly gone. The external veil of family happiness had vanished leaving in its place only vehement discontent of Torvald with his wife. Torvald is thus a typical example of a character that chose to unquestionably abide by the established social norms without trying to challenge them for the sacrifice that his wife had made for him in the past. His unwillingness to change further pushed Nora to dead end in trying to rule out her dilemma.
After Krogstad, thanks to Christine, agrees to quit blackmailing Nora and destroys the compromising documents, the story line enters its culmination stage. Torvald’s reputation is saved and he is keen on coming back to the old life with Nora. However, in Nora’s life the miracle did not happen – in the noble act of Krogstad, Torvald only sees his own salvation, believing that she ought to keep staying merely an extension of his own property. This incident became a turning point in Nora’s perception of herself and the other people’s expectations. After she had fully realized that there was no real love in their family, but social propriety, she left him. “I saw that you are not the one for whom I took thee”, she said before leaving. This moment of self-discovery, social norms aside, is what Ibsen really accentuates in his play.
Nora realized that her marital happiness was an illusion, that for the eight years she lived with Torvald, brought up his children, and loved him, they had never been really close and dear to each other. Torvald attempted to keep Nora by pointing to her family duties, i.e. reminding of her social expectations, but Nora’s answer to that was not what he expected to hear, ”I don’t believe in that anymore. I believe that before all else, I’m a human being, no less than you – or anyway, I ought to try to become one.” In doing so, Nora undertakes a very difficult step – to go against the society; she no longer wishes to be a doll unable to think and she does not want people to play with her life. Nora resolutely and consistently steps over conventional norms that stand in her way of finding her true self.
In conclusion, it becomes obvious that Nora is portrayed as a strong character who controls her own fate. And her major strength is that for the sake of self-searching, she decided to follow her own sense of what is right in spite of the excessive burden of the society’s expectations of women. The break-up with her husband, the unwillingness to remain a “doll” is a vivid proof to that. And yet, the main conflict is to be resolved in the future. Nora’s final battle with the dogmas of the society is possible, but only outside of this play. At any rate, her whole character reverberated with the message that if the social standards become an obstacle to discovering one’s identity, such standards shall, at some point, be changed or simply ignored.