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THE STORY - SCENE SUMMARIES AND NOTES
Nora's waiting is almost over. It's the next night, and she's upstairs at the party, about to dance the tarantella. But instead of watching Nora's performance, you're downstairs in the Helmers' drawing room with Mrs. Linde. She's waiting for Krogstad to arrive in response to her note.
Some readers find it hard to believe that Kristine would ask Krogstad to meet her at the Helmers' house, given the explosive situation. Krogstad wonders why himself. True, it wouldn't be proper to meet at Kristine's, and she needs to talk to him in private. The most important reason, of course, is Ibsen's need to maintain "unity of place"- a one-room setting for the whole story. As with some other situations in the play that may seem hard to accept as believable, Ibsen often sacrifices realism to the demands of an intense theatrical presentation. Think of the "coincidence" of the double forgeries, the giving of Krogstad's position in the bank to Kristine, and the nursemaid's former renunciation of her own child.
Kristine admits that she's always loved Krogstad. She married her first husband only for his money. Krogstad doesn't think that's an acceptable excuse, and Kristine doesn't argue. When Krogstad lost Kristine, "it was as if the solid ground dissolved" from under his feet.
Kristine offers him help. He assumes "help" means she'll step aside so he can have his job back. But she's realistic. She knows that even if she resigned, Torvald wouldn't reinstate him. The help she means is her love. She offers to marry him and help raise his children. Krogstad assumes she won't love him when she knows his past and his reputation. But she does know and forgives him completely. Why does Ibsen again stretch the story's credibility by reuniting these former lovers, with the connecting links of Nora and the bank? What important messages about love, respectability, and guilty secrets are being clearly presented by this coincidental situation?
The two couples have traded places. Nora and Torvald, who seemed at first a happy couple, are being pushed apart by secrets and lies. Krogstad and Kristine, who had been separated by dishonesty, are willing to face their past mistakes. Their love, apparently dead, is revived. Does this reversal give you a hint about the fate of Nora and Torvald?
Some readers find Krogstad's reformation as a result of Kristine's compassion too quick and easy to be believable. Others feel that he's been a basically good man all along, caught in a downward spiral. Either way, their story is completed. The future awaits them and now it is time to let the Helmers' fate be decided. Nora's tarantella is heard upstairs. The Helmers will soon return.
In the first act, Ibsen used theatrical devices and revelations of past events to begin the story. Then, a number of coincidences caused confrontations. But from here through the rest of the play, the action is determined solely by character- how people respond to situations and interact with each other. The resolution of the major conflict will fall squarely on Nora and Torvald.
Kristine and Krogstad still have a part in the Helmers' predicament. The first major action based on character occurs when Krogstad offers to ask for his letter back. Kristine unexpectedly tells him not to. She feels that the deception between Nora and Torvald should not go on. Is Kristine right in deciding that it's better for Torvald to know? Is it her business to make this decision at all? Should a person tell the truth at all costs? This is a question that Ibsen asks in several of his plays. The cost of truth to Nora and Torvald will be high. Whether too high, you will have to decide.
Nora and Torvald return home from the party to find Kristine there. Torvald describes Nora's successful performance but, as you might expect, thinks it was lacking in respectability, a little too wild and emotional.
Notice Helmer's critique of Nora's dance. "She... got a tumultuous hand-which was well earned, although the performance may have been a bit too naturalistic-I mean it rather overstepped the proprieties of art." Ibsen is indulging in a bit of inside humor here since this is a criticism that was often made of his own plays.
In the same speech, Torvald utters the play's grandest irony, but one that you won't understand until the curtain goes down. He says, "An exit should always be effective, Mrs. Linde, but that's what I can't get Nora to grasp." Little does he know that his wife will make one of the most effective exits in the history of world theater.
Now, tipsy and alone with his wife, Torvald talks about his sexual fantasies. We discover that in his fantasies, as in real life, Torvald needs to dominate. Since he wants to make love to Nora, it's understandable that he's irritated when Rank enters.
Nora has changed since her last conversation with Rank. Since they are both thinking of an approaching death, Nora and Rank have become closer. Their conversation has special meaning that Torvald can't appreciate. Nora links herself with Rank by asking, "Tell me, what should we two go as at the next masquerade?" She knows perfectly well that masquerades are over for both of them.
As Rank leaves, Ibsen links them again. "Sleep well, Doctor," Nora says. "Thanks for that wish," Rank responds. "Wish me the same," she asks. "You? All right, if you like-Sleep well. And thanks for the light."
You can read several meanings into Rank's last statement. Literally, he's thanking her for lighting his cigar. In the terminology of psychoanalytic theory, this reference has sexual overtones. Also, figuratively, Nora has been a light in his life.
Rank leaves and Torvald finally goes to check the mail. First he finds Rank's calling card marked with a black cross. Nora explains its meaning-Rank has gone home to die a solitary death. When Torvald remarks that they are now "thrown back upon each other, completely," you know that this is true. Nothing stands between husband and wife but the truth.
Torvald's next statement inadvertently assures Nora that her fantasy timetable is on schedule. "You know what, Nora?" he asks. "Time and again I've wished you were in some terrible danger, just so I could stake my life and soul and everything, for your sake."
Nora believes that her "miracle" is at hand. "Now you must read your mail, Torvald," she insists. She is about to leave to drown herself, when Torvald comes bursting out of his study to confront her.
When Nora admits that the charges in Krogstad's letter are true, Torvald is horrified. He immediately blames her, but still she clings to her hope. When she tells him she did it for love, he accuses her of "slippery tricks."