Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House makes the argument that above all, a successful marriage can only be based in trust, mutual honesty, and equality. Honesty and trust go hand in hand, and only when both parties are honest enough to trust each other can a marriage work. The play begins with Torvold criticizing the idea of being in debt when in actuality his wife (Nora) owes a great deal of money that she borrowed to finance a trip to Italy that saved his life. Torvold does not know of the debt because Nora keeps it secret from him. Though Nora is at fault for keeping secrets from him, Torvold is not innocent himself. He treats Nora like a child in both personal and financial matters bringing inequality to the relationship. The dishonesty and mistrust in their relationship reaches a climax at the end of the play when she leaves him.
A Doll’s House is takes place during what should be a typical Christmas with Nora and Torvold Helmer. Their relationship for the time they have been married has had a foundation of deception on Nora’s side that was a response to Torvold’s efforts to rule over Nora. Ibsen skillfully shows the reader an everyday example of this in the symbol of the Macaroons. At the beginning of the play, Nora is eating macaroons but puts them away when he begins talking to Torvold. Through their conversation, the reader can infer that she is actually hiding them from Torvold who scolds her for getting simple luxuries like candy. Finally, when Torvold confronts her about having macaroons on her, she lies telling him he’s mistaken.
Using such a trivial, everyday example, Ibsen shows the mistrust that permeates both sides of the relationship. Nora buys macaroons even though Torvold tells her not to eat them; Torvold accuses her of having macaroons without any evidence except conjecture and the fact that it’s Christmas time. This is also a small example of the feelings of superiority that Torvold has over Nora. He keeps her from enjoying simple pleasures in life, treating her like a child. During the conclusion he goes far as to say, “Oh, you think and talk like a heedless child.” When Nora accuses him of treating her unequally, their exchange expertly summarizes the outlooks of the two characters. Helmer says, “I would gladly work night and day for you, Nora — bear sorrow and want for your sake. But no man would sacrifice his honour for the one he loves.” Nora shoots back by saying, “It is a thing hundreds of thousands of women have done.”
Throughout A Doll’s House, Ibsen makes the agreement that relationships can only last with trust and the equality it begets.
Ibsen, Henrik. A Doll’s House. In Four Major Plays. Trans. James McFarlane and Jens Arup. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981.