Krogstad is the antagonist in A Doll’s House, but he is not necessarily a villain. Though his willingness to allow Nora’s torment to continue is cruel, Krogstad is not without sympathy for her. As he says, “Even moneylenders, hacks, well, a man like me, can have a little of what you call feeling, you know.” He visits Nora to check on her, and he discourages her from committing suicide. Moreover, Krogstad has reasonable motives for behaving as he does: he wants to keep his job at the bank in order to spare his children from the hardships that come with a spoiled reputation. Unlike Torvald, who seems to desire respect for selfish reasons, Krogstad desires it for his family’s sake. Like Nora, Krogstad is a person who has been wronged by society, and both she and Krogstad have committed the same crime: forgery of signatures. Though he did break the law, Krogstad’s crime was relatively minor, but society has saddled him with the stigma of being a criminal and prohibited him from living down his past. Additionally, Krogstad’s claim that his immoral behavior came about when Mrs. Linde abandoned him for a man with money so she could provide for her family makes it possible for us to understand Krogstad as something of a victim of circumstances. One could argue that society forced Mrs. Linde away from Krogstad and thus prompted his crime. Though society’s unfair treatment of Krogstad does not justify his actions, it does align him more closely with Nora and therefore temper our perception of him as a despicable character.
Torvald embraces the belief that a man’s role in marriage is to protect and guide his wife. He clearly enjoys the idea that Nora needs his guidance, and he constantly interacts with her as a father would. He instructs her with trite, moralistic sayings, such as: “A home that depends on loans and debt is not beautiful because it is not free.” He is also eager to teach Nora the dance she performs at the costume party. Torvald likes to envision himself as Nora’s savoir, asking her after the party, “[D]o you know that I’ve often wished you were facing some terrible dangers so that I could risk life and limb, risk everything, for your sake?”
Although Torvald seizes the power in his relationship with Nora and refers to her as a “girl,” it seems that Torvald is actually the weaker and more childlike character. Dr. Rank’s explanation for not wanting Torvald to enter his sickroom—”Torvald is so fastidious, he cannot face up to anything ugly”—suggests that Dr. Rank feels Torvald must be sheltered like a child from the realities of the world. Furthermore, Torvald reveals himself to be childishly petty at times. His real objection to working with Krogstad is not a deficiency in Krogstad’s moral character but rather Krogstad’s overly friendly and familiar behavior. Torvald’s decision to fire Krogstad ultimately stems from the fact that he feels threatened and offended by Krogstad’s failure to pay him the proper respect.
Torvald is very conscious of other people’s perceptions of him and of his standing in the community. His explanation for rejecting Nora’s request that Krogstad be kept on at the office—that retaining Krogstad would make him “a laughing stock before the entire staff”—shows that he prioritizes his reputation over his wife’s desires. Torvald further demonstrates his deep need for society’s respect in his reaction to Nora’s deception. Although he says that Nora has ruined his happiness and will not be allowed to raise the children, he insists that she remain in the house because his chief concern is saving “the appearance” of their household.
Nora Torvald: As the beginning of A Doll’s House shows, Nora seems completely happy. She responds affectionately to Torvald’s teasing, speaks with excitement about the extra money his new job will give them, and takes pleasure in the company of her children and friends. She does not seem to mind her doll-like existence, in which she is coddled, pampered, and patronized.
As the play progresses, Nora reveals that she is not just a “silly girl,” as Torvald calls her. Her understanding of the business details related to the debt she incurred in taking out a loan to preserve Torvald’s health indicates that she is intelligent and possesses capacities beyond mere wifehood. Her description of the years of secret labor she undertook to pay off her debt manifests her fierce determination and ambition. Additionally, the fact that she was willing to break the law in order to ensure Torvald’s health shows her courage.
Krogstad’s blackmail and the trauma that follows do not change Nora’s nature; they simply open her eyes to her unfulfilled and underappreciated potential. “I have been performing tricks for you, Torvald,” she says during her climactic confrontation with Torvald. Nora comes to realize that, in addition to her literal dancing and singing tricks, she has been putting on a show throughout her entire marriage. She has pretended to be someone she is not in order to fulfill the role that Torvald, her father, and society at large expect of her.
Torvald’s severe and selfish reaction after learning of Nora’s deception and forgery serves as the final catalyst for Nora’s awakening. But, even in the first act, Nora shows that she is not totally unaware that her life is at odds with her true personality. She defies Torvald in small yet meaningful ways—by eating macaroons and then lying to him about them, for instance. She also swears, apparently just for the pleasure she derives from the minor rebellion against societal standards. As the drama unfolds and as Nora’s awareness of the truth about her life grows, her need for rebellion escalates. This need culminates in her walking out on her husband and children in order to find independence.
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