Torvald gets a pretty bad rap most of the time.. and we can see why. He's incredibly overbearing. He treats Nora more like a child than a wife. He calls her silly names and scolds her for eating macaroons. Toward the end of the play, he even says that Nora is "doubly his own" because she has "become both wife and child" (3.257). (Cue the collective "eeeeew.")
When he gets her to do things like dress up and dance for him, we see Nora is actually less than a child in Torvald's mind. She's only a plaything—a doll, if you will.
... Or Just "Victorian" Issues?
Of course, Nora doesn't seem to mind Torvald's demeaning treatment at first. She even encourages it, saying things like "Your squirrel would run about and do all her tricks if you would be nice, and do what she wants" (2.92). It's easy to judge Torvald from a modern standpoint, but his behavior really isn't that outrageous given the time period. Yes, it seems that Ibsen created in Torvald nothing more than what he considered a typical Victorian male. Torvald is a product of his society, just like Nora is. In a way, he is equally as imprisoned.
Nevertheless, Torvald certainly seems to relish the role of the all-knowing provider. He says things to Nora like,
"My frightened little singing-bird. […] I have broad wings to shelter you under. […] I will protect you like a hunted dove that I have saved from a hawk's claws." (3.257)
He feels he must guide his helpless wife through the perils of the world. It's almost as if Torvald has cast himself as the hero in his own melodramatic play. He even tells Nora,
"I have often wished that you might be threatened by some great danger, so that I might risk my life's blood, and everything, for your sake." (3.214)
Of course, this is realism a la Ibsen (the opposite of melodrama), so Torvald's harsh and selfish reaction to Nora's crime is anything but heroic. For more on this moment, check out the entries for Torvald in "Character Roles." Also, look at "What's Up With the Ending?" for a discussion of Torvald's journey and possible redemption.Torvald Helmer Timeline