Home > Book, classic, Genre, Length, novella/short nonfiction, Review > Book Review: A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen

Book Review: A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen

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It’s Christmas time and Nora is eagerly getting ready for the holidays with her husband, Torvald, their children, and their friend Dr. Rank when her old friend, Christine, shows up in town.  Christine is recently widowed and is looking for work.  Nora, who appears flighty and silly at first, informs Christine that she saved her husband’s life when they were first married by taking a loan from, essentially, a loan shark to pay for them to take a trip to Italy.  He remains unaware of both the loan she is working on repaying and the fact that his life was ever in danger.  Unfortunately, things come to a head when the man who loaned her the money, Krogstad, threatens to reveal all to her husband.

This three-act dramatic play was first performed in 1879. It explores the nature of domestic relationships in a way that still holds relatability and power today. The play accomplishes this using the same set design of the Helmer family’s living room throughout all three acts. I found myself impressed by the different feelings evoked by the identical set in each act.

The primary relationship the play explores is that of Nora and her husband Torvald. The first act opens before Christmas with Nora returning from a shopping excursion. Although their language with each other is sweet, there is also a clear tension in the relationship. Torvald calls her many terms of endearments. Yet they clearly disagree on how and when to spend money. Although Torvald is to start a new job in January with a higher salary, he does not want them to borrow any money for Christmastime. Nora disagrees, thinking it a reasonable thing to do. This seems like a minor disagreement until we discover that Nora in the past secretly borrowed money. She did this to take Torvald south to a warmer location for his health. The doctor told her it was vital to take him or he would die. Her motivations were sound, but it is a secret between them. Thus the play establishes that what seems like a simple mismatch in the marriage is, in fact, more serious.

The three acts deftly escalate this mismatch and how it must come to a head now between the two of them. In a mirror of the two of them, there is another couple introduced who broke up for livelihood reasons. In this way, the play leads the audience to see that a couple does not need to be perfect to find a way forward. This sets up the question of will or won’t Nora and Torvland find a way forward as a married couple?

The play also explores expectations of mothers. Nora and Torvald have three children. In the first act, we see Nora engaged in enthusiastic play with her children.  She speaks with pride of  both them and her mothering to a friend. Yet, over the course of the play, she comes to doubt her own mothering abilities because she doubts how good of a person she herself is. This all starts with a comment from Torvald:

TORVALD: “Almost everyone who has gone to the bad early in life has had a deceitful mother.”
NORA: “Why do you only say–mother?”

(loc 1005)

Although she pushes back on it, this begins to break the foundation of her own beliefs in her ability to mother. Since the audience both saw and heard her quality mothering at the beginning of the play, it is clear that it is not her character that is at fault. Rather it is that she needs her own husband to have faith in her quality as a mother. This subtle exploration of mothering is an enjoyable subplot to the main relationship drama.

Another theme explored in the play is the struggles of women for self-sufficiency. Nora’s friend Mrs. Linde (a widow) brings this to light. Dr. Rand’s character allows the play to explore the choices available to a person with a debilitating disease.  Another interesting exploration is whether the law is always correct or if sometimes the law itself can be wrong.

Overall, this is a brief yet powerful play. Although it was first performed more than 140 years ago, the relationships and themes it explores are still relevant today. It gives no easy answers, leaving the audience to decide for themselves what they think.

4 out of 5 stars

Length: 88 pages – novella/short nonfiction

Source: Audiobooks app for the iTouch, iPhone, and iPad.

Buy It (Amazon or Bookshop.org)

Note: This review was updated on March 25, 2022.

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  1. January 18, 2011 at 4:12 pm

    I absolutely loved this play when I read it in high school. Ibsen wrote another play about politics that I really liked.

  2. January 21, 2011 at 7:57 am

    Ah Henrik Ibsen is a name I am very well acquainted with from my degree. I know of
    A Doll’s House but I haven’t read it myself, my favourite Ibsen is a little less well known play called The Lady From the Sea.

  3. Meshack Kipkorir
    January 13, 2022 at 11:53 am

    this play make me happy I like it. It is very interesting play

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