A Doll's House By Henrik Ibsen Summary and Analysis Act II

Summary

It is later in the same day. Nora has avoided her children, fearing to pollute them. In a conversation with her old nurse, she tells the servant that the children will have to get used to seeing less of their mother from now on. This is Nora's first suggestion of withdrawing from the life she has lived up until now.

While Nora unpacks her costume from the box — the Italian fisher girl dress which reminds Torvald of their Italian honeymoon trip — Christine enters and busies herself in sewing a tear in the garment. They discuss Dr. Rank, and Christine is shocked by Nora's knowledge of inherited disease, a subject usually shielded from innocent ears. Being herself far from naive, she reproaches Nora for having borrowed the money from Dr. Rank to pay for Torvald's rest cure in Italy. Emphatically the girl denies it, for, she says, she would never allow herself placed in such a "horribly painful position" toward their old friend.

Torvald's appearance interrupts the conversation. Nora goes to greet him and then, very prettily, coaxes her husband once more to allow Krogstad to keep his position in the bank. Nora says she is afraid he might write malicious slander about Torvald in the newspapers, threatening his new position just as her father had once been threatened. This is the part of their dialogue which illuminates the character and circumstances of Nora's father, who was once a government official. Sent by the department to investigate the truth of the newspaper charges against her father, Torvald cleared his name; as a conquering hero, he then married the grateful daughter.

Torvald admits that Krogstad's moral failings can be overlooked, but he is most annoyed at the moneylender's embarrassingly familiar manner toward him when there are other people around. Because they were once intimate friends, Krogstad presumes familiarity, and by this attitude, Torvald says, "he would make my position in the bank intolerable." Nora is surprised and insults Torvald by remarking how unlike him it is to take such "a narrowminded way of looking at things." He is so peeved at her estimation that he calls the maid to immediately post the letter of Krogstad's dismissal.

"Call her back, Torvald. Do you hear me, call her back," Nora pleads in panic. Taking her in his arms, he says he is not afraid of a "starving quilldriver's vengeance." Whatever happens, Torvald declares, "you may be sure that I am man enough to take everything upon myself." Nora reads much more meaning into this. "You will never have to do that," she vows. Alone onstage, Nora desperately thinks of some way to pay off the last part of the debt and free herself from Krogstad.

At this point, Dr. Rank arrives. He has come, he says, to tell her that he has one more month left to live. When the final "horrors of dissolution" begin, he will send her a card marked with a black cross, for he intends to remain alone like a sick animal when it is time to die. A victim of tuberculosis of the spine, Rank denounces the "inexorable retribution'' that innocent children must pay for their parent's excesses, and Nora covers her ears to prevent hearing the references to her own life and her own children.

To avoid the serious talk, Nora chatters about her dress, flirtatiously showing Rank her silk stockings. The doctor becomes serious again, expressing sorrow at being unable to leave her a token of gratitude for the friendship he enjoyed in this house. Nora, about to ask him to lend her money as a "big proof of friendship," never makes her request, for Rank responds to her hint with a passionate declaration of love. Nora rises and quietly calls the servant to bring them more light.

As their conversation continues in the brightened room, she lapses into her former friendliness. Rank points out that she seems even more relaxed in his company than with Torvald. Nora explains that "there are some people one loves best and others whom one would almost always rather have as companions." When living with Papa, she used to steal into the maids' rooms because "they never moralized at all and talked to each other about such interesting things." She concludes with unconscious significance that "being with Torvald is a little like being with Papa."

At this point, the maid hands her Krogstad's visiting card. Finding some pretext, Nora excuses herself from Dr. Rank and confronts the moneylender, who has just received Torvald's letter of dismissal. Krogstad informs Nora that he has no further interest in the money and will keep the bond in a gesture of blackmail. With this weapon, he will have the power to make Torvald guarantee his employment at the bank and to eventually attain a higher position.

