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A Doll's House

A Doll's House Summary


Here you will find a A Doll's House summary (Henrik Ibsen's book).
We begin with a summary of the entire book, and then you can read each individual chapter's summary by visiting the links on the "Chapters" section.

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Last Updated: Monday 1 Jan, 2024

A Doll's House Summary Overview

The narrative begins on the eve of Christmas as Nora Helmer comes home with quite a few packages. She's met by her husband, Torvald Helmer, who teases her about her overspending for the holidays. It's evident from their discussion that the couple has been financially tight for a while, but Torvald's recent promotion at his banking job promises a better future. Their maid, Helene, brings news of two visitors: one, their good friend Dr. Rank, and the other, an unexpected guest, Kristine Linde, a friend Nora hasn't seen in years. It's revealed that Mrs. Linde, widowed and childless, is in dire straits and hopes for employment. Nora assures her that Torvald may be able to help, and confesses a secret: she had once taken a loan illegally, without Torvald's knowledge, to fund a trip to Italy for his health. Over the years, she's been secretly repaying this debt, which is almost cleared now. The man who provided Nora's secret loan, Krogstad, an employee at Torvald's bank, pays a visit next, causing Nora much distress. He's worried about losing his job and urges Nora to prevent this. When she refuses, he threatens to expose her secret loan and the forgery of her father's signature she committed to secure it, which would disgrace both her and Torvald. Despite Nora's pleas, Torvald remains determined to fire Krogstad, repulsed by his immorality. The next day, Nora, anxious and desperate, tries to delay Torvald from discovering Krogstad’s damning letter revealing her secret. She even attempts to distract him with a passionate dance for their upcoming costume party. Mrs. Linde, who has learnt everything, promises to talk to Krogstad. During the night of the party, Krogstad and Mrs. Linde meet and their past love affair is revealed. She had once left Krogstad for a wealthier man to support her family but now, free of obligations, wants to be with him again. Krogstad is thrilled and plans to retrieve his damaging letter. Mrs. Linde, however, urges him to leave it, believing that truth should prevail. Upon returning from the party, Torvald reads the letter and in his anger, insults Nora severely, even forbidding her from raising their children. Just then, another letter arrives from Krogstad, containing the returned contract and a note of apology. Torvald is relieved and tries to make amends, but it's too late. Nora, deeply hurt, declares they were never truly understanding of each other and that she had been treated like a puppet in his hands. Deciding to leave, she walks away, leaving a stunned Torvald behind.

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On Christmas Eve, Nora Helmer comes home with holiday purchases and a Christmas tree. She gives the porter too much money and indulges in some macaroons. Her husband, Torvald Helmer, greets her lovingly, calling her “skylark” and “squirrel.” He teases her about her spending habits, but Nora insists they can splurge due to Torvald's new well-paying job at the bank. However, Torvald reminds her that his position doesn't start until the new year and cautions against spending on credit. He declares that a home built on debt is not truly free, leading to Nora's reluctant agreement. Upon seeing her disappointment, Torvald hands her some money for Christmas shopping. Overjoyed, Nora shows him the presents she bought for their children. When Torvald asks about her own wish, she hesitates but eventually asks for money to buy something she wants. Torvald chides Nora for her wastefulness, attributing it to her father. However, he expresses his love for his "lovely little singing bird" as she is. When he questions if she had any sweets that day, Nora denies it, even when he specifically asks about the macaroons. Satisfied with her reply, Torvald drops the subject. They plan their Christmas celebrations and discuss inviting Dr. Rank for dinner. Torvald asserts that Dr. Rank is always welcome and doesn't need an invitation. He promises to invite him over when he comes that morning. The couple then relieves at the financial security Torvald's job brings. Reminiscing about the previous Christmas, Torvald mentions how Nora spent nights crafting Christmas ornaments which got destroyed. Nora blames the cat for ruining her work, to which Torvald expresses relief for their improved financial state. Their conversation is interrupted by the arrival of Dr. Rank and a female visitor announced by their maid, Helene.

