Torvald Helmer, one of the main characters in the story, is Nora Helmer’s husband. He may be described as one of the antagonists of the story, and plays the role of a controlling, dominating man in Nora’s life.
Torvald is introduced to the audience as rather a condescending man who sees himself as superior to Nora intellectually, emotionally, and morally. He calls her with ‘affectionate’ terms like “little featherbrain”, “little squirrel”, “little skylark” and “little scatterbrain”. The repetitive use of the word “little” to describe Nora shows that he sees her more as a child than a wife or an equal.
He greatly enjoys his position as a protector, a guide, and an instructor to Nora, and likes to be completely in control of her. This is seen in his eagerness to teach Nora the tarantella dance. Torvald seems to be in charge of every aspect of her life and makes decisions with respect to what she should eat, how she should walk, and the like.
He sees his wife Nora as an object of his desire; a property that he has his complete right over. He envisions himself as a savior to Nora, and says to her,”I’ve often wished that you could be threatened by some imminent danger so that I could risk everything I had- even my life itself- to save you.”
Another important character trait in Torvald is his exalted sense of self. He sees himself as an idealistic, morally upright individual whose morals are unquestionable. He dictates the same morals to his wife, and also to his friends.”A songbird must have a clear voice to sing with-no false notes.”
He is extremely conscious of his position in society and seems to have a great need for social acceptance and approval. He is seen telling Nora, “There’s something constrained, something ugly even, about a home that’s founded on borrowing and debt.” Torvald is also a blatant hypocrite and jumps to conclusions about people’s characters.
Throughout the play, he keeps reassuring Nora that he will protect her and be a savior to her, that he is “man enough to take it” but when he learns about her deception, he chides her for it, calling her a liar, a hypocrite, and a criminal. He is quick to judge people, as is seen from his judgment of Krogstad.
“An atmosphere of lies like that infects and poisons the whole life of a home.” He also immediately blames Nora’s deceit on her father’s character and remarks that he cannot allow her to bring up the children. “I shouldn’t dare trust you with them. “
Torvald also has an inflated sense of masculine pride in himself and is portrayed as a chauvinist who believes that a woman must ideally be restricted to her house. His behavior towards Nora shows that he sees her more as a decorative item meant to beautify the house, than his wife. He demeans his wife and blames her mistakes on her gender.”Nora, Nora, just like a woman!”
When he claims to forgive Nora for her deception, he remarks,” I shouldn’t be a proper man if your feminine helplessness didn’t make you twice as attractive to me.”To Torvald, Nora’s feelings, thoughts, and opinions do not really matter. He has a strong sense of entitlement and assumes that Nora must conform to whatever he says, or do as he pleases, simply because he is her husband.
He believes that a woman’s “most sacred duties” are her duties towards her husband and her children. He also believes that he is entitled to openly express his opinions on what a woman can or cannot do.
Torvald is often seen to be selfish, and even cruel. This is seen in his attitude when he realizes Dr. Rank is dying. Despite sharing a supposedly close bond with him, he shows little remorse at the revelation. On the other hand, he expresses a hint of relief on getting Dr. Rank ‘out of the way’.
He says “Well- perhaps it’s all for the best for him at any rate. And maybe for us too, Nora, now that you and I have no one but each other.” Torvald is highly egoistic, and all his actions and words revolve around himself. When the truth about Nora’s crime is finally revealed, his immediate fear is of losing his self-reputation.
However, as soon as they receive Krogstad’s letter of apology, his attitude completely changes as he is no longer at risk. He then remarks,” There’s something indescribably sweet and satisfying for a man to know deep down that he has forgiven his wife- completely forgiven her- with all his heart”, again displaying the same self- conceited attitude.
However, in reality, Torvald seems to be weaker than Nora, and also dependent on her. Despite his attitude towards Nora, he seems to rely on her to tend to his ego and provide emotional support.
When Nora expresses her decision to leave, he first tries to blackmail her, calling her a “blind, inexperienced creature” and reminding her of her “sacred duties” towards her children and husband, but when he realizes that Nora’s decision is final and unshakable, he shows evident desperation.
“But to lose you- to lose you, Nora! No, no, I can’t even imagine it. “He also goes to the extent of suggesting that they could live together “as brother and sister”.
Thus Torvald Helmer is a dominating, egoistic, proud, judgmental and hypocritical individual with an exaggerated sense of pride in himself.