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This act elaborates on the deciding point of Nora’s life. The test of whether the “miracle” happen or not is a test that will decide whether Torvald really is the husband he has claimed to be, whether the marriage really is salvageable in a way that will raise Nora out of the disrespect of being a doll. Nora has awoken to the reality that she is living a doll’s life and needs to move on with her own life, with or without Torvald. Her new life has already begun, and we have little hope that Torvald will rise to the challenge anytime soon. We do not yet know, though, if Nora will choose to live or to commit suicide upon Torvald’s likely failure in the test. One of the key reasons that the act works so successfully is that audiences feel the suspense about what will happen once Torvald reads the letter.
The relationship between Mrs. Linde and Krogstad makes for a good comparison with Nora’s and Torvald’s marriage. Mrs. Linde’s and Krogstad’s decision to be together after all this time is sincere, sweet, and reasonable, even if they are choosing somewhat traditional gender roles. Although Mrs. Linde and Krogstad both suffer from significant personal and moral problems, they might have a better chance of a happy and true marriage than Nora and Torvald had. Mrs. Linde advocates revealing all to Torvald because, as her union with Krogstad suggests, she believes that it is possible to build a relationship based upon mutual dependence so long as both parties are fully aware of each other’s ideas and motives. Mrs. Linde hopes that, through her own new union, both she and Krogstad can eventually become the better people they know that they can be. This is a pattern for the “miracle of miracles,” a mutual choice to change so that both parties are truly ready for a successful marriage. Given the history of Krogstad and Mrs. Linde, however, we cannot yet see this relationship working as well as they hope. Ibsen leaves the issue open. At least the quality of respect and communication between them is already far above the situation for Torvald and Nora. In addition, all the years of thinking about each other have given Krogstad and Mrs. Linde a special anticipation for one another. This is the opposite of the effect of the years of sourness that Nora now sees when she examines her marriage.
The extent of Torvald’s investment in a fantasy world and the importance of his false characterization of Nora are revealed when he describes how, at parties, he pretends not to know her so that he may seduce her all over again. Perhaps more importantly, Nora is quite candid about her understanding of all this, telling him flatly that she knows. If she did not know before, she knows now. She is no longer willing to be an object or an agent of fantasy. If there is one thing she now knows, it is the difference between fantasy and reality.
This is a very recent development. She apparently has recently tried to pick the lock of Torvald’s letter-box with one of her hairpins. In that effort she seems to have preferred the status quo, keeping the secret a bit longer. Perhaps Krogstad could be appeased and the secret could be held forever. But the effort failed, and Nora has had to accept the reality that she is not herself. The costume of the Neapolitan fisher-girl, with which she entered the scene, is a clear symbol of her own unreality. When she later changes into a plain black dress, we realize that she has shifted to a final acknowledgment of her new chance at an individual identity, free of Torvald.
It is important to notice that Nora’s time at the party has been the first time that she has left the confines of the one room in the entire play. She is not far away, however. At this point, she has to be dragged back in. This is not merely an attempt to delay the reading of the letter; she longs to stay off the stage, to stay away from the doll’s house where Torvald controls her. She would rather be in the delirium of the tarantella. She sees that a major element of the problem in their relationship is Torvald’s desire to have Nora entertain him, so she is eager to try her luck in the real world and make her own choices. When she briefly leaves the room to exchange her party dress for everyday clothing, this is her first lone foray from the room. This step foreshadows her final departure. She is not going to go to some hotel, however; she might just kill herself, but if not, she will go to the home of a friend or to her earlier family home. She is not ready to be fully free; she needs a safe place to recollect herself, to get herself educated and ready to enter into a healthy marriage or, if she chooses, to find a room of her own.
When she finally leaves, she seems to have decided to move on positively with her life rather than to commit suicide. Before Torvald confronted her with the letter, she was thinking seriously commit suicide, determined that Torvald should not have to sacrifice his life for hers. She considered this an appropriate choice insofar as she thought that he would willingly give his life for hers when necessary. In this way, they would have had an equal relationship. But she became extremely disappointed to discover that he clearly had no intention of sacrificing himself for her. Instead of refusing to abide by Krogstad’s demands and taking up the issue for himself, Torvald accused Nora of ruining his life. He even told her that this would conclude their marriage: she would no longer be allowed to see her children or maintain their marriage except in public appearances. He said he would never sacrifice his honor for a loved one. His emotional tirade was shameful. His reversal of all this, once Krogstad’s threat had lifted, was equally selfish. This is not a man worth dying for.
Nora realizes that, before she can be a wife, she must first discover herself in the world. She leaves as an awakened soul, determined to become a full person rather than the doll of the male figures in her life. Thus, it is important to note that Nora’s motives are not simply idealistic. She does not know yet whether she should adhere to religion or morality or virtue, but she knows that she must escape the oppressive situation in order to figure out what to do next.
The change in Helmer’s expressed character probably does not dupe either Nora or the audience. He begins the act rather unsympathetically. His objectification of Nora extends so far as practically demanding to have sexual intercourse with her against her will. He belittles and berates her. He acts selfishly throughout. Yet, when left alone at the end with his children, plaintively begging that the gulf between him and his wife might be bridged, we recognize that he truly feels devastated. He believed the myth of their marriage with his whole heart. He, too, has been limited by the gender roles of husband and wife that his society tends to expect. This makes him hugely sympathetic despite his many serious failings and even despite his cruelty.
Ibsen manipulates the audience with several intimations of a happy ending: when Krogstad and Mrs. Linde’s love is revealed, when Krogstad promises that he will take back his letter, when he returns Helmer’s IOU, and when Nora and Torvald discuss the possibility of a “miracle of miracles.” But the outside door slams as the curtain comes down. It is not a happy ending but a sad one, particularly for Torvald. There is only a remote possibility of the redemption of the Helmers’ marriage. As for Nora, it is an open ending. It is an opening out of possibilities for Nora, a new journey which, as much as possible, she will take alone.