Nora declares that her husband would never submit to such humiliation and hints she would rather sacrifice her life than have Torvald suffer blame for her crime. She is sure his protective nature would make him assume all the guilt, but Krogstad has a much lower opinion of Torvald's character. Turning to go, he tells her that he is leaving a letter informing Torvald of the forgery. Nora listens breathlessly as the footsteps pass downstairs. As they pause, she hears something drop into the letterbox, then the steps gradually diminish.

Returning to Christine, Nora tells of the forgery and the letter. She begs her friend to act as a witness "if anything should happen to me." Were someone to take all the blame, all the responsibility, Christine must "remember that I alone did the whole thing." With mounting emotion, Nora says, "A wonderful thing is going to happen. But it is so terrible, Christine, it mustn't happen, not for all the world." Christine insists upon paying Krogstad a visit right away. On the strength of their past love, she will ask him to recall the letter.

Torvald is accustomed at this hour to read his mail, and Nora tries to distract him. She tells him that she is so nervous about dancing the tarantella for the party that he must help her practice until the last minute. Agreeing to do nothing but instruct her dancing — not even open his mail — Torvald watches as Nora begins her dance, Rank playing the piano accompaniment. Despite her husband's instructions, Nora moves more and more violently, dancing "as if her life depended on it." Torvald suddenly cries "Stop! This is sheer madness. You have forgotten everything I've taught you." He embraces his nervous wife, suspecting that she is afraid of a letter Krogstad may have written. He promises not to look in the letterbox. "The child shall have her way," murmurs the comforting amorous husband. "But tomorrow night after you have danced — " "Then you will be free," she answers significantly.

Christine returns and tells Nora that Krogstad is out of town, but she left a letter for him. Alone, Nora resigns herself to suicide, reckoning that, until the end of the party, she has thirty-one hours left to live. "Where's my little skylark?" calls Torvald returning from the dining room to fetch her. As Nora stretches her arms out to him, the curtain falls.

Analysis

In this act, Nora learns that she alone must face the consequences of her guilt. Refusing to allow Torvald to take the blame, she prepares to kill herself.

The theme of death in this scene suggests a parallel between Nora and Dr. Rank, for the knowledge of his death coincides with her decision to commit suicide. Her tarantella is then a symbolic death dance which Rank, fittingly, plays for her on the piano. At the same time, since Torvald has chosen her dance costume to be that of a Capri fisher girl, the tarantella symbolizes their wedding, for Nora and Torvald learned the dance while honeymooning in Italy. Her dancing will be her final mortal performance, for Nora views the end of the party not only as the termination of her marriage, but as the last moments of her life.

The scene between Nora and Dr. Rank is a significant one. Not only does it underscore the "pollution and infection" which a guilty parent can pass on to his children — Nora being the guilt-ridden parent, Rank the victim of venereal disease — but it shows the youthful innocence of Nora. Accustomed to approaching her husband in a mood of adolescent flirtatiousness, Nora treats Dr. Rank the same way as she shows him her leg dressed in the new silk stockings. When Rank responds with a declaration of love instead of amused paternity, Nora recognizes for the first time the underlying sexual nature of her relationship with Torvald. This sudden understanding prevents her asking Dr. Rank for the "big proof of friendship" which she would have been able to accept innocently from a family friend. Knowing that receiving payment from a lover places one in a "horribly painful position" reminds Nora how she has always cajoled Torvald to give her little presents of money. With this understanding, she begins to recognize how Torvald, regarding her as a romantic object, violates her personal independence.

Nora learns more about Torvald's weakness of character in this act although she does not realize the full significance of this insight until the following scene. When Torvald tells her that he wishes to get rid of Krogstad, not because he judges him morally incompetent but because he is ashamed to admit friendship with a man held to be disreputable, Nora observes that Torvald is quite different from the moralizing and respectable husband she has admired for eight years. Despite this insight, she still believes, as she tells Christine, that the "wonderful thing" will still take place — the proud terrible moment when Torvald discovers the forgery and takes all the guilt upon himself.

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