In Act I.
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The opening scene of A Doll's House is preceded by a description of a room in the house in which the two main characters, Nora and Torvald Helmer, live. "A comfortable room, tastefully but not expensively furnished". This description represents the Helmers' place in society. They are middle class, not extremely wealthy, but with enough money to survive comfortably on. Middle class society in Norway in this time was quite patriarchal. There were strict social edicts about a woman being a good wife and mother. Women who tried to find independence, or were forced to work like Nora's best friend Mrs Linde, were often seen as lesser beings. This first setting description sets the scene for the entire play and supports the controversial main theme of the play, Nora's rebellion against this rigid society in her final decision to leave her husband when she realises she needs to make something of herself and find independence.
Non-verbal elements are used to develop Torvald Helmer as a character. The way that Torvald treats and sees Nora is the main device in which the audience is positioned to see Torvald, as a patronising and controlling man and husband.
In the first act, Nora also eats a bag of macaroons that she has been prohibited to eat by Torvald, and that she has bought for herself. "Torvald had forbidden them." That statement speaks volumes, as does the fact that she doesn't care he has forbidden them. What we learn in this first act is that although Nora has hitherto submitted to her husbands desires, she's beginning to think on her own. This foreshadows the scene where Nora will eventually leave.