The modern era was a time of change by rejecting the traditional values of society. Henrick Ibsen’s A Doll’s House represents a change that is more common-day, now, during contemporary times. This was a time when the middle-class placed its foot forward and shaped the future for modern and postmodern society. Nora is the archetypical modernist by displaying her right of free will. Looking at traditional values and how they decreased in modern society, one can see the essence of individuality in the seceding era.
Torvald plays the role of the traditionalist, seeing Nora only as a doll. He doesn’t look at her as an individual, only as his prize.
Helmer. Of course you do, don’t you, Nora my darling? You know, whenever I’m out at a party with you…do you know why I never talk to you very much, whey I always stand away from you and only steal a quick glance at you now and then…do you know why I do that? It’s because I’m pretending we are secretly in love, secretly engaged and nobody suspects there is anything between us.
Nora. Yes, yes. I know your thoughts are always with me, of course.
Helmer. And when it’s time to go, and I lay your shawl round those shapely, young shoulders, round the exquisite curve of your neck…I pretend that you are my young bride, that we are just leaving our wedding, that I am taking you to our new home for the first time…to be alone with you for the first time…quite alone with your young trembling loveliness! All evening I’ve been longing for you, and nothing else. And as I watched you darting and swaying in the tarantella, my blood was on fire…I couldn’t bear it any longer…and that’s why I brought you down here with me so early…. (70)>
Torvald can only see something he owns, something that is his and only his. However, to his defense, this is the role that men played during his time. The role is engrained in the minds of men, and they are traditionally the breadwinners and women are their wives.
Each traditional tone from Torvald is breaking down Nora’s identity. From early on in the play Torvald doesn’t take anything Nora says seriously.
Helmer. Nora, Nora! Just like a woman! Seriously though, Nora, you know what I think about these things. No debts! Never borrow! There’s always something inhibited, something unpleasant, about a home built on credit and borrowed money. We two have manage to stick it out so far, and that’s the way we’ll go on for the little time that remains.
Nora [walks over to the stove]. Very well, just as you say, Torvald.
Helmer [following her]. There, there! My little singing bird mustn’t go drooping her wings, eh? Has it got the sulks, that little squirrel of mine? [Takes out his wallet.] Nora, what do you think I’ve got here? (3)
This is stripping away Nora’s self-belief. In modern society, a time of confusing and changing social values, Nora’s inner-self is being confused and changed.
Breaking the news of lying to her husband to Mrs. Linde, Nora is devaluing the value system set before her. She, conversely, is gradually seeing herself as an individual.
Nora. Come over here. [She pulls her down on the sofa beside her.] Yes, Kristine, I too have something to be proud and happy about. I was the one who saved Torvald’s life. (13)
Nora’s character is changing. She feels relieved to get this secret out in some small way, a little bit of a burden taken away from her. She’s stripping away a layer of society that had presumably been set, a presumption that she is Helmer’s property. Nora is starting to recognize herself as something other than his.
Each turn of events that unfolds presses Nora to secede from society’s standards. During the play she hints at something “miraculous.” The “miraculous” thing that happens is Nora realizing she should have an identity of her own.
Nora. Why should you? You see something miraculous is going to happen.
Mrs. Linde. Something miraculous?
Nora. Yes, a miracle. But something so terrible as well, Kristine—oh, it must never happen, not for anything. (56)
Nora is alluding to what she might do if Torvald finds out the truth. She isn’t worried so much about his reaction; she has a fairly clear understanding of what he will do. Nora is, however, concerned with her own choice of fate and the uncertain consequences of it. She knows that her individuality lies solely with Torvald’s knowledge of her deception. What she must do is break out of the traditional mold for herself. Ibsen, at this moment, is explaining what it means to be modern, giving individuality to the people and reconstructing the social order. Something “miraculous” will happen, the miracle of modern culture.
Nora finally understands why she must perform her miracle, and why it’s terrible. Leaving Torvald is the only way she can become her own self, but at the risk of losing everything she loves. For the sake of modernism, she must separate herself from the things holding her back, the role of the wife and the mother, and become Nora.
Helmer. Surely you are clear about your position in your own home? Haven’t you and infallible guide in questions like these? Haven’t you your religion?
Nora. Oh, Torvald, I don’t really know what religion is.
Helmer. What do you say!
Nora. All I know is what Pastor Hansen said when I was confirmed. He said religion was this, that and the other. When I’m away from all this and on my own, I’ll go into that, too. I want to find out whether what Pastor Hansen told was right—or at least whether, it’s right for me. (82-83)
Becoming modern is about finding one’s self, in all things, even religion. Nora can’t function as a doll any longer. Dolls are controlled and not in control of themselves. If nothing else, Nora will find what it means to be self-reliant.
Ibsen writes about miracles, letting his audience know that the miracle is change. Change will make modern society an era of hope.
Nora [takes her bag]. Ah, Torvald, only by a miracle of miracles…
Helmer. Name it, this miracle of miracles!
Nora. Both you and I would have to change to the point where…Oh, Torvald, I don’t believe in miracles any more.
Helmer. But I will believe. Name it! Change to the point where…?
Nora. Where we could make a real marriage of our lives together. Goodbye!
[She goes out through the hall door.]
Helmer [sinks down on a chair near the door, and covers his face with his hands]. Nora! Nora! [He rises and looks round.] Empty! She’s gone! [With sudden hope.] The miracle of miracles…? (86)
Not only would Nora have to become an individual, but Torvald would have to accept her as his equal. Modern civilization is about the idea of free will and equality. Nora may no longer believe in miracles, but she is the miracle. Someone has to take the first step to change the world.
Ibsen crafted the modern play by capturing the meaning behind modernism. He gives his audience a conventional middle-class household and lets his character Nora become the basic modernist. Modernism had to grow over a period of time, one event leading to another, until society realized what freedom is.