In Henrik Ibsen’s play A Doll’s House, the personality of the protagonist Nora Helmer is developed and revealed through her interactions and conversations with the other characters in the play, including Mrs. Linde, Nils Krogstad, Dr. Rank and Ann-Marie. Ibsen also uses certain dramatic and literary techniques and styles, such as irony, juxtaposition and parallelism to further reveal interesting aspects of Nora’s personality. Mrs. Linde provides and interesting juxtaposition to Nora, while Krogstad initially provides the plot elements required for Nora’s character to fully expand in the play.
Dr. Rank’s love for Nora provides irony and an interesting twist in their relationship, while Ann-Marie acts in a parallel role to Nora in that they are both away from their children for long periods of time. Nora Helmer’s character itself is minimally established and revealed at the beginning of the play, but the reader is further privy to her personality as the play progresses, as she interacts with each of the other minor characters in the play.
Ibsen deliberately chooses to show Nora’s true self by revealing it in conversations between her and other characters; Mrs.Linde is one of these minor characters who is juxtaposed against Nora. Mrs. Linde married primarily for financial security and future ambitions while Nora sincerely believes that she married Torvald for love and happiness. This provides a conflict for the apparently childlike Nora as she realizes that her partner in the marriage probably didn’t marry her for the same reason.
Also, an example of dramatic irony arises at the end of the play when Mrs. Linde’s relationship with Krogstad revives again while Nora’s marriage to Helmer crumbles. As Nora unhappily but determinedly leaves her home for a different life, Mrs.b Linde’s happiness seems to be just beginning: “How different now! How different! Someone to work for, to live for – a home to build. ”
These sentiments ironically portray the very qualities of married life that Nora desired to win, and keep throughout her life; and these feelings add to her established flair for the romantic. Since the main plot of A Doll’s House revolves around the debt incurred by Nora upon taking out a loan to pay for Helmer’s recovery, Krogstad functions primarily to set forth the series of actions, which propels much of the story.
In contrast to Nora, who seems to never have encountered tremendous difficulty or hardship in her life, Krogstad’s struggles have left him bitter and searching for a better station in life. This attitude is best expressed when he says, “I had to grab hold somewhere; and I dare say that I haven’t been among the worst. ” This light juxtaposition which affects Nora and Krogstad’s relationship, combined with Nora’s secretive borrowing and money-saving practices creates a lasting impression of her desire that no one, including Helmer, discover her debt to the bank.
This clashes directly with the initial portrait of a childlike, carefree and oblivious woman that Nora “was” at the beginning of the play. Nora’s personality slowly changes from a two-dimensional figure to a fully developed and captivating woman who can independently take care of herself and her family without the guiding hand of a man at her side. This is illustrated by her handling of the debt crisis up to the point that her husband finds out. The prevailing belief in nineteenth century society was that women could not handle affairs suited only for men, such as the management of finances or similar tasks and occupations.
Ibsen’s Nora progresses from an innocent, apparently oblivious bystander to the her world’s events to a character who has the courage, determination, and intellect to undertake those tasks that Victorian society prohibited for women. Krogstad’s demeanor and attitude toward Nora also reveals certain important aspects of their relationship, and thus her personality. For example, while Torvald figuratively and continually refers to Nora as his “little sky-lark” and “squirrel”, Nora’s conversation with Krogstad contains an undercurrent of cautious respect on the part of Krogstad and fear and foreboding on the part of Nora.
For Krogstad, a woman as independent as Nora is a novelty, and thus he is nowhere near as condescending and parental as Torvald is and a man is expected to be. This element of Nora and Krogstad’s association is illustrative of Nora’s unique character and intriguing personality. Ibsen deliberately uses the symbolism of Nora and Krogstad’s relationship to raise questions about women’s actual – as opposed to devised – role in society and to develop Nora’s persona beyond that of a submissive, role-playing woman.
Another minor character who indirectly reveals much of Nora’s character is Dr. Rank, an associate and close friend of Nora who professes his love for her later in the play. Although Nora desires to ask Rank for the money required to pay off her debt to the bank, his sudden declaration of love confuses and disorients Nora. Most women in Victorian society were conscious and very mindful of their sexuality. But the reader is introduced to an unique element of Nora’s personality – she is only now aware that she is seen as a sex object by those around her, including Torvald.
Also, Nora’s jovial attitude towards Rank during Act One changes after his announcement. Her choice of words and diction markedly differs from her previously friendly conversations with Rank as she says following his declaration, “Now there’s nothing you can do for me. Besides, actually, I don’t need any help. You’ll see-it’s only my fantasies. ” Her denial of needing anything from Rank illustrates a mind conscious of the moral limits to what she can ask of Rank in such situation, further enriching Nora’s character in this play.
While most people would take advantage of such a predicament to pay the debt in full and resume the carefree and content life that Nora led, she chooses instead to prevent such a thought from even taking root in her mind, and to face the consequences of her actions. Also, the relationship between Rank and Nora provides an interesting irony in the play. Dr. Rank is, in all aspects, a man who recognizes the elements of Nora’s personality, including her independent nature and deep affection for her family, as making her very unique in a society of repressed women.
Instead of regarding Nora as a “Capri fishergirl” and a sex object as Helmer has, Rank realizes Nora’s deeper sensitivity to the world and her environment. In some ways, Rank is exactly the husband for Nora – he is her best friend and confidant – but he is unable to fill such a role. In his place, Torvald figuratively dresses Nora as a child would a doll, and disregards her hidden qualities. In this irony and paradox, the reader feels sympathy for Nora, and is conscious of her inner strength required to endure Torvald’s opinions and restrictions. Finally, Ann-Marie, the nurse of the Helmer household, parallels Nora in some ways.
When Nora asks of her nurse, “Do you think [the children] would forget their mother if she was gone for good? ” Ibsen inserts an aspect of foreshadowing which highlights Nora’s final departure from her household. Ann-Marie is a matron figure to the childish Nora, as she was the foster mother for the little Mrs. Helmer. Nora’s deep affection for all members of her household family is emphasized here as her relationship with Ann-Marie is developed. Nora’s extended time away from her children is analogous to Ann-Marie’s own association with her children, who she had to leave in order to better serve as Nora’s nurse.
The reader sympathizes slightly with both women in this fact. Ibsen uses their relationship to further develop Nora’s personality and feelings towards her relations. Ibsen deliberately portrayed Nora as a woman sensitive to others’ emotions and thoughts to provoke a genuine and appreciative response from a realistic-minded audience who would realize human elements of Nora’s personality. Throughout Ibsen’s play, Nora Helmer is a protagonist who is initially a two-dimensional, oblivious character, but transforms into a complex and rich personality, mainly through her interactions with minor characters in the play.
Figures such as Mrs. Linde and Ann-Marie provided emotional and physical parallels and contrasts to Nora while Dr. Rank and Nils Krogstad functioned to develop the plot and Nora’s persona though conversations. Ibsen’s deliberate use of minor characters in A Doll’s House was to create and develop Nora’s personality; and as the play finishes, Nora is a real and complex character, a woman who is contradictory to society’s expectations and ideal for a realistic world.