Upon analyzing Torvald and Nora Helmer's interactions in Henrick Ibsen's, A Doll's House, we find these characters are not the happily married couple they portray. Indeed, they are fooling society with their fallacious act, but in reality, the Helmers do not know each other, nor do they know themselves. Torvald and Nora's two greatly differing moralities separate them, yet their deceptions create a likeness, while serving as the common ground in their marriage.
In the opening scene of Act 1, we meet Nora Helmer; she displays a childlike manor that leaves one breathless in the flurry of all her activity. She has come back from a shopping trip, which portrays her to be quite the spendthrift with all the parcels she has purchased. Although money certainly seems to burn a hole in her pockets, she is not greedy and tips her porter well. We then meet Torvald, and like Nora, in this act, his concerns focus on money. However, his view on it differs greatly. Nora does not spend her money frivolously, as Torvald's chiding would lead us to believe. It is however, put toward the payoff of the secret loan Nora had taken out, for their trip to Italy to repair his health. Although Torvald is more subtle than Nora is when speaking of money, and at first, appears to be level headed on the subject, we soon find out that money represents all that is beautiful to him. He must have a beautiful home; Nora must be his beautiful wife. The way to accomplish these appearances in society is through money, bringing to light Torvald's shallow nature.
Also in the opening scene, we find that Torvald never addresses Nora by a respectable name. In fact, the only time he uses such, is when he is angry with her later in the play. Torvald has many a pet name for Nora such as "my little squirrel", "little featherhead", and "little skylark" (A Doll's House, Act 1) however, as innocent as these names may seem, they are belittling. These names could actually be just as easily representative of a pet rather than an actual person. In contrast, Nora always refers to Torvald respectfully treating him with authority.
Prior to Nora's exchange with Torvald, we realize her potential for rebellion as she sneaks macaroons, hiding them quickly before he can see her eating them. Torvald questions her, "Hasn't Miss sweet tooth been breaking rules in town today" (A Doll's house, Act 1)? Nora without missing a beat, outright denies it; even as he questions her a second time, she tells him she would never lie to him. This hypocrisy alerts us that Nora has the capacity to lie, and she does it well, signifying she has probably done so numerous times before (www.agonia.net). Torvald however, never blatantly lies to Nora, or any of the characters for that matter. Instead, he is lying to himself regarding his true feelings for his wife, but then again, she too is guilty of this charge (Rush, 23).
Nora is the epitome of a trophy wife, lest she should not eat sweets, they could rot her teeth, spoiling her image, for she must be perfect. Should she choose to go against Torvald's wishes, she would be treated as the foolish, helpless, naughty child he believes her to be. As his doll, she is on display for the world, however, she has little value and even less utility in his life, so she must do as he wishes to stay in his favor (http://eastwickpress.com/news).
When Nora confesses to Mrs Linde an old school friend, we learn she has been leading a double life. Nora single-handedly saved Torvald, taking him out of the country to recuperate in Italy when his health was threatened. Nora has sacrificed herself forging her father's signature on a bond for a loan, at a time, when women were unable to borrow money without the consent of their husbands. In Nora's eyes, this was a necessity, done discreetly with love and respect for Torvald's pride. To pay back the loan, Nora secretly took on jobs and put money from her "allowance" away without Torvald's knowledge. This proves Nora is smart, cunning, and has a sense of suppressed independence. She has devised a plan, implemented it, and made use of her own resources to make back the money she needs to pay Krogstad. We can surmise that Torvald also has these qualities. To be Manager of a bank or a Lawyer, one must be smart, cunning in the ways of business, especially when it comes to money and independent, particularly since he has taken on a position in a role of leadership.
