'A Doll's House' Quotes

“I’ve been your doll-wife here, just as at home I was Daddy’s doll-child.”

The following quotes examine morality and sense of agency in 19th-century Norway, as the character in Ibsen's A Doll's House are embroiled in the contradictions of the values they live by.

Societal Expectations of Women

“I’d never have believed this. You really have forgotten everything I taught you.” (Act II)

Torvald utters this line when he observes Nora rehearse her tarantella ahead of the fancy-dress ball. He is in a state of erotic fascination, and yet he reprimands his wife for not following the instructions he had given her. The scene featuring her dressed in a Neapolitan-fisher-girl costume—which was Torvald's idea—practicing a routine is a metaphor of their whole relationship. She is a pretty object doing things for him as instructed by him. “Your squirrel would run about and do tricks,” Nora tells him in order to appease him when she asks him to keep Krogstad’s job safe. 

The relationship between the two is an artificial construct, and the presence of her costume emphasizes this: before leaving the ball, he shares with her a fantasy harnessed by the fisher-girl costume. “I pretend to myself that you’re my young bride, that we’ve just come away from our wedding, that I’m leading you into my abode for the first time—that I’m alone with you for the first time—utterly alone with you—my young, trembling beauty!” he says. “All this evening I’ve had no other desire but for you.” Nora is not a young bride any longer, as they have been married for eight years and have three children. 

“You know, Nora—many a time I’ve wished that some impending danger might threaten you, so I could risk life and limb and everything, everything, for your sake.” (Act III)

These words sounds like rescue to Nora, who, until the end of the play, thinks that Torvald is an absolutely loving and devoted husband who will perform selfless, chivalrous acts for Nora. Unfortunately for her, they are a fantasy for her husband, too. Torvald really likes talking about holding her “like a haunted dove that [he’d] rescued unscathed out of the hawk’s claws” and about pretending they’re something they’re not: secret lovers or newlyweds. Nora suddenly realizes that her husband is not only an unloving and morally uptight man, but that he also lived in his own fantasy when it came to the marriage and she must, therefore, strike it out on her own. 

Quotes About Moral Character

"However miserable I may be, I still prefer to be tormented for as long as is possible. And the same goes for all of my patients. As it does for the morally afflicted too. Right now, in fact, there’s just such a moral invalid in there with Helmer." (Act I)

These words, spoken by Rank, serve the purpose of characterizing the play’s antagonist, Krogstad, who is also described as “rotten right at the roots of his character.” We know of Krogstad’s criminal past, when he committed forgers; after the act, he had been “slipping away with tricks and manoeuvres,” and he would “wear a mask even for those closest to him.” His lack of morality is seen as a disease throughout the play. When Torvald talks about Krogstad’s raising his children by himself, he observes that his lies bring “contagion and disease” into the household. “Every breath the children take in such a house,” Torvald reflects, “is filled with the germs of something ugly.” He acknowledges his degenerate nature, though. When he and Kristine reunite in Act III, he talks about the heartbreak she caused him “When I lost you, it was as though all solid ground slid from under my feet,” he tells her. “Look at me now; I’m a man shipwrecked on a broken vessel.”

Kristine and Krogstad are characterized in the same manner. Both of them are referred to by Rank as "bedærvet" in the original version, which means "putrefied." It’s unclear whether this also serves as a hint to the fact that Krogstad and Kristine used to be involved, but, during their reunion in Act III, Kristine says that they are “two shipwrecked people,” that are better off clinging together than drifting alone.

Upending Social Norms and Nora's Breakthrough

HELMER: Leave your home, your husband and your children! And you haven’t a thought for what people will say.
NORA: I can’t take that into consideration. I just know that it’ll be necessary for me.
HELMER: And I really need to tell you that! Aren’t they the duties to your husband and your children?
NORA: I have other equally sacred duties.
HELMER: You do not. What duties could they be?
NORA: The duties to myself.
(Act III)

This exchange between Torvald and Nora highlights the different set of values that the two characters end up abiding by. Nora is trying to establish herself as an individual, refusing all the religious and non-religious dogma she was raised with. “I can no longer allow myself to be satisfied with what most people say and what’s written in books,” she says. She realizes that, all her life, she had been living like a doll inside a playhouse, disengaged from society and current events, and she was indeed compliant in that, up until the realization that she was more than a plaything.

By contrast, Torvald remains deeply entrenched in the importance of appearances and in the Victorian-era moral code his social class follows. In fact, when he reads Krogstad’s first letter, he is very quick at shunning Nora, telling her that she will not be allowed to be near her children and that she can still live in their house, but only for them to save face. By contrast, when he receives the second letter, he exclaims “We’re both saved, both you and I!” He believes his wife acted the ways she did because she inherently lacked the insight to make a judgement and is unable to act independently. “Just lean on me; I’ll advise you; I’ll guide and instruct you” is his moral code as a Victorian-era husband.

“I’ve been your doll-wife here, just as at home I was Daddy’s doll-child.” (Act III)

This is when Nora acknowledges the superficiality of her union with Torvald. Despite his grandiose proclamations of risking everything for her and sheltering her from every peril, she realizes those were just empty words that occupied Torvald’s fantasy and not his actual reality.

Being a doll was even the way she had been brought up by her father, where he just fed her his opinions and was entertained by her as if she were a plaything. And when she married Torvald, the history repeated itself.

In turn, Nora also treats her children like dolls. She has deep insight into this, as it emerges after Torvald calms down from the frenzy Krogstad’s letter had thrown him into. “I was, just as before, your little song-lark, your doll that you would carry in your arms twice as carefully hereafter, because it was so fragile and weak,” she acknowledges. Even when Torvald somehow manages to say that he has the strength to be a different person, she wisely tells him that might be the case “if your doll is taken away from you,” showing that he was actually the childish and superficial one in the couple.