A Doll's House is a three-act play in prose by Henrik Ibsen. The play is significant for its critical attitude toward 19th century marriage norms. It aroused great controversy at the time, as it concludes with the protagonist, Nora, leaving her husband and children because she wants to discover herself. Ibsen was inspired by the belief that "a woman cannot be herself in modern society," since it is "an exclusively male society, with laws made by men and with prosecutors and judges who assess feminine conduct from a masculine standpoint." Its ideas can also be seen as having a wider application: Michael Meyer argued that the play's theme is not women's rights, but rather "the need of every individual to find out the kind of person he or she really is and to strive to become that person." In a speech given to the Norwegian Association for Women's Rights in 1898, Ibsen insisted that he "must disclaim the honor of having consciously worked for the women's rights movement," since he wrote "without any conscious thought of making propaganda," his task having been "the description of humanity." In 2006, the centennial of Ibsen's death, A Doll's House held the distinction of being the world's most performed play.
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By Henrik Ibsen
Nora, his wife.
Helmer's three young children.
Anne, their nurse.
[SCENE.--A room furnished comfortably and tastefully, but not extravagantly. At the back, a door to the right leads to the entrance-hall, another to the left leads to Helmer's study. Between the doors stands a piano. In the middle of the left-hand wall is a door, and beyond it a window. Near the window are a round table, arm-chairs and a small sofa. In the right-hand wall, at the farther end, another door; and on the same side, nearer the footlights, a stove, two easy chairs and a rocking-chair; between the stove and the door, a small table. Engravings on the walls; a cabinet with china and other small objects; a small book-case with well-bound books. The floors are carpeted, and a fire burns in the stove.
It is winter. A bell rings in the hall; shortly afterwards the door is heard to open. Enter NORA, humming a tune and in high spirits. She is in outdoor dress and carries a number of parcels; these she lays on the table to the right. She leaves the outer door open after her, and through it is seen a PORTER who is carrying a Christmas Tree and a basket, which he gives to the MAID who has opened the door.]
Nora. Hide the Christmas Tree carefully, Helen. Be sure the children do not see it until this evening, when it is dressed. [To the PORTER, taking out her purse.] How much?
Nora. There is a shilling. No, keep the change. [The PORTER thanks her, and goes out. NORA shuts the door. She is laughing to herself, as she takes off her hat and coat. She takes a packet of macaroons from her pocket and eats one or two; then goes cautiously to her husband's door and listens.] Yes, he is in. [Still humming, she goes to the table on the right.]
Helmer [calls out from his room]. Is that my little lark twittering out there?
Nora [busy opening some of the parcels]. Yes, it is!
Helmer. Is it my little squirrel bustling about?
Helmer. When did my squirrel come home?
Nora. Just now. [Puts the bag of macaroons into her pocket and wipes her mouth.] Come in here, Torvald, and see what I have bought.
Helmer. Don't disturb me. [A little later, he opens the door and looks into the room, pen in hand.] Bought, did you say? All these things? Has my little spendthrift been wasting money again?
Nora. Yes but, Torvald, this year we really can let ourselves go a little. This is the first Christmas that we have not needed to economise.
Helmer. Still, you know, we can't spend money recklessly.
Nora. Yes, Torvald, we may be a wee bit more reckless now, mayn't we? Just a tiny wee bit! You are going to have a big salary and earn lots and lots of money.
Helmer. Yes, after the New Year; but then it will be a whole quarter before the salary is due.
Nora. Pooh! we can borrow until then.
Helmer. Nora! [Goes up to her and takes her playfully by the ear.] The same little featherhead! Suppose, now, that I borrowed fifty pounds today, and you spent it all in the Christmas week, and then on New Year's Eve a slate fell on my head and killed me, and--
Nora [putting her hands over his mouth]. Oh! don't say such horrid things.
Helmer. Still, suppose that happened,--what then?
Nora. If that were to happen, I don't suppose I should care whether I owed money or not.
Helmer. Yes, but what about the people who had lent it?
Nora. They? Who would bother about them? I should not know who they were.
Helmer. That is like a woman! But seriously, Nora, you know what I think about that. No debt, no borrowing. There can be no freedom or beauty about a home life that depends on borrowing and debt. We two have kept bravely on the straight road so far, and we will go on the same way for the short time longer that there need be any struggle.
Nora [moving towards the stove]. As you please, Torvald.
Helmer [following her]. Come, come, my little skylark must not droop her wings. What is this! Is my little squirrel out of temper? [Taking out his purse.] Nora, what do you think I have got here?
Nora [turning round quickly]. Money!
