A Doll's House Act 1
The living room of Nora and Torvald Helmer is described in great detail: inexpensive, yet tasteful and elegant. Nora enters, gay and happy, dressed in outside attire and carrying several parcels. The maid opens the door for her as the porter holds a Christmas tree and hamper. Nora claims that the children should not see the Christmas tree until later that evening when it is decorated. She pays the porter and changes out of her outside clothes. She walks to the door of the study to listen and see if her husband is in. He is, much to her contentment.
Torvald calls to her initially from inside his study, calling her a skylark, squirrel, and featherbrain. He obviously adores her, but treats her as someone beneath him. Nora wants to show him her new purchases for the children and also for him. Torvald is bothered and concerned about Nora's shopping habits, for he does not begin his new position until after the New Year. Nora is thrilled about his new pending salary and wants to spend his money at her free will. Torvald, however, reminds her that they have had economic problems in the past and are not in the clear as yet. He speaks down to her and her frivolous methods of spending money and planning.
"Nora, Nora! Just like a woman! But seriously, Nora, you know what I think about that sort of thing. No debts, no borrowing. There's something constrained, something ugly even, about a home that's founded on borrowing and debt." Act 1, pg. 149
Torvald continues to call Nora a song-bird, a prodigal, and other such pet names, as he playfully lectures her on the importance of saving money. After they flirt with one another to the point of exhaustion, Nora shows Torvald all the gifts she has bought that day. She shows the playthings and toys for the children, yet will not reveal his gift, which she claims she will give him later that night. Torvald then asks Nora what she wants for Christmas. Torvald opens his wallet to give Nora the gift of money. He hands her paper bills that he hopes will tide everything over in the household and with Nora until Christmas. She is thrilled. He warns her that this is all that she will get. Then, he asks her what she wants for Christmas. She willfully says that all she wants is money. Just a little bit of money so that she can get what she wants for herself. Torvald teases her by saying that she has no idea how to save money. He puts his arm around her waist and says to her: "It's a sweet little bird, but it gets through a terrible amount of money. You wouldn't believe how much it costs a man when he's got a little song-bird like you!" Act 1, pg. 151 Nora accepts her subsistence and role as Torvald's pet bird and continues to play with him. He tells her that she is a spendthrift because of her father. He claims that such actions are hereditary traits. Nora wishes that she inherited some of her father's better qualities instead of his tendency to squander money.
The couple changes the subject to the party later that evening and reminisces of past Christmases. Torvald comments on how hard Nora worked the previous year to please the family, despite her errors and failures. She loved that time, despite Torvald's excessive boredom. They are both happy that the rough times seem to be behind them.
The doorbell rings and the maid answers it. Torvald has no desire to meet with any callers that afternoon. She announces that a lady has arrived to see Nora and that the doctor has also arrived and placed himself in the study. Torvald goes to his study and leaves the two women alone.
Initially Nora does not recognize the woman. She is Mrs. Kristina Linde, an old friend whom Nora has not seen in nearly ten years. Nora catches her up on her happy life and realizes that she has forgotten to offer her condolences to Mrs. Linde. Kristina's husband died three years earlier, leaving her paler, thinner, childless, penniless, and alone. Despite all her sorrow, she admits that she never loved her husband. When Nora hears such news, she immediately declares her sorrow and utter devotion to hear only about Kristina for the remainder of the day. However, she cannot listen for more than a moment before she burst out with her own secret. She tells Kristina that Torvald was just promoted to Manager of the Savings Bank. She goes on to talk about how much money he'll make and how he thought he would never make much money as a barrister when he married Nora. They spent so much money (from her recently departed father) during their time in Italy, where Torvald worked for a year. Nora claims this was the hardest time of her life, for she was pregnant with their first child, her father was dying, and Torvald was extremely ill. Dr. Rank, the man who arrived with Kristina, had become the Helmers' best friend since that time and visits almost daily.
Nora again remembers that she has become a chatterbox on her own happy life and has neglected the sorrows of her friend. She inquires as to why her dear friend never loved her departed husband. Kristina admits that she could not refuse Mr. Linde's offer of marriage back then because he had a large sum of money and her poor ill mother and younger brothers needed the support. However, when he died three years ago, his businesses had fallen apart and he was broke. Her mother passed away and her brothers were now working.
Miserable and desperate to find meaningful work, Kristina came to visit Nora because she had heard of her good fortune and hopes that Torvald can give her a job of some sort. Nora is thrilled to be able to help her friend. Kristina speaks down to Nora for having such an easy life, much to Nora's anger and resentment. She does not feel that her life is free from troubles and reveals a large secret to Kristina. The money that they used in Italy was not, in fact, from her father; but rather, she raised the money herself as a subtly shrewd businesswoman. Nora admits that she funded the entire wellness trip to Italy for her husband, by playing the dutiful quiet wife. Now, she owes a large sum of money to creditors, and worries constantly how to find the money, yet still dress up and amuse her husband. She frets of the difficulty of playing the same naïve wife and mother, all the while trying to save the money Torvald gives her so she can repay her debt. It is difficult to use the money he gives her to pay back the loans and not take anything away from her children and the housework. Torvald does not know the truth. "Torvald has his pride - most men have - he'd be terribly hurt and humiliated if he thought he'd owed anything to me. It'd spoil everything between us, and our lovely happy home would never be the same again" Act 1, pg. 161. Kristina pities her after hearing her story.
