From the opening of the act to the arrival of Krogstad’s second letter.
Mrs. Linde sits in the Helmers’ house, waiting. Krogstad soon appears in the doorway, having received a note from Mrs. Linde asking her to meet him. She tells him that they have “a great deal to talk about,” and it becomes apparent that Mrs. Linde once had romantic relations with Krogstad but broke them off in order to marry Mr. Linde, who had more money. Mrs. Linde says that she felt the marriage was necessary for the sake of her brothers and mother but regrets having ignored her heart, which told her to stay with Krogstad. She tells Krogstad that she wants to get back together with him, to take care of him and his children. Krogstad is overjoyed.
Mrs. Linde hears the music stop upstairs and realizes that Torvald and Nora will soon return. She tells Krogstad that his letter is still in Torvald’s letterbox, and Krogstad momentarily questions Mrs. Linde’s true motives—perhaps she has promised herself to him only to save Nora. Mrs. Linde calms Krogstad, saying “when you’ve sold yourself once for someone else, you never do it again.” She even tells him that although she originally hoped to persuade him to ask for his letter back, after observing the Helmer household, she feels that Torvald must discover the truth about Nora. The dance ends, and Mrs. Linde urges Krogstad to leave. He says that he will wait for her downstairs, and she suggests that he walk her home. Krogstad then exits.
Excited by the prospect of a new life, Mrs. Linde puts on her coat and prepares to leave. Nora and Torvald enter, Nora begging to return to the party. Torvald compliments and teases Nora for Mrs. Linde’s benefit, then leaves the room in search of a candle. While he is gone, Mrs. Linde tells Nora that she has spoken to Krogstad and that Nora must tell her husband everything. Nora says, “I knew,” but then says that she will not tell Torvald. Mrs. Linde reminds her of the letter. Torvald returns, notices Mrs. Linde’s knitting, and tells her that she should take up embroidery instead, saying that embroidery is a more graceful pastime than knitting. Mrs. Linde says goodnight and then departs.
Torvald expresses his relief that Nora’s boring friend has gone, and he begins to move toward his wife. She tells him to stop watching her, but he protests that he is always entitled to watch his “prize possession.” He continues his sexual advances, telling Nora that when they are in public, he imagines her as his “secret fiancée” and “young bride.” Nora continues to protest, saying she wishes to be alone.
Dr. Rank knocks on the door, annoying Torvald by calling so late. In front of Torvald, Nora and Dr. Rank speak in coded terms about the experiment that Dr. Rank was to do on himself; Dr. Rank says that the result is clear, then exits. Torvald thinks that Dr. Rank is simply drunk, but Nora understands that Dr. Rank has come to tell her that he is certain of his impending death.
Torvald goes to retrieve his mail and notices that someone has been tampering with the mailbox lock using one of Nora’s hairpins. Nora blames the children. In the mail, Torvald finds that Dr. Rank has left two calling cards with black crosses on them. Nora explains to Torvald that this means that Dr. Rank has gone away to die. Torvald expresses sadness, but decides that Dr. Rank’s death might be best for everyone, since it will make Torvald and Nora “quite dependent on each other.” He tells Nora that he loves her so much that he has wished in the past that Nora’s life were threatened so that he could risk everything to save her.
Nora encourages Torvald to open his letters, but he argues that he would rather spend time with her. She reminds him that he must think of his dying friend, and he finally agrees that perhaps reading his letters will clear from his head the thoughts of “death and decay.”
Torvald goes into the other room, and Nora paces for a while. She throws Torvald’s cloak around her shoulders and her shawl on her head. She is contemplating suicide and is about to rush out of the house never to return when Torvald storms out of his study in a rage after reading Krogstad’s letter. Nora confesses that everything Krogstad has written is true and tells Torvald she has loved him more than anything. Torvald tells her to stop talking, bemoans the ugliness of the forgery, and calls Nora a hypocrite and a liar. He then says that he should have seen such a thing coming—Nora’s father was a morally reckless individual. Torvald blames Nora for ruining his life and his happiness by putting him at Krogstad’s mercy.