Helmer. There you are. [Gives her some money.] Do you think I don't know what a lot is wanted for housekeeping at Christmas-time?
Nora [counting]. Ten shillings--a pound--two pounds! Thank you, thank you, Torvald; that will keep me going for a long time.
Helmer. Indeed it must.
Nora. Yes, yes, it will. But come here and let me show you what I have bought. And all so cheap! Look, here is a new suit for Ivar, and a sword; and a horse and a trumpet for Bob; and a doll and dolly's bedstead for Emmy,--they are very plain, but anyway she will soon break them in pieces. And here are dress-lengths and handkerchiefs for the maids; old Anne ought really to have something better.
Helmer. And what is in this parcel?
Nora [crying out]. No, no! you mustn't see that until this evening.
Helmer. Very well. But now tell me, you extravagant little person, what would you like for yourself?
Nora. For myself? Oh, I am sure I don't want anything.
Helmer. Yes, but you must. Tell me something reasonable that you would particularly like to have.
Nora. No, I really can't think of anything--unless, Torvald--
Nora [playing with his coat buttons, and without raising her eyes to his]. If you really want to give me something, you might--you might--
Helmer. Well, out with it!
Nora [speaking quickly]. You might give me money, Torvald. Only just as much as you can afford; and then one of these days I will buy something with it.
Helmer. But, Nora--
Nora. Oh, do! dear Torvald; please, please do! Then I will wrap it up in beautiful gilt paper and hang it on the Christmas Tree. Wouldn't that be fun?
Helmer. What are little people called that are always wasting money?
Nora. Spendthrifts--I know. Let us do as you suggest, Torvald, and then I shall have time to think what I am most in want of. That is a very sensible plan, isn't it?
Helmer [smiling]. Indeed it is--that is to say, if you were really to save out of the money I give you, and then really buy something for yourself. But if you spend it all on the housekeeping and any number of unnecessary things, then I merely have to pay up again.
Nora. Oh but, Torvald--
Helmer. You can't deny it, my dear little Nora. [Puts his arm round her waist.] It's a sweet little spendthrift, but she uses up a deal of money. One would hardly believe how expensive such little persons are!
Nora. It's a shame to say that. I do really save all I can.
Helmer [laughing]. That's very true,--all you can. But you can't save anything!
Nora [smiling quietly and happily]. You haven't any idea how many expenses we skylarks and squirrels have, Torvald.
Helmer. You are an odd little soul. Very like your father. You always find some new way of wheedling money out of me, and, as soon as you have got it, it seems to melt in your hands. You never know where it has gone. Still, one must take you as you are. It is in the blood; for indeed it is true that you can inherit these things, Nora.
Nora. Ah, I wish I had inherited many of papa's qualities.
Helmer. And I would not wish you to be anything but just what you are, my sweet little skylark. But, do you know, it strikes me that you are looking rather--what shall I say--rather uneasy today?
Nora. Do I?
Helmer. You do, really. Look straight at me.
Nora [looks at him]. Well?
Helmer [wagging his finger at her]. Hasn't Miss Sweet Tooth been breaking rules in town today?
Nora. No; what makes you think that?
Helmer. Hasn't she paid a visit to the confectioner's?
Nora. No, I assure you, Torvald--
Helmer. Not been nibbling sweets?
Nora. No, certainly not.
Helmer. Not even taken a bite at a macaroon or two?
Nora. No, Torvald, I assure you really--
Helmer. There, there, of course I was only joking.
Nora [going to the table on the right]. I should not think of going against your wishes.
Helmer. No, I am sure of that; besides, you gave me your word-- [Going up to her.] Keep your little Christmas secrets to yourself, my darling. They will all be revealed tonight when the Christmas Tree is lit, no doubt.
Nora. Did you remember to invite Doctor Rank?
Helmer. No. But there is no need; as a matter of course he will come to dinner with us. However, I will ask him when he comes in this morning. I have ordered some good wine. Nora, you can't think how I am looking forward to this evening.
Nora. So am I! And how the children will enjoy themselves, Torvald!
Helmer. It is splendid to feel that one has a perfectly safe appointment, and a big enough income. It's delightful to think of, isn't it?
Nora. It's wonderful!
Helmer. Do you remember last Christmas? For a full three weeks beforehand you shut yourself up every evening until long after midnight, making ornaments for the Christmas Tree, and all the other fine things that were to be a surprise to us. It was the dullest three weeks I ever spent!
Nora. I didn't find it dull.
Helmer [smiling]. But there was precious little result, Nora.
Nora. Oh, you shouldn't tease me about that again. How could I help the cat's going in and tearing everything to pieces?
