Act 1, Part 1
The Helmer's home, Christmas Eve.
Nora Helmer enters her home followed by a porter carrying a Christmas tree and parcels. After paying the porter and giving her maid instructions about the tree, Nora takes out a macaroon that she has hidden in her pocket, sneaks a few bites, and listens at her husband's study door. When she is satisfied that he is at work inside, she busies herself and hums. Torvald Helmer calls, "Is that my little lark twittering out there?" He emerges from his study, sees the parcels, and worries that his "little spendthrift" has been wasting money again. Nora asks him not to worry, reminds him that this will be the first time they won't have to economize at Christmas, since he has been promoted to manager at the bank where he works and will be getting a large raise. He warns that he won't actually get the raise for another 3 months. Nora suggests they borrow until then. He replies, "Nora, you know what I think about that. No debt, no borrowing. There can be no beauty about a home life that depends on borrowing and debt." She pouts, he caresses her, calls her his squirrel, his silly wife who has no head for business. Then he gives her some spending money. She brightens, shows him the inexpensive Christmas gifts she bought for the children and the maids. Helmer asks her what she'd like for herself. She hesitates, then says that what she'd really like is money. He agrees, condescendingly: "It's a sweet little spendthrift, but she uses up a great deal of money. One would hardly believe how expensive such little persons are!" He tells her she's like her father, the way money melts in her hands. He notices that she seems "a little uneasy," and asks if she's been sneaking sweets again. She says no, and he believes her. They talk happily of their Christmas Eve plans, of Doctor Rank, their good friend who will be joining them, of how much happier this Christmas will be compared to previous ones. Helmer recalls how last year, Nora had to shut herself up in her room for three weeks making decorations because they couldn't afford to buy any, and how a cat had ripped them to shreds before anyone-even he-had seen them. But the bad times are over, they agree; Helmer says it's wonderful finally to have a safe appointment and a big income. Their conversation is interrupted by the arrival of two callers: Dr. Rank and a lady who wishes to see Nora.
Nora does not recognize the woman at first, then realizes it is Mrs. Christine Linde, an old schoolfriend whom she has not seen for 8 years. Through their conversation we learn that Mrs. Linde is a widow. Her husband died 3 years before, leaving her with no money or property. They had no children. Life has been hard for Mrs. Linde, and she has aged much more than Nora. We also learn, however, that Nora is not exactly what she seems. When Mrs. Linde teases her about being a silly spendthrift, Nora replies coyly that she has had to work, too. She explains that when they were first married, when she was pregnant with their first child, Helmer worked himself nearly to death, and the doctors recommended a trip to the south (Italy) to revive him. They could not afford the 250 pounds it would take to go, but they went, says Nora, because her dying father gave them the money. The trip saved Helmer's life.
Then the conversation shifts back to Mrs. Linde's story, and we learn that she did not love her husband; she only married him because her mother was bedridden and she had to care for her two younger brothers, and the man seemed like he would be a good provider. He provided well for them; her brothers were now grown and independent, and her mother died with no worries. But when the man died, his business went to pieces, and Mrs. Linde was left alone and penniless. She has found work in the country and has provided for herself, but she has been very lonely. She has come to town, she says, because she heard about Helmer's promotion and wants to ask him if he will find her a job at the bank. Nora promises to help her. She thanks Nora, saying, "it is doubly kind in you, for you know so little of the burdens and troubles of life." Nora bristles at this, and replies that she has known trouble. She then reveals that it was she, not her father, who saved Helmer's life, that she, not her father, provided the funds for the trip. She says that Helmer, who had had no idea how sick he really was, had refused to go on the trip. To shield him from the knowledge that he was near death, she had pretended she wanted the trip for herself. He had called her a spendthrift, said it was one of her silly caprices. So she borrowed the money (she doesn't say how) and has been paying it back with interest ever since. Helmer thinks his "little spendthrift" spends the money he gives her on herself, when in fact she has put most of it toward paying off the loan that saved his life. Nora also reveals that last Christmas she locked herself away and pretended to be making decorations, when in fact she was doing a copying job to earn extra money. "It was like being a man," she says. The ordeal has been terrible, she says, but now that Helmer has been promoted, she will be able to pay off the loan and be free from care forever.
Their conversation is interrupted by a visitor to see Helmer. When Mrs. Linde sees the man, she trembles and turns away. Nora also acts strangely with him. She addresses him stiffly and sends him to the study, where Helmer is talking to Dr. Rank. When he has gone, Nora tells Mrs. Linde that the man is a lawyer named Nils Krogstad. Mrs. Linde says she used to know him, but he is much altered now. Nora relates that the man had made an unhappy marriage and is now a widower with several children.
Dr. Rank emerges from the study and greets the two women. He comments that Krogstad, who is still in the study with Helmer, has a "diseased moral character." Nora asks what Krogstad wants with her husband; the doctor says that the man has a job at the bank and probably has some business to discuss with Helmer. Suddenly, Nora starts to laugh. She asks Dr. Rank if all of the people employed at the bank are dependent on Helmer now. He says yes, which seems to delight Nora. She offers the doctor and Mrs. Linde macaroons, even though Helmer has forbidden her to have sweets. When Helmer enters the room, she hides the macaroons again.
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Points to Ponder
Did You Know
Act 1, Part 1
Act 1, Part 2
Act 2, Part 1
Act 2, Part 2
Act 3, Part 1
Act 3, Part 2
Act 3, Part 3