Torvald refuses to allow Nora to leave and says that the family must pretend that all is as it was before, but he states that Nora should no longer be able to see the children. He says that he will try to silence Krogstad by paying him off and hopes that he and Nora can at least keep up the appearance of happiness.
By this point, Nora has become strangely calm, frozen with comprehension as she begins to recognize the truth about her marriage. The doorbell rings, and soon after, the maid Helene enters with a letter for Nora. Torvald snatches the letter from her hands, sees that it is from Krogstad, and reads it himself. Nora does not protest. To Torvald’s relief, Krogstad writes that he has decided to stop blackmailing Nora. In his letter, Krogstad includes Nora’s promissory note (the one on which she forged her father’s signature). Torvald relaxes, rips up the contract, throws it into the stove, and tells Nora that life can go back to normal now that this “bad dream” has ended.
From now on, forget happiness. Now it’s just about saving the remains, the wreckage, the appearance.
For most of the play, we see Torvald delighting in Nora’s dependence upon him but not in his control over her. Nora does refer to Torvald’s restrictions of her actions—she mentions that he forbids macaroons, for instance—but the side of Torvald we see is more pushover than dictator. He seems to love his wife so much that he allows her to do whatever she pleases, as when he gives her more money to spend after she returns from buying gifts. In the scene following the party, however, Torvald’s enjoyment of his control over Nora takes on a darker tone with his somewhat perverse sexual advances toward Nora. He treats her like his possession, like the young girl he first acquired years ago. Contributing to the feeling of control that Torvald is exercising over Nora is that the evening has been of Torvald’s design—he dresses Nora in a costume of his choosing and coaches her to dance the tarantella in the manner that he finds “desirable.”
Torvald’s inability to understand Nora’s dissent when he attempts to seduce her stems from his belief that Nora, as his wife, is his property. Because he considers her simply an element of the life that he idealizes, her coldness and rebuff of his sexual advances leave him not baffled but incredulous. He has so long believed in the illusory relationship that Nora has helped him create over the years that he cannot comprehend the reality of the situation—that Nora is discontent with her life and willing to express it.
The hollowness of Torvald’s promises to save Nora shows how little he appreciates her sacrifice. Nora expects compassion from Torvald after he finds out about her predicament, especially since, after learning of Dr. Rank’s imminent death, Torvald confesses that he fantasizes about risking his life to save Nora’s. Once given the opportunity, however, Torvald shows no intention of sacrificing anything for Nora, thinking only of himself and of appearances.
Ultimately, Torvald’s selfishness becomes apparent in his lack of concern about his wife’s fate, despite the fact that she committed a crime to save his life. He panics upon learning of Nora’s crime not because he cares about what will happen to her but because he worries that his reputation will be damaged if knowledge of Nora’s crime becomes public. Instead of treating Nora with understanding and gratitude for her noble intent, he threatens and blames her and then immediately begins to think of ways to cover up the shame that she has cast on his family. His proclamation of “I’m saved” after Krogstad’s letter of retraction arrives reflects that he has been thinking only of himself in his panic. He says nothing about Nora until she asks, “And me?” His casual response—“You too, naturally”—reveals how much her well-being is an afterthought to him.
Torvald’s selfish reaction to Krogstad’s letter opens Nora’s eyes to the truth about her relationship with Torvald and leads her to rearrange her priorities and her course of action. Her shift from thinking about suicide to deciding to walk out on Torvald reflects an increased independence and sense of self. Whereas she earlier -succumbs to pressure from Torvald to preserve the appearance of idealized family life (she lies about eating macaroons and considers suicide—the ultimate sacrifice of herself—in order to conceal her misdeeds), she now realizes that she can exist outside Torvald’s confined realm.