Helmer. Of course you couldn't, poor little girl. You had the best of intentions to please us all, and that's the main thing. But it is a good thing that our hard times are over.
Nora. Yes, it is really wonderful.
Helmer. This time I needn't sit here and be dull all alone, and you needn't ruin your dear eyes and your pretty little hands--
Nora [clapping her hands]. No, Torvald, I needn't any longer, need I! It's wonderfully lovely to hear you say so! [Taking his arm.] Now I will tell you how I have been thinking we ought to arrange things, Torvald. As soon as Christmas is over--[A bell rings in the hall.] There's the bell. [She tidies the room a little.] There's some one at the door. What a nuisance!
Helmer. If it is a caller, remember I am not at home.
Maid [in the doorway]. A lady to see you, ma'am,--a stranger.
Nora. Ask her to come in.
Maid [to HELMER]. The doctor came at the same time, sir.
Helmer. Did he go straight into my room?
Maid. Yes, sir.
[HELMER goes into his room. The MAID ushers in Mrs Linde, who is in travelling dress, and shuts the door.]
Mrs Linde [in a dejected and timid voice]. How do you do, Nora?
Nora [doubtfully]. How do you do--
Mrs Linde. You don't recognise me, I suppose.
Nora. No, I don't know--yes, to be sure, I seem to--[Suddenly.] Yes! Christine! Is it really you?
Mrs Linde. Yes, it is I.
Nora. Christine! To think of my not recognising you! And yet how could I--[In a gentle voice.] How you have altered, Christine!
Mrs Linde. Yes, I have indeed. In nine, ten long years--
Nora. Is it so long since we met? I suppose it is. The last eight years have been a happy time for me, I can tell you. And so now you have come into the town, and have taken this long journey in winter--that was plucky of you.
Mrs Linde. I arrived by steamer this morning.
Nora. To have some fun at Christmas-time, of course. How delightful! We will have such fun together! But take off your things. You are not cold, I hope. [Helps her.] Now we will sit down by the stove, and be cosy. No, take this armchair; I will sit here in the rocking-chair. [Takes her hands.] Now you look like your old self again; it was only the first moment--You are a little paler, Christine, and perhaps a little thinner.
Mrs Linde. And much, much older, Nora.
Nora. Perhaps a little older; very, very little; certainly not much. [Stops suddenly and speaks seriously.] What a thoughtless creature I am, chattering away like this. My poor, dear Christine, do forgive me.
Mrs Linde. What do you mean, Nora?
Nora [gently]. Poor Christine, you are a widow.
Mrs Linde. Yes; it is three years ago now.
Nora. Yes, I knew; I saw it in the papers. I assure you, Christine, I meant ever so often to write to you at the time, but I always put it off and something always prevented me.
Mrs Linde. I quite understand, dear.
Nora. It was very bad of me, Christine. Poor thing, how you must have suffered. And he left you nothing?
Mrs Linde. No.
Nora. And no children?
Mrs Linde. No.
Nora. Nothing at all, then.
Mrs Linde. Not even any sorrow or grief to live upon.
Nora [looking incredulously at her]. But, Christine, is that possible?
Mrs Linde [smiles sadly and strokes her hair]. It sometimes happens, Nora.
Nora. So you are quite alone. How dreadfully sad that must be. I have three lovely children. You can't see them just now, for they are out with their nurse. But now you must tell me all about it.
Mrs Linde. No, no; I want to hear about you.
Nora. No, you must begin. I mustn't be selfish today; today I must only think of your affairs. But there is one thing I must tell you. Do you know we have just had a great piece of good luck?
Mrs Linde. No, what is it?
Nora. Just fancy, my husband has been made manager of the Bank!
Mrs Linde. Your husband? What good luck!
Nora. Yes, tremendous! A barrister's profession is such an uncertain thing, especially if he won't undertake unsavoury cases; and naturally Torvald has never been willing to do that, and I quite agree with him. You may imagine how pleased we are! He is to take up his work in the Bank at the New Year, and then he will have a big salary and lots of commissions. For the future we can live quite differently--we can do just as we like. I feel so relieved and so happy, Christine! It will be splendid to have heaps of money and not need to have any anxiety, won't it?
Mrs Linde. Yes, anyhow I think it would be delightful to have what one needs.
Nora. No, not only what one needs, but heaps and heaps of money.
Mrs Linde [smiling]. Nora, Nora, haven't you learned sense yet? In our schooldays you were a great spendthrift.
Nora [laughing]. Yes, that is what Torvald says now. [Wags her finger at her.] But "Nora, Nora" is not so silly as you think. We have not been in a position for me to waste money. We have both had to work.
Mrs Linde. You too?
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