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A Doll's House

A Doll's House

by Henrik Ibsen

A Doll's House Act One Summary

  • Stage directions tell us that we're in a middle-class living room. The furniture is nice but not extravagantly expensive. The room also has a piano. There's a fire burning in a porcelain stove. It's a winter's day.
  • Nora Helmer traipses in dressed in outdoor clothes, carrying lots of packages.
  • A porter and a maid follow her.
  • The porter is carrying a Christmas tree; he hands it to the maid.
  • Nora tells the maid to go hide the tree because the children can't see it before it's decorated.
  • Nora pays the porter and gives him a generous tip.
  • He thanks her and leaves.
  • Nora takes off her outdoor clothes.
  • She seems really happy, as she continually laughs and hums to herself.
  • Nora sneaks a couple macaroons out of her pocket and nibbles on them.
  • Stealthily, she tiptoes across the room to the door to her husband's study.
  • She listens at the door, confirming that he's home.
  • Torvald Helmer, her husband, calls from within.
  • He calls her his skylark and his little squirrel. (Squirrel? Is that supposed to be endearing?)
  • Nora asks him to come and check out all the stuff she's bought.
  • Helmer pokes his head out the door and chastises her for spending too much money.
  • Nora pooh-poohs his thriftiness, saying that he's got a great salary now and they can afford it.
  • He reminds her that his new job doesn't start until after New Year's. What if he were to get hit in the head with a brick? How would they pay for it?
  • We could borrow money, says Nora.
  • Helmer tells her that she's a typical woman: she has no understanding of the horrors of debt.
  • Nora submissively agrees with her husban, but goes to the stove to sulk for a bit.
  • Torvald feels a little bad and gives her some money. She counts it and does her happy dance.
  • Nora shows him the presents that she's bought for everybody: their kids, the maids, etc.
  • Torvald asks her what she's gotten for herself.
  • She says she doesn't need anything, but if he really wants to give her something, she'd love some money.
  • He thinks that's a bad idea, because she's a "spendthrift" and will just fritter all the cash away on nonsense.
  • Nora denies this, saying that she's very thrifty.
  • Torvald tells her that she spends too much money all the time just like her father. It must run in the family.
  • His wife says she wishes she'd inherited even more of her father's traits.
  • I love you just the way you are, says Torvald, but then starts to interrogate her as to whether she bought any cookies today.
  • Nora flatly denies that she would ever do anything as horrible as eat a macaroon or two.
  • Torvald says he was just joking. He knows that she'd never break her promise not to eat cookies. (What's the big deal? It's a cookie.)
  • Nora asks her husband if he remembered to invite Dr. Rank over for Christmas.
  • It's not necessary says Torvald; it's just expected that he'll be there.
  • Torvald says that he's really excited about their party. He goes on to say how nice it is to finally have a good job and a good income, and Nora seconds the sentiment.
  • Her husband reminisces about how, last Christmas, Nora locked herself away to make paper flowers to decorate the tree. Apparently, all of Nora's work didn't amount to anything, because the cat ripped up all the flowers.
  • The door bell rings.
  • The Maid enters and says there's a strange lady here to see Nora. Also, Dr. Rank has shown up at the same time and is waiting in Torvald's study.
  • Helmer goes off to talk to Dr. Rank.
  • The maid shows in Mrs. Linde, who is dressed in traveling clothes.
  • At first Nora doesn't recognize her, but then she bursts out with happiness. It's Christine, her childhood friend.
  • It's been nine or ten years since they've seen each other.
  • Nora tells Christine that she looks paler than when she knew her.
  • You mean, older, says Christine.
  • Oh, only a wee bit older Nora tells her, lying awkwardly.
  • Nora apologizes for not writing to Christine when her husband died. Christine assures her that she understands.
  • Nora tells her old friend how happy she is with Torvald and the kids. She goes on to say that Torvald has been made manager of the bank.
  • She exclaims to her widowed friend how wonderful it is to have a family and lots of money. (Nora isn't exactly tactful.)
  • Christine points out that Nora is still a spendthrift just like in school.
  • Nora says that Torvald thinks so too, but that they don't know the real deal. She's had to work too: sewing and embroidery, things like that.
