Nora Helmer, the main protagonist of the story, is the wife of Torvald and a mother of three children. She lives like a doll in a doll-house, and her character serves as a symbol for every oppressed woman who is restricted from living a free life.
In the beginning of the play, Nora is shown as rather a submissive, childish woman, who enjoys being patronized, pampered and treated like a defenseless animal. She seems happy and doesn’t seem to mind her husband calling her a “little featherbrain”, “squirrel”, “skylark” and other similar condescending nicknames. In fact, she also seems to enjoy the treatment Torvald gives her.
However, along with this, one sees certain defiance, rebelliousness, and impulsiveness in her character. In spite of being forbidden from eating sweets, she eats macaroons without the knowledge of her husband, and even lies to him about it, saying “I wouldn’t do anything that you don’t like.” Nora is also manipulative and often plays dumb to get her way with her husband. When attempting to convince Torvald not to dismiss Krogstad, she says “Your squirrel will scamper about and do all her tricks, if you’ll be nice and do what she asks.”
However, as one enters deeper into the plot of the play, one realizes that Nora is not as deceptive and selfish as she first seems to be. Despite her seemingly cunning nature, she also possesses a certain innocence and vulnerability.
She is, in reality, naïve and inexperienced about the outside world. Nora also displays a bit of self-doubt, which is largely due to her being treated like a doll all her life. She is continuously reminded by Torvald that she is a “prodigal”, a spendthrift, “just like your father”.
She expresses her lack of self-confidence when she says to her husband, “I wish I had inherited more of papa’s good qualities.” Her insecurity is also evident by her eagerness to provide Mrs. Linde a beautiful and perfect picture of her life, by immediately telling her that she has three beautiful children and that her husband now has a magnificent position at the bank.
At the same time, she also believes that she is not given the credit she deserves. “You none of you think I could do anything worthwhile…”
Nora is guilty of committing forgery, an innocent mistake she commits in her desperation to save her husband from his illness. However, this eventually leads to her being blackmailed by Krogstad. Nora presumes and dreads that once her crime is revealed, Torvald will take the blame on himself and even go to the extent of taking his own life.
This shows that Nora trusts her husband, despite his dominating and patronizing nature. “He’d really do it- he’d do it! He’d do it in spite of everything.” It is when this “miracle” that she so firmly believed would occur, does not happen, that Nora finally opens her eyes to her husband’s true nature.
Nora’s climactic transformation into a matured, bold, courageous and independent woman forms a crucial part of her personality. When she realizes that her husband is not the protector or savior he claimed himself to be, and opens her eyes to his blatant hypocrisy, she immediately gives up playing the role of his little “doll”.
She realizes that she has been “dreadfully wronged”, first by her father and then by Torvald. She tells him, with blunt directness, that “You don’t understand me” and that “You never loved me, you only found it pleasant to be in love with me.” She decides to leave the house, to fulfill her duty to herself; to gain experience, to develop her own personality, and to understand the world she lives in.
She admits to Torvald ,”I realized that for eight years I’d been living here with a strange man and that I’d borne him three children.” She thus leaves the house with her husband desperately trying to stop her, and hoping she would return.
Nora’s character is thus a very complex one. She is cunning yet innocent, timid and insecure yet extremely courageous, defenseless yet fiercely independent and manipulative and secretive in the beginning but bold and direct towards the end. However, till her transformation, she seems to be playing two roles- one of her true self and another of her husband’s doll.
Thus, the weak, unassertive, dependent, and secretive part of herself is in reality her character as the doll, which she forsakes as soon as she realizes that being Helmer’s doll is serving her no purpose, and doing her more harm than good. Nora is a symbol for feminism, and for every oppressed woman who is patronized and denied her independence and self-identity.
She thus represents the right of every woman to personal freedom and identity and breaks the stereotype that a woman’s only duty is towards her children and her spouse.