A Doll's House

In Act 3, What indications does Torvald provide which show that he has not altered his conception of their martial relationship?

Act 3

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Torvald is pretty pathetic, especially in act three. His sexual advances despite Nora's objections is a big tip off. 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.



Nora prepares to rush off to commit suicide by jumping into the icy depths of the river, throwing on Torvald’s coat and her shawl. As she bids adieu to her family and rushes out the door, Torvald hurries out of his room and stops her, letter in hand. Torvald asks her if she knows what is in the letter, but Nora still tries to leave. He stops her, locking the door. He continues to wonder out loud how the letter’s allegations could be true. He dismisses her pleas that all was done out of love. He protests that he will not suffer at her hands.

Nora realizes that Torvald has no intention of taking the burden of this problem upon himself; he is blaming her for ruining his life. She grows still and cold while Torvald berates her and her character. Not allowing Nora to speak, Torvald speculates about their future. They will keep up appearances but, of course, Nora will not be allowed near the children and the normal aspects of their marriage will no longer be maintained in private.

He is interrupted by the maid, who is bearing a note from Krogstad to Nora. Torvald intercepts the letter and reads it himself, learning that Krogstad has had a change of heart and has sent back the bond after all. Torvald is overjoyed and shouts, “I am saved!” Nora asks whether she is saved as well, and he says yes since “nobody has any hold over you.” Overcome with relief, he now discusses how hard this all must have been for Nora and tells her that he has forgiven her—he will think of it only as a bad dream. It is all over.

Realizing perhaps that Nora is not having the same reaction, Torvald explains to her that he knows that she did everything out of love and that he can forgive her because he also knows that, as a woman, she is unequipped to make proper decisions. He even tells her that her helplessness and full dependency on him make her all the more endearing to him. Nora thanks him for his forgiveness and leaves the room to take off her ball dress.

As she is removing her dress, Torvald stands in the doorway and muses about the comfort of their home and how much he wants to and will protect her. He assures her that everything will soon be as it was before. The helplessness of a wife makes her even more attractive because she becomes both a wife and child, doubly his own. Moreover, when the husband forgives her, he gives her new life and becomes even closer to her.

The change of heart apparently rings hollow. Nora changes not into bed clothing but into everyday clothing. She explains that she will not sleep tonight, and she asks him to sit down with her in order to “face facts.” She tells him that he has never understood her and that, before tonight, she has never understood him. She points out that, over eight years of marriage, they have never before sat down to have a serious discussion. Torvald protests that such conversations would not have made sense, given Nora’s interests.

Nora tells him that she has been greatly wronged by both her father and her husband. Torvald protests that they are the men who have loved her the most. Shaking her head, Nora corrects him, telling him that he has never loved her for herself but has only thought it pleasant to be in love with her. She explains to him that, just as her father did, Torvald has treated her as a doll to be played with, arranging everything to suit himself and forcing her to live only to entertain him. As a result, she has not made anything of her life and has never been truly happy.

Torvald agrees with this analysis, though he qualifies it as exaggerated and strained. He pledges that, from now on, he will stop playing with her and start educating her. Nora refuses the offer, observing that he is not the man to educate her. Only a few minutes before, he had told her that she was unfit to raise her own children. She agrees with him about her inability at present; she must first educate herself before she can educate the children. This is why, she concludes, she is going to leave him.

Torvald is shocked and jumps out of his chair, calling her mad and trying to prevent her from leaving. He accuses her of neglecting her “most sacred duties” as wife and mother, refusing to acknowledge Nora’s opinion that her duty to herself as a reasonable human being is at least as sacred. He appeals to her sense of religion and then morality, both of which Nora agnostically rejects by explaining that she has never had a chance to examine and embrace these things on her own and, as a result, she does not know if she agrees with these principles. He finally argues that he must conclude that she does not love him. Apologetic, she agrees. He lost her love earlier tonight (if not before), and she cannot stay in the house.

Nora explains that her love was lost because the miracle did not happen: he did not refuse Krogstad’s conditions and offer to take up the problem for himself. Instead, he berated her. Torvald replies that, though he would gladly work day and night for her, he would never assent to jeopardizing his honor for a loved one. Nora simply replies that many wives have done just that. Torvald dismisses her words as those of a heedless child. Admitting the possibility that he might be right, Nora changes tack. She describes his selfish perspective and her own horror at having realized that she had lived with and borne children with a stranger for eight years. Torvald sadly acknowledges the gulf between them but asks if there is still a way to fill it. Nora reiterates that they both will be better off apart. She somewhat formally releases him from all obligations to her. She says that there must be perfect freedom on both sides. They return their wedding rings to each other, and she leaves her keys.

Nora adds that a future relationship of some sort would only be possible if “the miracle of miracles” were to happen—if they both change is such a way that they could have a real marriage. She leaves. Sinking down into a chair with his hand in his face, Torvald moans her name. He then looks up and observes how empty the room has become without her. The play ends with the hope of the “miracle of miracles” crossing Torvald’s mind and with the sound of the street door slamming.