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Nora encounters a female guest with a sense of uncertainty and it takes her a moment to identify the visitor as her old friend Kristine Linde. Mrs. Linde, who arrived earlier that day, looks different to Nora, appearing more pale and thin. Nora feels remorseful for not contacting her friend when she heard of Mrs. Linde's husband's death three years ago. Inquisitive, Nora asks about Mrs. Linde's financial status after her husband's death, and the presence of any children. Learning that Mrs. Linde was left with neither money nor children, Nora expresses sympathy and shifts the conversation towards her own life and family. She shares about her husband, Torvald's new job at the bank and their financial security. Nora recounts her past struggles to Mrs. Linde, mentioning the time when she and Torvald had to take up multiple jobs. Torvald's ill health had forced the family to move to Italy for his recovery. Nora mentions that the trip was largely funded by her father, who passed away around the same time. She reassures Mrs. Linde about her current state of happiness, with her husband and children being healthy. Mrs. Linde shares her own experiences, revealing that she married a man she didn't love for financial stability because she had to take care of her bedridden mother and younger siblings. Unfortunately, she was left penniless after her husband's business failed post his death. After years of working various jobs to support her family, she's now alone, making her life even more desolate. She confides in Nora about her intention to find a job in town. Nora objects to Mrs. Linde taking up a job, which leads to a mild argument. Mrs. Linde accuses Nora of not understanding her hardships, but quickly apologizes, attributing her outburst to her predicament. She admits she's become self-centered due to her situation. She expresses optimism about Torvald's new job and its potential benefits for her. Nora, in turn, pledges to help Mrs. Linde by discussing it with Torvald.

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Mrs. Linde suggests Nora is naive and sheltered, sparking Nora's retort that she has endured trials in life. She shares how she secretly secured funds to save Torvald's life when he fell ill. Doctors had recommended a southern retreat for his health, but Torvald opposed borrowing money. Thus, Nora secretly arranged for the funds, misleading Torvald to believe they came from her late father. She hid this to preserve Torvald’s masculine pride. Despite Mrs. Linde's skepticism over the secrecy, Nora insists Torvald would feel humiliated if he knew he owed her. Nora reveals she's been paying off her secret debt using her personal allowance and doing copying work. She eagerly looks forward to a debt-free future where she can fully focus on her roles as a wife and mother. A man named Krogstad arrives to discuss bank matters with Torvald. Nora, recognizing him, shows visible discomfort. Mrs. Linde too, is taken aback and admits she knew him from her hometown. Nora describes Krogstad as an unhappy widower with numerous children. Mrs. Linde points out that he's involved in lots of businesses which Nora dismisses as a tedious subject. Dr. Rank emerges from the study as Krogstad enters. He labels Krogstad as morally corrupt and mentions his minor role at the bank. Dr. Rank and Nora talk briefly, during which Nora offers him a macaroon, a treat Torvald has banned. She lies that the sweets came from Mrs. Linde. Upon Torvald's exit from his study, Nora introduces Mrs. Linde to him and asks Torvald to find her a job. Dr. Rank, Torvald, and Mrs. Linde depart, planning to return for the evening's Christmas celebrations. Nora dreams of freedom, spending quality time with her children, and maintaining a neat and attractive house that meets Torvald's approval.

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Nora's children come in with their nanny, Anne-Marie, and Nora plays with them. Suddenly, Krogstad walks in, taking Nora by surprise. He clarifies he's there to see her, not her husband, Torvald. Krogstad recognizes Mrs. Linde, who is with Torvald, and inquires about her new job at the bank, which Nora confirms. He wants Nora to use her influence to secure his position at the bank, but she denies having any sway over her husband. Krogstad hints at his suspicions about Nora's knowledge of his precarious job status, and Nora denies her influence again. Krogstad suggests that Torvald is persuadable, which annoys Nora. Nora promises to repay her loans soon and asks Krogstad to stop bothering her. But it's not just about the money for Krogstad; he's trying to rebuild his life and reputation following a past mistake and he needs his bank job for that. He then threatens to force Nora into helping him. Nora insists that her husband will repay her loan, and Krogstad will lose his job. Then, Krogstad reveals that he knows about her forged signature on the loan, a crime similar to his own. Nora tries to justify her actions and dismisses Krogstad's claims, but he warns her about the consequences and leaves. Nora is clearly shaken, but she tries to decorate the Christmas tree. When Torvald comes back, he comments on Krogstad's visit, suspecting he spoke to Nora. She reluctantly confirms it. Torvald warns Nora against trusting Krogstad and lying. Torvald explains that Krogstad's crime was forgery and his refusal to admit his mistake. He states that dishonesty can corrupt children, causing Nora to worry about the impact on her own kids. She refuses to see her children when asked by the nanny, petrified by the thought of corrupting them. But she quickly dismisses this fear.

