Act Three, continued
You and Papa have done me a great wrong. It’s because of you I’ve made nothing of my life.
From Torvald’s attempt to start over after burning Krogstad’s contract to the end of the play.
Torvald tells Nora that they must forget what has happened. Seeing her face expressionless, Torvald attempts to assure Nora that although she may not believe him, he has completely forgiven her. He says that he understands that her actions stemmed from love and that he doesn’t blame her for not understanding that “the ends didn’t justify the means.” He tells her to rely on him as her guardian and teacher, because he loves her and finds her all the more attractive for her dependence upon him.
Nora changes out of her costume and into everyday clothes. Torvald continues to assure her that everything will be okay. In fact, he argues that, by forgiving her, “it’s as if [a man has] twice made [his wife] his own.” He says that he feels he has given Nora a new life so that she is now both his wife and his child.
Nora replies that Torvald has never understood her and that, until that evening, she has never understood Torvald. She points out that—for the first time in their eight years of marriage—they are now having a “serious conversation.” She has realized that she has spent her entire life being loved not for who she is but for the role she plays. To both her father and to Torvald, she has been a plaything—a doll. She realizes she has never been happy in Torvald’s dollhouse but has just been performing for her keep. She has deluded herself into thinking herself happy, when in truth she has been miserable.
Torvald admits that there is some truth to Nora’s comments and asserts that he will begin to treat Nora and the children as pupils rather than playthings. Nora rejects his offer, saying that Torvald is not equipped to teach her, nor she the children. Instead, she says, she must teach herself, and therefore she insists upon leaving Torvald. He forbids her to leave, but she tells him that she has decided to cut off all dependence upon him, so he cannot dictate her actions. Torvald points out how she will appear to others, but Nora insists that she does not care. He then tries to take persuade Nora to stay in order to fulfill her “sacred duties” to her husband and her children, but Nora responds that she has an equally important duty to herself. She no longer believes Torvald’s assertion that she is “a wife and mother above everything else.”
Nora says that she realizes that she is childlike and knows nothing about the world. She feels alienated from both religion and the law, and wishes to discover on her own, by going out into the world and learning how to live life for herself, whether or not her feelings of alienation are justified. When Torvald accuses Nora of not loving him anymore, Nora says his claim is true. She then explains that she realized that she didn’t love Torvald that evening, when her expectation that he would take the blame for her—showing his willingness to sacrifice himself for love—wasn’t met. She adds that she was so sure that Torvald would try to cover for her that she had been planning to take her own life in order to prevent Torvald from ruining his. Torvald replies that no man can sacrifice his honor for love, but Nora retorts that many women have done so.
Once Nora makes it clear to Torvald that she cannot live with him as his wife, he suggests that the two of them live together as brother and sister, but she rejects this plan. She says that she does not want to see her children and that she is leaving them in better hands than her own. Nora returns Torvald’s wedding ring and the keys to the house and takes the ring he wears back from him. She says that they can have no contact anymore, and she frees him of all responsibility for her. She adds that she will have Mrs. Linde come the following morning to pick up her belongings.
Torvald asks whether Nora will ever think of him and the children, and she replies that she will. But she refuses to allow Torvald to write to her. Finally, Nora says that “something glorious” would have to happen for she and Torvald to have a true marriage, but then admits that she no longer believes in glorious things. She cannot imagine them changing enough to ever have an equal, workable relationship. She leaves, and as Torvald is trying to comprehend what has happened, a heavy door downstairs slams shut.
Torvald’s explanation for refusing to take the blame—that a man can never sacrifice his integrity for love—again reveals the depth of his gender bias. Nora’s response that “[h]undreds of thousands of women” have done just that underscores that the actions of Mrs. Linde and Nora, both of whom sacrifice themselves for their loved ones, have borne out. Nora’s belief that Torvald should take responsibility for her seems justified, since what she expects from Torvald is no more than what she has already given him.
As Nora’s childish innocence and faith in Torvald shatter, so do all of her illusions. She realizes that her husband does not see her as a person but rather as a beautiful possession, nothing more than a toy. She voices her belief that neither Torvald nor her father ever loved her, but rather “thought it was enjoyable to be in love with [her].” She realizes these two men cared more about amusing themselves and feeling loved and needed than they did about her as an individual.
Moreover, Nora realizes that since she has been treated as a child for her entire life, she still is very childlike and needs to grow up before she can raise any children or take on any other responsibilities. Her defiance of Torvald when he forbids her to leave reflects her epiphany that she isn’t obligated to let Torvald dictate her actions—she is independent of him and has control over her own life. The height of Nora’s awakening comes when she tells Torvald that her duty to herself is just as sacred as her duties to her husband and children. She now sees that she is a human being before she is a wife and a mother, and that she owes it to herself to explore her personality, ambitions, and beliefs.
Mrs. Linde’s manner of fulfilling her personal desires balances Nora’s. Whereas Nora decides that she must be totally independent to be true to herself and thus rejects her family, Mrs. Linde decides that she needs to care for the man she truly loves to be true to herself and thereby become content. Ibsen positions Mrs. Linde as a foil (a character whose attitudes and emotions contrast with, and thereby accentuate, those of another character) to Nora in order to demonstrate that Nora’s actions do not constitute the only solution available to women who feel trapped by society. Mrs. Linde’s offer to care for Krogstad and his children will be a positive move for both of them, because they love each other, and Mrs. Linde, having sacrificed her whole life to live with a husband she didn’t love in order to help her brothers and mother, will finally be able to live with her chosen partner. Nora, on the other hand, has sacrificed her own will all her life by allowing her father and Torvald to indulge theirs. Ibsen suggests that one finds himself or herself not in an independent life but rather in an independent will. Nora exits her doll’s house with a door slam, emphatically resolving the play with an act of bold self-assertion.