The Character of Torvald Helmer and Nils Krogstad in A Doll’s House Essay

Torvald Helmer is the least likeable character in A Doll’s House, a play by Henrik Ibsen. Torvald is sometimes portrayed as a sexist pig. Such a reading does an injustice to Torvald. There is more depth to his character if one follows the hints that he had actively covered up for Nora’s father.

The first hint came when Nora told Kristina that Torvald had given up his government post because there was no prospect of advancement. It may be that there was no opportunity for getting ahead because promotion was slow in the bureau, but it may have been because his most intimate co-workers (those who would have used the familiar Du with him) were aware of what he had done. While the management did not prosecute him (just as Krogstad was not prosecuted), those acquainted with the incident could prevent his advancement into an office where his larcenous tendencies could do real harm. A second hint is that Helmer saw Krogstad as a threat to his new post in the savings bank: “he seems to think he has a right to be familiar with me.” Did he suspect that Krogstad knew the one awful secret that could destroy him? The third hint follows that trail: Krogstad expected that Nora had sufficient influence to persuade her husband not to dismiss him. Why did he believe this unless he had some suspicion of her past influence? A further hint comes when Helmer remarks: “I pretend we’re secretly in love–engaged in secret–and that no one dreams that there’s anything between us.” Why does he want that? Is this not a reference to the conflict of interest regarding her father? Lastly, after reading Krogstad’s letter, almost immediately Nora’s father comes to mind; he exclaims, “So this is what I get for condoning his fault! I did it for your sake, and t…

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…e Artist. Coral Gables, Florida: University of Miami.

Koht, Halvdan. 1971. Life of Ibsen. New York: Benjamin Blom.

Meyer, Michael. 1971. Ibsen. A Biography. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday and Company.

Northam, John. 1965. “Ibsen’s Search for the Hero.” Ibsen. A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.

 

Notes:

1. Clurman (1977:115, 117). Brandes (1964:77-78): “The man is thoroughly honourable, scrupulously upright, thrifty, careful of his position in the eyes of strangers and inferiors, a faithful husband, a strict and loving father, kind-hearted. . . .”

2. Brandes (1964:49) says that Ibsen views Helmer as a stupid and evil man, whose “stupidity arises solely from his self-righteous egoism.”

3. Clurman (1977:115-116) presents the traditional interpretation of Krogstad: “a soft man driven to hardness.”

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