In Henrik Ibsen’s play, “A Dollhouse”, we learn of a woman who has been repressed almost her entire life. Nora Helmer was treated like a little girl not only by her father, but by her husband, Torvald, as well. Her life is compared to that of a doll’s in the play. In order to get what she wants she dresses and acts as to please Torvald. The two other principle characters in this play, Dr. Rank and Mrs. Linde, help to portray the characters of both Torvald and Nora. More specifically, Dr. Rank can be contrasted with Mr. Helmer, and the same can be done with Mrs. Linde and Nora. This not only allows the reader to understand the characters, but to help bring out one of the central themes of the story: the repression of the woman.
Nora Helmer is portrayed throughout most of the play as a young-hearted, na?ve housewife. Mrs. Christine Linde, on the other hand, although around the same age, seems far more mature. She visits Nora unexpectedly and explains to Nora her hardships. It is evident from the first act of the play that Christine has had far more experience with life. And, she even tells Nora that she “knows so little of the burdens and troubles of life” (1.156). This large contrast in character is useful to accentuate Nora’s childlike characteristics. Mrs. Linde is far more independent, and so it is easy to see how contingent Nora is on her husband. Mrs. Linde has lost her husband and is left nothing, where as Nora is constantly nagging her husband for more money, and acts as the totally helpless wife, and Torvald’s doll. This contrast leads up until the very end of the novel, where Nora finally sticks up for herself and takes control of her situation. And it is here that Nora begins to resemble Mrs. Linde; she shows strength. Mrs. Linde took a hold of her life and so perhaps it is by this example that Nora does the same. Therefore, it is evident that Mrs. Linde was an important character in the story because she may have been part of the driving force that pushed Nora to take action towards her independence.
Mr. Rank, on the other hand, is helpful in understanding Mr. Helmer. Through out the play Torvald plays a very controlling husband, who treats his wife like his little “doll”. He likes her to dress up and makes her dance for him. And if she does this he will reward his “sweet little spendthrift” with treats like little allowances (1.47). Mr. Rank, on the contrary, is in love with Nora, and treats her as more of an equal. He can have conversations with her, and talks to her with more dignity and respect. We see this when Nora reminds Torvald that through out their entire marriage they had not “exchanged a word on any serious subject” (3.274). Mr. Rank, on the other hand, has many meaningful conversations with her and he enjoys them. He plays the man, who would be the better husband for Nora, because he could truly love her. When Nora is in trouble with the money that she owes Krogstad, she tells Christine that “a man can put a thing like that straight much easier than a woman” (2.70). However, she is by no means referring to her husband; she feels far more confident in asking Dr. Rank for help. He can be contrasted with Torvald, and it is quite evident that he loves Nora more than Torvald could. This realization allows us to understand why Nora would leave Torvald, and also permits the reader to side more easily with Nora when the time comes for her to leave him.
The story would not have the same effect and would not emphasize its theme as much if Mrs. Linde and Dr. Rank were not present. Mrs. Linde shows Nora that she too can be independent. Nora was repressed by Torvald throughout their marriage, and when she sees how Christine is free, and perhaps how Dr. Rank does truly love her, she discovers her need to experience more of life. Torvald is the dominating husband throughout most of the play, until the end when Nora takes action. It is then that his weaknesses show. He was not capable of stopping Nora once she knew what she wanted. When she walked out of their “dollhouse” he could no longer dance with his “little squirrel” nor sing with his “skylark”. She had played that part for him her entire life, and Mrs. Linde led her to desire to find herself. Dr. Rank was a man, very different from Torvald, in that he could have let Nora be her own woman, and would not love her merely for her songs, dances and other performances to please. These two secondary characters helped to bring out the plot and assist the reader in understanding the character’s actions.
While Dr. Rank and Mrs. Linde seem quite a small part of the play, they are actually quite essential in the plot of the play. Dr. Rank helps emphasize the repressive and dominating nature of Torvald, while Mrs. Linde shows Nora’s immature, week characteristics. However, it is also with the help of Mrs. Linde, that Nora defeats her “doll” archetype and achieves her independence. Women were often and still are, portrayed as weak, helpless wives without their husbands. This play demonstrated the strength that is found in all women, including Nora, to take action against dominating husbands.