The play opens at Christmas time as Nora Helmer enters her home carrying many packages. Nora’s husband Torvald is working in his study when she arrives. He playfully rebukes her for spending so much money on Christmas gifts, calling her his “little squirrel.” He teases her about how the previous year she had spent weeks making gifts and ornaments by hand because money was scarce. This year Torvald is due a promotion at the bank where he works, so Nora feels that they can let themselves go a little. The maid announces two visitors: Mrs. Kristine Linde, an old friend of Nora’s, who has come seeking employment; and Dr. Rank, a close friend of the family, who is let into the study. Kristine has had a difficult few years, ever since her husband died leaving her with no money or children. Nora says that things have not been easy for them either: Torvald became sick, and they had to travel to Italy so he could recover. Kristine explains that when her mother was ill she had to take care of her brothers, but now that they are grown she feels her life is “unspeakably empty.” Nora promises to talk to Torvald about finding her a job. Kristine gently tells Nora that she is like a child. Nora is offended, so she teases the idea that she got money from “some admirer” so they could travel to Italy to improve Torvald’s health. She told Torvald that her father gave her the money, but in fact she illegally borrowed it without his knowledge (women were forbidden from conducting financial activities such as signing checks without a man’s endorsement). Since then, she has been secretly working and saving up to pay off the loan.
Krogstad, a lower-level employee at Torvald’s bank, arrives and goes into the study. Nora is clearly uneasy when she sees him. Dr. Rank leaves the study and mentions that he feels wretched, though like everyone he wants to go on living. In contrast to his physical illness, he says that the man in the study, Krogstad, is “morally diseased.”
After the meeting with Krogstad, Torvald comes out of the study. Nora asks him if he can give Kristine a position at the bank and Torvald is very positive, saying that this is a fortunate moment, as a position has just become available. Torvald, Kristine, and Dr. Rank leave the house, leaving Nora alone. The nanny returns with the children and Nora plays with them for a while until Krogstad creeps through the ajar door into the living room and surprises her. Krogstad tells Nora that Torvald intends to fire him from the bank and asks her to intercede with Torvald to allow him to keep his job. She refuses, and Krogstad threatens to blackmail her about the loan she took out for the trip to Italy; he knows that she obtained this loan by forging her father’s signature after his death. Krogstad leaves and when Torvald returns, Nora tries to convince him not to fire Krogstad. Torvald refuses to hear her pleas, explaining that Krogstad is a liar and a hypocrite and that years before he had committed a crime: he forged other people’s signatures. Torvald feels physically ill in the presence of a man “poisoning his own children with lies and dissimulation.”
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