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THE STORY - SCENE SUMMARIES AND NOTES
ACT TWO (continued)
Even though Nora's secrets are beginning to be revealed, she still refuses to deal with them. She was about to ask Rank for help and advice when he proclaimed his love. By refusing to deal with his feelings for her, and possibly her own for him, she loses both her chance for his help and her cherished fantasy about a secret lover's will.
Rank unwittingly alarms Nora by the implications of two statements he makes: "To suffer... for somebody else's sins... in every single family, in some way or another, this inevitable retribution of nature goes on." He adds that people who "go away" are soon forgotten. The doctor is talking about himself and his father's disease, and his own approaching death, but Nora is thinking about her own past and her own future. Not wanting Torvald to suffer for her sins, she thinks of suicide as an escape.
Nora's level of awareness about herself, her surroundings, and her relationships is becoming an issue. When Rank asks her point-blank if she's known about his love for her, she answers, "Oh, how can I tell what I know or don't know?... Why did you have to be so clumsy, Dr. Rank! Everything was so good." Nora is experiencing doubt, an uncomfortable emotion, but necessary as a prelude to self-knowledge.
The arrival of Krogstad puts even more pressure on Nora. Krogstad is especially dangerous because he understands Torvald's pettiness and Nora's fears. In fact, he's the first character who's been able to read Nora's hidden thoughts. He knows she's considered running away or even committing suicide. He explains that he had the same thoughts himself, when his forgery was discovered. But he knows she doesn't have the courage to die any more than he did.
Krogstad is as desperate as Nora and acts ruthlessly to gain his ends. Suicide won't solve anything, he says, because he can bring scandal on her family even after she's dead. He then enlarges his blackmail demands. Having his old job back isn't good enough; he wants a better position, and eventually to be Torvald's right-hand man. Krogstad correctly guesses that once Torvald knows the truth, he'll do anything to save his precious reputation.
On his way out, Krogstad puts the letter damning Nora into the mailbox. A time bomb has been dropped. Can you imagine a household nowadays where only the husband has a key to the mailbox? Nora can only stare through the glass at the deadly letter in horror. But, at the same time, her fantasy timetable is set in motion. First "the miracle" will happen-Torvald will find out about her crime; then he'll take the blame on himself. Nora can never allow this. She'll commit suicide in order to take all the responsibility on herself. Notice how the central point in this scene is the assumption that Torvald will shoulder the burden of guilt. Is Nora contemplating suicide out of love? out of deference to society's demands? as a point of honor? or out of fear of Torvald's response? Can you find evidence in the text to support one or more of these reasons?
Kristine reenters, and each woman discovers the other's secret. When Kristine realizes that Krogstad is the moneylender, she reveals that she and Krogstad were once in love. Kristine leaves at once to persuade him to ask Torvald to return the letter unopened.
Torvald and Rank come out of the study.
Here, Ibsen makes heavy use of dramatic irony. Dramatic irony occurs when you, as the reader or audience member, have more information than the characters do, and this information adds more meaning to the lines than the characters realize. A prime example is Torvald's entrance line: "Rank had me expecting some grand masquerade." He's disappointed not to find Nora dressed up in her party costume, but you know he's watching a real masquerade.
Nora tells him she needs so much help on her dance for the party that he must promise not to do any more business that evening. She takes on her adoring, dependent role so effectively that Torvald promises to spend the whole evening reteaching her the tarantella they learned in Italy. Nora dances in a frenzy, as if her "life were at stake." Fittingly, the fatally ill Dr. Rank joins in this violent dance of death by accompanying Nora at the piano. Kristine enters and stands dumbfounded at the door.
This scene is echoed in the second play in this guide, Hedda Gabler. Hedda plays wildly on her piano before her suicide.
Torvald gets Nora to admit there's a letter from Krogstad in the box but keeps his promise not to open any mail until "tomorrow night, after you've danced."
"Then you'll be free," Nora assures him. In the meantime, she orders the last meal of a condemned woman: champagne till daybreak and heaps of macaroons.
When Torvald and Dr. Rank leave, Kristine informs Nora that Krogstad has left town until the next night. Nora says it's just as well: "the miracle" must happen. In light of Nora's insistence that Torvald will act honorably, ask yourself why she even waits for him to open the letter before killing herself. Is it because she isn't truly convinced? Is she giving herself time to reconsider? Or has Krogstad convinced her that suicide wouldn't help? "Thirty-one hours to live," she says. Then "the little lark" goes in to join Torvald and the others at dinner.
Meanwhile, the letter "bomb" is ticking away, waiting to explode in Act Three. Then Nora will have to face, not only the exposure of her crime, but the meaning of her life.