Nora goes on to dispel the pain and hardship it has been to save and repay the money she owes for her husband's life, all the while keeping it from her husband. She only spends half of what he gives her on herself, and buys the cheapest things that she believes still look wonderful on her. She knows how frustrating this is because it is so much fun to dress nicely. Nora finds different ways of making money. Writing is one way that Nora enjoys working. "Still it was tremendous fun sitting there working and earning money. It was almost like being a man" Act 1, pg. 162. Now that her husband will be making much more money, Nora believes all her troubles will go away and she can enjoy her happy life with her family.
The doorbell rings and the maid answers it. The man at the door is Nils Krogstad, a lawyer from Torvald's bank. Nora seems worried about this meeting. When Krogstad goes into the study to see Torvald, Dr. Rank exits, for fear of being in the way. He feels as though he is also in the way with the women; however, they allay his fears by inviting them into their conversation. Dr. Rank and Kristina discuss her presence in town, flirt, and exchange opinions on society. Kristina informs him that she is seeking work, so that she may live. Dr. Rank comments that the community is being turned into a hospital, with so many sick people and invalids. He then claims that Krogstad is a moral invalid. Nora inquires as to why he believes that to be true. Dr. Rank and the women continue to chatter, about society and macaroons. Nora eats one, much to Dr. Rank's dismay, for Torvald has outlawed the cakes so that Nora does not ruin her teeth. Nora claims that she wants to do something 'wrong' in front of Torvald. Her friends urge her to do so when Torvald enters the room, but she shies away.
When Torvald enters, he informs everyone that Krogstad has gone. Nora re-introduces her childhood friend to her husband, stating that she has come a long way just to see him. Nora explains the situation and that Kristina - Mrs. Linde - is looking for good office work under a capable man. As a widow with commercial experience, Torvald believes that he can help her. He puts on his coat to leave for an hour, and Dr. Rank and Kristina accompany him, for she must find a room. Nora bids goodbye to her friends and awaits her children to come down the stairs.
Nora speaks to her children in adoration, showing them the presents she bought for them. They play hide and seek, running around the house, laughing and shouting. During the game, someone knocks on the door. After a while, the door opens halfway, revealing Krogstad. He has come to see Nora - not Torvald. Nora claims that she does not owe him any money yet, for it is not yet the first of the month. He has returned to speak with her about his position as a subordinate at the bank, not about the money he is owed. He tells her that he just noticed Torvald walking down the street with Mrs. Linde, a woman with whom he had a bad relation in the past. He warns Nora that he better not lose his job at the bank just because she has come to work there. He will protect his job at any cost, even if it means telling Torvald the truth about the borrowed money.
He brings up the contract that Nora signed years earlier to pay back the money. Krogstad illuminates the error in dates. The date on which her father was supposed to sign the papers to guarantee the loan, does not match up, for he died three days prior to the date on the contract. Nora admits that she signed the contract - falsely - and is liable for all problems that come along with her deceit. Krogstad threatens to take her down with him if he loses his job at the bank because of Mrs. Linde's presence. In tears and frustration, Nora claims: "Hasn't a daughter the right to protect her dying father from worry and anxiety? Hasn't a wife the right to save her husband's life? I don't know much about the law, but I'm quite certain that it must say somewhere that things like that are allowed" Act 1, pg. 175-176. Krogstad bows his head and leaves Nora in tears.
The children come to comfort their mother after Krogstad's exit. Nora tells them that she cannot play with them, and instead begins to work on her needlework. She is so frustrated that she cannot sew and throws the needle-and-thread on the floor, hoping that what Krogstad said could never happen.
In the midst of her fear and frustration, Torvald returns with a bundle of papers in hand. He speaks lovingly to his little songbird, again, as if she knows nothing of business. She lies to him by saying that nobody came by while he was gone. Torvald catches her in this lie, for he saw Krogstad leave the house as he entered. He lectures her on the problems and maladies that come with lying. Nora wonders why Krogstad is having problems at the bank. Torvald tells her that he forged a signature, one of the worst actions one can do, for he claims that it breeds deception and lies throughout an entire family. "Because an atmosphere of lies like that infects and poisons the whole life of a home. In a house like that, every breath that the children take is filled with the germs of evil" Act 1, pg. 179. Torvald believes Krogstad to be a moral outcast. He leaves the room, allowing Nora to brood in her fear and anxiety of her past actions, children's moral safety, and impending future crises.