'A Doll's House' Overview

UK - Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House directed by Carrie Cracknell at the Young Vic in London.
Dominic Rowan as Torvald Helmer and Hattie Morahan as Nora Helmer in Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House directed by Carrie Cracknell at the Young Vic in London.

Robbie Jack / Getty Images

A Doll’s House is a three-act play written by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. It concerns the lives of a group of middle class Norwegians in the 1870s, and deals with themes such as appearances, the power of money, and the place of women in a patriarchal society.

Fast Facts: A Doll's House

  • Title: A Doll’s House
  • Author: Henrik Ibsen
  • Publisher: Premiered at the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen
  • Year Published: 1879
  • Genre: Drama
  • Type of Work: Play
  • Original Language: Bokmål, the written standard for the Norwegian language
  • Themes: Money, morals and appearances, women’s worth
  • Major Characters: Nora Helmer, Torvald Helmer, Nils Krogstad, Kristine Linde, Dr. Rank, Anne-Marie, the children
  • Notable Adaptations: Ingmar Bergman’s 1989 adaptation titled Nora; BBC Radio 3’s 2012 adaptation by Tanika Gupta, which is set in India and Nora (called Niru) is married to Englishman Tom
  • Fun Fact: Feeling that the ending would not resonate with German audiences, Ibsen wrote an alternate ending. Instead of walking out on Torvald, Nora is brought to her children after the final argument, and, upon seeing them, she collapses.

Plot Summary

Nora and Torvald Helmer are a typical bourgeois Norwegian household in the late 1870s, but the visit of an old friend of Nora, named Kristine Linde, and an employee of her husband, Nils Krogstad, soon exposes the cracks in their picture-perfect union.

When Kristine needs a job, she asks Nora for help interceding for her with her husband. Torvald consents, but he does so because he fired Krogstad, a lowly employee. When Krogstad finds out, he threatens to expose Nora’s past crime, a signature she forged to obtain a loan from Krogstad himself in order to afford treatment for her then-ailing husband.

Major Characters

Nora Helmer. Torvald Helmer’s wife, she is a seemingly frivolous and childlike woman.

Torvald Helmer. Nora’s husband, lawyer and banker. He is overly preoccupied with appearances and decorum.

Nils Krogstad. A lowly employee of Torvald’s, he is defined as a “moral invalid” who has leads a life of lies.

Kristine Linde. An old friend of Nora’s who is in town looking for a new job. Unlike Nora, Kristen is jaded but more practical

Dr. Rank. Rank is a family friend of the Helmers' who treats Nora as an equal. He suffers from “tuberculosis of the spine.”

Anne-Marie. The Helmers’ children’s nanny. She gave up her daughter, whom she had out of wedlock, in order to accept a position as Nora's nurse.

Major Themes

Money. In 19th-century society, money is considered more important than owning land, and those who have it command a lot of power over other people’s lives. Torvald has a profound sense of self-righteousness because of his access to stable, comfortable income.

Appearances and Morals. In the play, society was subject to a strict moral code, in which appearances were more important than substance. Torvald is overly concerned with decorum, even more so than with his alleged love for Nora. Eventually, Nora sees through the hypocrisy of the whole system and decides to break free from the shackles of the society she lives in, leaving both her husband and her children.

A Woman’s Worth. Norwegian women in the 19th century did not have many rights. They were not allowed to conduct business transactions on their own without a male guardian acting as a guarantor. While Kristine Linde is an embittered widow who works in order to escape existential dread, Nora has been brought up as if she were a doll to play with her whole life. She is infantilized by her husband, too, who calls her “little lark,” “songbird,” and “squirrel.”

Literary Style

A Doll’s House is an example of realist drama, in which the characters interact by talking in a way that closely approximates real life conversations. According to a local critic who reviewed the premiere in Copenhagen in 1879, A Doll’s House had “Not a single declamatory phrase, no high dramatics, no drop of blood, not even a tear.”

About the Author

Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen was referred to as “the father of realism,” and he is the second most performed dramatist after Shakespeare. In his productions, he was keen on examining the realities that hid behind the façades of middle-class people, even though his earlier work presents fantasy and surreal elements.

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Frey, Angelica. "'A Doll's House' Overview." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, thoughtco.com/a-dolls-house-overview-4628164. Frey, Angelica. (2020, August 28). 'A Doll's House' Overview. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/a-dolls-house-overview-4628164 Frey, Angelica. "'A Doll's House' Overview." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/a-dolls-house-overview-4628164 (accessed June 9, 2023).