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On Christmas day, Nora frets over her predicament, asking the nanny about the hypothetical scenario of her disappearance. Mrs. Linde shows up and helps Nora with her costume. Nora reveals Dr. Rank's illness, inherited from his promiscuous father, but denies Mrs. Linde's suspicion that Dr. Rank is her secret lender. She shoos Mrs. Linde off when Torvald returns, citing his dislike for sewing. Nora attempts to secure Krogstad's job with Torvald again, but he reveals that Mrs. Linde is Krogstad's replacement. Torvald considers Krogstad an embarrassment and sends a letter firing him before retreating to his study. Once Torvald leaves, Dr. Rank enters and ominously alludes to an impending calamity related to his health. Nora is relieved that his problem isn't hers. Dr. Rank says he'll send a black cross calling card as a signal of his impending death. Nora tries to manipulate Dr. Rank into helping Krogstad, but he professes his love for her, which unsettles Nora. She insists he remain friends with Torvald, but declines his help. She explains that those she enjoys being around aren’t always the ones she loves. The maid hands Nora a visiting card, and she quickly asks Dr. Rank to occupy Torvald. Krogstad arrives, upset about his job loss. He suggests a promotion could solve their conflict, but Nora refuses, even hinting at suicide to protect Torvald's ignorance of the contract. Krogstad warns her that her reputation is still at his mercy, and leaves a letter revealing her secret. When Mrs. Linde returns, Nora shares her fears about the letter, and confesses her forgery to Mrs. Linde, who promises to shoulder the blame. Mrs. Linde reveals she was once involved with Krogstad and leaves to talk with him, while Nora distracts Torvald to prevent him from reading any mail. Nora convinces Torvald to help her rehearse the tarantella for the upcoming party, and dances erratically to his coaching. Upon Mrs. Linde's return, dinner is served. She informs Nora that Krogstad will return the next night and she has left him a letter. Alone, Nora calculates she has only thirty-one hours before Torvald reads the letter.

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Mrs. Linde is waiting in the Helmers' residence when Krogstad shows up, having received a note from her. It's revealed that they were once romantically involved, but Mrs. Linde chose to marry Mr. Linde for his wealth. Despite this, she confesses her regret and her desire to reunite with Krogstad to care for him and his kids. As the music from upstairs ceases, Mrs. Linde anticipates the return of Torvald and Nora. She informs Krogstad about his incriminating letter in Torvald's mailbox, which makes Krogstad suspicious of her motives. However, she reassures him and insists that Torvald should uncover the truth about Nora. They then part ways, planning to meet later. Mrs. Linde, excited for her new beginning, readies to leave. Nora and Torvald come in, and after Torvald briefly exits, Mrs. Linde tells Nora about her conversation with Krogstad and advises her to come clean to Torvald. Nora resists, and after a brief discussion about embroidery and knitting, Mrs. Linde leaves. Torvald shows relief at Mrs. Linde's departure and proceeds to flirt with Nora, who rejects his advances. Dr. Rank interrupts by knocking at the door and, through coded language, informs Nora of his impending death. Torvald, however, dismisses this as drunkenness. Torvald discovers the mailbox has been tampered with and that Dr. Rank has left two ominous calling cards. Nora explains that Dr. Rank's departure signifies his imminent death. Torvald's reaction is mixed between sadness and a strange sense of relief. Nora tries to urge Torvald to read his letters, and after some resistance, he agrees. Alone now, Nora contemplates suicide just as Torvald storms out after reading Krogstad's letter. Nora confesses the truth of Krogstad's accusations, triggering Torvald's anger and blame. He forbids her from leaving and interacting with the children, but insists on maintaining the family's facade. Nora's understanding of her marriage deepens, causing her to become calm and detached. An unexpected letter from Krogstad arrives, which Torvald snatches away and reads, only to discover Krogstad no longer plans to blackmail them. Relieved, Torvald destroys the controversial promissory note, declaring that life can return to normal after this "bad dream".

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Torvald tries to pacify Nora, telling her he's forgiven her actions borne out of love, and that he loves her even more for her dependency on him. He feels he has given her a fresh start, considering her both his wife and child. Nora, changing into regular clothing, counters Torvald's assurances. She expresses that they've never truly understood each other and for the first time, they're having a serious talk. She reflects that she's been loved for the roles she's played, not for who she really is. She identifies herself as a doll for her father and Torvald, and recognizes her unhappiness in Torvald's dollhouse. Torvald acknowledges the truth in Nora's words and promises to treat her and their children as students, not toys. Nora rebuffs his offer, arguing that he can't teach her or the children. She insists on learning for herself and declares her intent to leave him. Torvald's attempts to dissuade her fail. Nora's dismissal of societal perspectives and her argument of self-duty counter Torvald's claims of her responsibilities as a wife and mother. Nora admits her naivety and her estrangement from religion and the law. She conveys her desire to explore the world to validate her alienation. When Torvald accuses her of not loving him anymore, she affirms it. She reveals her realization that she didn't love him when he didn't take the blame for her, defying her expectation of his sacrifice. She confesses she had planned to commit suicide to protect him. Nora asserts her decision to leave Torvald, rejecting his proposal of them living as siblings. She returns their wedding rings and house keys, freeing him of any obligations towards her. She arranges to have Mrs. Linde collect her things the next day. Although she agrees to think of Torvald and the children, she prohibits any correspondence from him. Nora expresses that a miraculous event would be necessary for a real marriage between them but admits her disbelief in such happenings. She leaves, leaving Torvald to process the situation as a loud door slam echoes in the background.

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