A Doll's House
(Norwegian: Et Dukkehjem
) is an 1879 play in three acts by Henrik Ibsen
The main character is a middle-class wife and mother, Nora Helmer, who spends most of her time acting like a child for the amusement of her husband, Torvald. The play revolves around her realization that she has spent her whole life being defined by her identity as a daughter, wife, and mother, and that both her father and her husband have treated her like a doll rather than a person.
The play is a scathing critique of nineteenth-century marriage, and it is very feminist in outlook for its time
. Ibsen tended to see his own work as being primarily about the need of all people to be able to choose their own roles and paths in life, and he wrote several other plays that espoused these beliefs through the stories of male protagonists. However, simply by taking for granted that women were as entitled to this right as men, A Doll's House
struck its original audience as shockingly radical.
A Doll's House was also written as a subversion of the well-made play, a genre of plays which essentially just changed the characters. Ibsen used the same plot points: a secret unbeknownst to Nora's husband, only known by her good friend; a fate hinging on a letter; and a villain set out to ruin everything. Ibsen manages to flip all of this around, confusing his 19th century audience.
A Doll's House provides examples of the following tropes:
- Anti-Villain: Krogstad's desire to protect his children ends up causing a lot of trouble for Nora. He's not a bad guy at all, but he's still an antagonist.
- Broken Bird: Nora's long time friend Kristine Linde
- Casual Kink: Torvald seems to enjoy the thought of Nora, his wife, retaining her peasant girl role from the masquerade and being his secret lover. Quite racy for an upstanding bank manager at the time.
- Character Development: The reason a lot of the play's drama occurs. Nora is at first a bright-faced, happy wife who only does small acts of rebellion in order to support Torvald and herself. Eventually she opens her eyes and realizes the poor state of her marriage with Torvald.
- By the end of the play, Nora is more well-spoken and thoughtful than beforehand.
- Childhood Friends: Nora and Linde, also Torvald and Dr. Rank.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: For Krogstad and Linde.
- First Name Basis: Torvald names the trope when discussing Krogstad's behavior while working at the bank. Krogstad seems to think familiarity will ensure a promotion, but it actually leads to him being fired.
- Foil: Several of them. The inclusion of foil characters in A Doll's House serve not only to advance the story, but to magnify Nora and Torvald's relationship and differences.
- Dr. Rank is one to Torvald. Rank is a modest, unfortunate figure who shows a degree of respect towards Nora, whereas Torvald is a big presence with the perfect life and vague respect to Nora.
- Mrs. Linde is melancholic and more down-to-earth in regards to her views on the world; Nora, on the other hand, is lively (to the point of being a bit childish) and idealistic.
- Foreshadowing: Nora speaks to her trusted Nurse (who was Nora's childhood maternal figure) that "If anything were to happen, would you..."
- Good Lawyers, Good Clients: Part of the reason that the Helmers have had so many financial problems is that Torvald, according to Nora, will only take the cases he feels are morally right.
- In the Blood: Zigzagged. At the climax of the play, Torvald (incorrectly) infers that Nora broke the law not out of a desire to help him but because she inherited her crooked father's moral weakness; she replies by suggesting that the worst hereditary problems in their society are passed on through flawed social ideals, not blood. Meanwhile, poor Dr. Rank dies of a literal disease implied to be the legacy of his father's immorality.
- Leaving You to Find Myself: The play's conclusion, which might be the Trope Codifier. Nora's decision was quite controversial at the time, as it entailed not only leaving Torvald but abandoning her children - the actress playing Nora in the German production of the play forced Ibsen to write a new ending (which he detested) where Nora isn't shown leaving, "because I would never leave my children!"
- Loan Shark: Krogstad, although his methods are rather unorthodox.
- Also deconstructed. Not only paying up the last part of the debt was was more troublesome for Nora than the debt as a whole, but Krogstad turns out to be a complex person with his own motivations instead of a mere money-grubbing asshole.
- Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Deconstructed: Nora deliberately plays up her whimsicalness for Torvald's amusement, but it turns out that a result of her behavior, she and Torvald have never sat down and had a serious conversation about anything, and thus their views on each other were severely distorted. Neither takes the discovery well.
- Precision F-Strike: Nora's first sign that she wants more out of life is her confiding in her friends that occasionally she just wants to randomly shout "Well, I'm damned," quite a shocking line at the time.
- Promoted To Parent: This happened to Anne the nursemaid when Nora's mother died. Also reoccurs again when Nora leaves her children to Anne's care.
- Reconstruction: The reunion scene between Linde and Krogstand makes it clear that their relationship is based on understanding. So traditional marriage can work when the couple respect each other.
- Rule of Symbolism: The play has been examined numerous times from many angles with symbols found everywhere, but one of the most subtle comes from the metadrama which the title invokes: not only is Nora treated by Torvald like a doll, but the nature of theatre as literally looking into the stage rooms where the characters interact like dolls in a dollhouse reinforces Nora's predicament, reminds the audience they are watching a play, and implies how all of Real Life involves similarly being on display to family and society; Nora's Leaving You to Find Myself moment then becomes a challenge writ large to the audience to do the same in their own lives.
- Sympathy Bankrupt Banker: Averted by Torvald and played straight (but ultimately subverted) by Krogstad.
- Trophy Wife: It's possible to view Nora as this. One interpretation would be that Torvald doesn't really care about Nora at all and just wants a doll, in her words, to look good, entertain his friends, and fit the expectations of a model wife, but another would be that he genuinely loves Nora but is simply incapable of understanding her due to his conservative views.
- Unrequited Love: Dr. Ranke.
- Victorian Novel Disease: Dr. Ranke.
- Wrong Genre Savvy: Nora spends most of the play thinking her situation will unfold like the plot of a typical Victorian domestic drama; the fact that Torvald doesn't follow the "script" as she hoped he would is what finally makes her turn on him.