  • She adds that, in the first year of her marriage, Torvald worked himself way too hard trying to make enough money for a family. He got sick and they had to go stay in Italy for a year in order for him to recover. This was incredibly expensive.
  • Nora tells her friend that they had to borrow money from her father in order to pay for it all.
  • Christine asks if that was around the time that Nora's father died.
  • Yes, says Nora. It was terrible, because she couldn't go see him. She was pregnant and about to give birth at any moment.
  • Christine asks if Torvald is OK now, because a doctor entered along with her.
  • Nora assures her that Torvald is doing fine now. The doctor is just a family friend, Dr. Rank.
  • Nora asks what's been going on with Christine.
  • Christine, a.k.a. Mrs. Linde, says that she never loved her husband. She just married Mr. Linde because she had a sick mother and two younger brothers to support. When he died, his business fell apart and Christine was left with nothing.
  • Christine has been working herself to the bone ever since then. Recently, though, her mother passed away and her brothers are now old enough to take care of themselves.
  • So, Christine is wondering if Nora's husband can hook her up with a job at the bank he'll be managing.
  • What a swell idea, Nora tells her. Sure he will.
  • Christine says it's nice of Nora to take such an interest in her troubles since she's never really had to face any of her own.
  • Nora gets offended, telling her friend that there's a big trouble she's never told anybody about.
  • She didn't actually borrow the money from her father for the year in Italy. Instead she got a loan from some undisclosed person. Torvald didn't know about any of this. In fact he didn't even know how sick he was and that a trip down south was necessary for him to survive. The doctors told Nora how serious his illness was, but never told him. She pretended like she wanted a trip abroad and secretly borrowed the money to save his pride.
  • Christine asks if Torvald knows yet.
  • Nora says he doesn't know, but that she may tell him when she's old and he's not attracted to her anymore. Then she changes her mind, asserting he can never know.
  • Nora has been paying back the loan by doing lots of odd jobs secretly and scrimping on buying new clothes for herself. She says she's lucky that even cheap clothes look good on her, so Torvald doesn't notice.
  • She adds that last winter she got a job copying letters, and worked late every night. (Hmm, something tells us that's what she was doing instead of making flowers for the tree – a destructive cat indeed.)
  • Nora says that sometimes she's dreamt that a rich old man would come and give her all the money she needs. Now there's no need to dream. With Torvald's new job she'll be able to skim enough money to pay back the loan in full.
  • The doorbell rings.
  • It's a man named Krogstad.
  • Nora seems to know him and isn't very happy that he's here.
  • He tells her that he wants to see her husband on some bank business. Krogstad works there and wants to have a little talk with his new boss.
  • Nora shows him in to Torvald's office.
  • Christine says that she used to know Krogstad. He apparently was a lawyer in her area for awhile. She observes that he's changed quite a bit.
  • Nora informs her that Krogstad had a very unhappy marriage and that he now has several children. He also got himself into some kind of unsavory business troubles.
  • Dr. Rank exits Torvald's office, saying that he'll only be in the way if he hangs out there.
  • Nora introduces him to Mrs. Christine Linde.
  • Rank says that he's heard her name mentioned a lot around here. He goes on to tell them that Krogstad is a big time blackmailer and is morally diseased right down to the core.
  • Mrs. Linde says that people should try to help the diseased. (Subtext: Krogstad isn't such a bad guy. Seems like she's got a thing for him.)
  • Nora asks Rank if he wants a macaroon.
  • Rank observes that they're off limits in this house.
  • Nora lies and says that Christine gave them to her.
  • Torvald enters. The illegal cookies are quickly hidden.
  • Nora asks if Krogstad is gone. He is.
  • She introduces Torvald to Christine and asks her husband if he can give Christine a job.
  • There's a good chance of it, says Torvald. Christine has come at a fortuitous time.
  • Nora and Christine are happy.
  • Nora tells Rank and Christine to makes sure and come by for the Christmas tree lighting tonight.
  • Christine, Rank, and Torvald all exit together.
