Ibsen portrayed Torvald as the stereotypical husband in those times. He was the leader and the breadwinner of the family. He was dominating, patronizing and always treated Nora with sarcasm. Similarly, Nora was portrayed as a stereotypical wife. Her character was made up of naivete. She was submissive and dependent on her husband. Their relationship was affectionate but displayed inequality between the gender and this could be expected of in those times.
In the first act of the play, Ibsen showed the exposition which is the introduction of the play and its characters where nothing much happens. He depicted a common family of those times and showed that the woman of the house did not give much opinion or independence or strength. He showed that Torvald was in charge of the money he earned and Nora told him how she spent the money he had given her. Torvald treated her like an inexperienced child and told her that she was a spendthrift. Moreover, she was even restricted by him to eat ‘macaroons’ and this proved that she was not able to do according to her own wills but had to obey her husband.
However, the climax of the play showed that Nora violated the rules of the social norms of the time by borrowing money from another man and keeping the fact hidden from her husband, even though it was to save her husband from dying. This shows that Nora is not as naive as she was shown to be but lets her husband think that he has the power. She realized that what she had done was wrong and her husband would not approve of it.
This was because Torvald did not like in borrowing money because it leads to debt. Yet, Krogstad complicated the situation even more by proving as a threat to this secret as he was the loaner of the money who decided that if Torvald did not keep his job, he would be exposed Nora’s secret. This begins the challenge of the stereotype of gender roles within marriage showed by Ibsen. He showed that such a situation, where a wife disobeyed her husband, was not normal in those times.
By the third act, when Krogstad put a letter revealing Nora of her secret about the loan from Torvald, Nora was shown in a calmer way. Although trapped, she hoped ‘wonderful thing’ was going to happen when Torvald comes to know the truth. She expected Torvald to accept Krogstad’s conditions and take the blame onto himself and forgive Nora and thereby ‘sacrificing his honour for his loved one’. In contrast to her hopes and expectations Torvald was not courageous enough for the sacrifice. The ‘wonderful thing’ did not happen and Nora was shattered. She could not accept the fact that her husband could not sacrifice for her and walked away from his life and this was absolutely against the stereotypical relationship within a marriage life in the time of the play.
The challenge Ibsen set here showed the unusual roles played by Nora and Torvald as husband and wife. Nora was displayed as being more independent, matured, strong and confident. On the other hand, Torvald shows a sign of weakness, hopelessness and helplessness. Ibsen opposed the stereotypical way even more by showing that Nora walks out on Torvald. This is a very unusual act to be taken up by women in those days as in the societies, women were still regarded as the weak or inferior gender of the two and do not generally take up such acts as they are believed to be weak, naive and dependent. The other anomaly is Torvald who, although, is supposed to belong to the superior sex ‘loses’ in the end and is absolutely powerless to the point that he had to plead Nora to stay with him.
However, in today’s world, the gender roles played within the marriage are absolutely contrasting to those mentioned above. A stereotypical wife does not have to play the dependent and obedient role and the husband does not necessarily have to play the role of a dominating person of the family. Both the genders play equal part in the upbringing of the family. Both of them can work, earn and be the owner of their own lives without having to obey one another. Furthermore, divorce has become a more common issue in today’s world and this was not the case in the time “A Doll’s House” was set.