A Doll’s House Characters

Nora Helmer: Nora is the wife of Torvald Helmer, in whose apartment the action of the play takes place. Nora first appears as a silly, selfish and spoilt woman, Torvald’s “doll-child.” However, we soon realize that she has strengths and depths that she has hitherto kept hidden. She has saved Torvald’s life by negotiating and almost completely paying off a loan from Krogstad. The loan, which involved her forging her father’s signature, enabled her to take Torvald to Italy, where he recovered. But she has never told him where the money came from, as his pride would suffer. She believes that Torvald loves her enough to take all blame upon himself, but she is mistaken. When she realizes that he is more concerned with appearances and respectability than with her happiness, she decides to leave him and find her own way in life.

Torvald Helmer: Torvald, Nora’s husband, is a banker and lawyer. He treats his wife not as an equal but as a foolish child, plaything and erotic fantasy-figure, as is revealed by his demeaning pet names for her (“little songbird,” “little skylark,” “little person,” etc.). In the early part of the play he engages our sympathy because of his indulgent devotion to his wife. He treats her generously, giving her extra money when she asks for it. However, he is unable to cope with the disagreeable truths of life. Thus Nora does not tell him the truth about her loan, and Dr Rank does not tell him about his imminent death. They feel they must protect him. Torvald claims that he would take all upon himself if any burden were to fall upon her, and fantasizes about rescuing her from some mortal danger. But when just such an event occurs in the form of Krogstad’s revelations, he fails to consider her past sacrifice or her current and future happiness. His concern is only for his public reputation. He is revealed as a shallow, vain man who is incapable of understanding his wife or of properly returning her love.

Mrs Linde: Mrs Linde is an old schoolfriend of Nora’s. She gave up her true love, Krogstad, and married a man she did not love for financial security, to support her brothers and invalid mother. Since her husband died bankrupt, she has lived an independent life as a single working woman. She has struggled financially and now that she has no one to look after, she feels empty. Finally, she gets back together with Krogstad and joyfully looks forward to their life together. Her journey from independence to marriage is a foil to Nora’s journey in the opposite direction. Mrs Linde is a force for truth in Nora’s life; she is shocked by the deceptions in Nora’s marriage and wants the Helmers to face the truth. To this end she does not try to persuade Krogstad to recall his letter revealing all.

Dr Rank: Dr Rank is a friend of the Helmers’ who visits them daily. He is a foil to Torvald in that he treats Nora as an intelligent human being and she in return speaks more openly to him than she does to her husband. Dr Rank is dying of tuberculosis of the spine, which he inherited from his father, who contracted venereal disease due to sexual excesses. He refrains from telling Torvald of his imminent death because it is too “ugly” an idea for him to tolerate, but he does tell Nora, an indication of the bond between them. He talks with her about his coming death in a code that excludes Torvald and protects him from harsh reality. However, Dr Rank is not entirely the straightforward truth-teller of dramatic tradition. His real motive for visiting the Helmers is that he is in love with Nora.

Krogstad: Krogstad is an employee at the bank at which Torvald is made manager. He leant Nora the money to take Torvald to Italy to recuperate. He has committed an “indiscretion” in the past involving a crime similar to Nora’s – forging a signature on a document. Since then, he has struggled to regain and maintain his respectability in the eyes of society. His job at the bank is a major part of this respectability. So when Torvald, who sees Krogstad as irredeemably morally tainted, decides to give his job to Mrs Linde, he resorts to blackmailing Nora. Unless Nora persuades Torvald to keep Krogstad in his job (he later extends this to a promotion), he will tell Torvald about her loan and her forgery of her father’s signature.

At first, Krogstad appears to be a grasping and vindictive villain. But as soon as Mrs Linde tells him that she has always loved him and asks him to resume their relationship, he reveals himself as a more loving, joyful and merciful character. Mrs Linde, unlike Torvald, believes that Krogstad can change for the better, and indeed, from this point on, his life appears to be set on a positive course. He recants his threats to the Helmers and sends Nora’s bond back to her, relinquishing his power over her. In effect, Krogstad’s story is a testament to the redeeming power of love and challenges the notion held by Torvald that moral dissolution, like the Calvinist notion of ‘original sin,’ is permanently ingrained.

The Nurse: The Nurse brought up Nora and is now helping to bring up Nora’s children. Having committed the ‘sin’ of having a baby out of wedlock, she considers herself lucky to have been offered her job, even though she had to give up her own child in order to take up her position. She exemplifies the self-sacrificial role of women that Ibsen highlights in this play. Nora finally leaves her children in the Nurse’s care, believing that they will be better off than they would be with her.