  • The Maid brings in the children. They run and scamper and frolic.
  • Nora happily chats and plays with them. They start playing hide and seek. Nora hides under the table.
  • Krogstad enters.
  • Nora shoos the kids away, and asks Krogstad what he wants.
  • He comments that he just saw Mrs. Linde with Torvald. He mentions that he once knew her.
  • I know, says Nora.
  • Krogstad asks if Torvald is giving Mrs. Linde a job at the bank.
  • Nora confirms that he is, and that she used her influence to convince him.
  • Awesome, says Krogstad. How about you use your influence for me? He wants Nora to convince Torvald not to fire him.
  • Nora says she doesn't have that much influence.
  • Krogstad tells her that he's known Torvald ever since they were in school together. He comments that Torvald has no more will power than most married men, when it comes to their wives' desires.
  • Nora tells him to get out; she's no longer afraid of him. After New Year's, she'll be out from under his thumb. (We're beginning to get the impression that Krogstad is the guy that Nora borrowed the Italy money from.)
  • Krogstad talks about how hard his life has been since he was accused of an indiscretion back in the day. That's why he had to become a loan shark. All he wants is to have the respect of the community again, for the sake of his sons. The job at the bank was the first step towards this, but now Torvald wants to fire him.
  • Nora reiterates that she can't help him.
  • Krogstad threatens to tell Torvald that she borrowed the money.
  • Nora almost cries and says that would only prove to Torvald what a bad person Krogstad is. She complains that it would make everything really unpleasant around here.
  • Krogstad says that it'd make things a lot worse than she seems to have realized.
  • Nora forged her father's signature to get the loan. Krogstad can prove this because the signature is in Nora's handwriting. Also, she dated the document after her father died. (Not too smooth, Nora.)
  • She says that she couldn't tell her father about needing the money. He was sick, and she didn't want to worry him.
  • Tough luck, Krogstad tells her. She still broke the law.
  • Nora says she didn't have time to think about the law; her husband was dying.
  • Krogstad is unsympathetic. He tells her that if he gets fired he's taking her down with him.
  • He exits.
  • The kids come back in and ask Nora to play with them. She tells them she's too busy and sends them away with the maid.
  • Nora tries to distract herself with embroidery, but Krogstad's blackmail is weighing on her mind.
  • She calls to the maid and asks her to bring in the Christmas tree.
  • The maid obliges, and Nora begins to decorate it.
  • Torvald enters. He asks if anyone has been there.
  • Nora says no.
  • Torvald calls her on her lie, saying that he saw Krogstad leaving.
  • He asks her if Krogstad was trying to get her to put in a good word for him.
  • Yep, says Nora
  • He's bothered by Nora's deception and says that she shouldn't be hanging out with nasty people like Krogstad. He warns her not to lie to him anymore, but then let's the matter drop.
  • Nora starts working on the tree again, while Torvald warms himself by the stove.
  • Nora suddenly comments that she's super-excited about the Stenborgs' party that's coming up in a couple of days. She asks her husband to help her pick out a costume for her. She says she's helpless without his good taste.
  • Abruptly, Nora switches the conversation back to what's really on her mind: Krogstad.
  • She asks her husband what crime Krogstad committed.
  • Forgery, says Torvald. (Hmm, just like Nora.)
  • Torvald goes on to say that what he really doesn't like about Krogstad is that he never admitted his guilt. He got off through legal loopholes. Torvald adds that he's corrupt and has lived a life of lies, even around his family. (Like Nora.)
  • It's the worst for the children, says Torvald. Living in an atmosphere of deceit has probably corrupted all of them.
  • Torvald tells his wife that there's no way he could work around such an awful person.
  • Nora (barely stifling a panic attack) tells him that she has to get back to work on the tree.
  • Torvald goes off to finish some work of his own, saying that he'll think about her costume and hinting that she'll get the money she requested for Christmas.
  • The maid enters and asks if the children can come in and play.
  • Nora refuses and tells the maid to deal with them.
  • Alone in the room, Nora expresses worry that she might corrupt the children with her very presence.

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