When Nora set about to help Torvald, she did so under the assumption that one day if need be, he too, would make the same sacrifices for her, should the moment arise. This could be no further from the truth, for when the moment does arise, Torvald falls short. His response after finding out about Nora's deception shows us how little she knows about the man she married. The same could be said for Torvald, for he is horrified at what he learns, and responds with
What a horrible awakening! All these eight years--she who was my joy and pride--a hypocrite, a liar--worse, worse--a criminal! The unutterable ugliness of it all!--For shame! For shame! I ought to have suspected that something of the sort would happen. I ought to have foreseen it." (A Doll's House, Act 3)
Torvald also, has been in the dark as to Nora, and her capabilities. We know he is angry over the consequences that could befall him brought on by her actions:
Now you have destroyed all my happiness. You have ruined all my future. It is horrible to think of! I am in the power of an unscrupulous man; he can do what he likes with me, ask anything he likes of me, give me any orders he pleases--I dare not refuse. And I must sink to such miserable depths because of a thoughtless woman! (A Doll's House, Act 3)
Not once, does Torvald consider the consequences that Nora may suffer. The question that remains; is Torvald angry with Nora for what she has done, or is his anger directed at her because she has proven she can think for herself.
We find that Krogstad has the same affect on Nora as he does on Torvald. He is an antagonist, and whenever he shows up at the Helmer house conflict always arises. Krogstad brings out the worst in Torvald; it appears they are complete opposites. Torvald is a good upstanding citizen, while Krogstad has lost the respect of the community. Both however, are competing to maintain or regain their level of respect in society. Torvald's deep disdain of Krogstad does not just come from the crime he has committed in the past. Part of it stems from Torvald's feelings that Krogstad has an inadequate amount of respect for him, since he has known him in his past. Torvald does not realize when he condemns Krogstad he is also condemning his wife (Rush).
The Tarantella that Torvald has Nora perform on Christmas night is his chance to show off his marionette, for his own entertainment, as well as to show off his perfection to society. This is proof that he is in control, with a beautiful wife that does as he commands. As for Nora, the Tarantella represents something very different, although it is also her last chance to be Torvald's little marionette, it is also her chance to rid herself of the poison in her life which would actually be Torvald. It is representative of the struggle and agitation of her situation, and finally of the change that is about to take place. She will metamorphose from her husband's little doll into her true self.
Even before Torvald opened the first letter from Krogstad, Nora was distraught over what she had done; she contemplated taking her own life to spare her family of the social dishonor she had caused. In her own way, this would be her final act of bravery to show how she cared enough about her family to give her own life for them. Torvald does not have the same sentiment. His concern is only for himself, he fears standing accused of masterminding the whole thing. His focus is on what Nora has done to him, never on her, even when she speaks of her own suicide Torvald is not fazed, since it would be of no benefit to him "What good would it be to me if you were out of the way, as you say? Not the slightest" (A Doll's House, Act 3).
We realize Torvald never really loved Nora at all. He loved the idea of having a wife. He loved the idea of being in charge (Templeton); he gave monetary gifts, but he never displayed any real affection or respect for Nora. As for Nora, she did love Torvald, she even believed he loved her, and would sacrifice himself for her, once the letter came in the mail. Is this the reason why Nora was so greatly disturbed when Dr. Rank professed his love for her? Did she realize Rank was a man she could have had an open and free relationship with unlike her husband?
The ending shocks us, as well as Torvald. Immediately after the second letter arrives, Torvald's world is right once again, as he learns he will not become the social pariah he so fears, Nora's indiscretions can now be forgiven. Nora has other plans, she has changed, and realizes she has been wronged; "That is just it; you have never understood me. I have been greatly wronged, Torvald--first by papa and then by you" (A Doll's House, Act 3). She is no longer Torvald's little doll, she is in control of herself and her own life now. Even as Torvald forbids her to leave, she in on her way out the door. The roles have now reversed themselves, and Torvald left alone, must wonder where all has gone wrong.
The separation between Nora and Torvald was unavoidable since their union was corrupt from the very start. The bond of deception that made them unwittingly alike was also the conflict that broke them apart. At the end of the play, Nora and Torvald are differentiated by their reversal of roles. Nora has transformed into the strong forceful character, and Torvald has been exposed for the weak and petty character he truly is. In an ironic twist, the puppet master has now become the puppet.