Henrik Ibsen creates many interesting and complex characters in his play A Doll’s House. Both the Helmers and Christine and Krogstad have very fascinating relationships. Nora and Torvald have a very insubstantial relationship in which Nora has no say or independence and is completely under Torvald’s control. Christine and Krogstad have their share of issues but they are able to work them out like reasonable adults. Nora/Torvald and Christine/Krogstad are two fundamentally different sets of people.
Nora and Torvald have been married for a long time and they do their best to make sure they are happy. Nora loves Torvald very much and would do anything to for him. “Nora: Now I will show you that I too have something to be proud of. It was I that saved Torvald’s life.” (p.10) Nora was willing to commit a crime for Torvald to keep him from becoming very ill and dying. Torvald loves Nora but sees her more as a child and is generally more concerned about what others think of him then of what Nora thinks. “Torvald: From now on, forget happiness. Now it’s just about saving the remains, the wreckage, the appearance.” (Act III) Instead of saying that he would protect her he goes into a rage and tells Nora she is unfit to have anything to do with their children. He sees her more as a fragile doll than an actual person.
Nora realizes too late that all she has been to the people in her life is a marionette whose strings are passed back and forth by the male figures in her life. “Nora: I have been performing tricks for you, Torvald. That’s how I’ve survived. You wanted it like that. You and Papa have done me a great wrong. It’s because of you I’ve made nothing of my life.” (Act III). Her life has just been a performance in which she did her best to please the men in her life. She realizes that in order to become independent that she has to get away. She finally becomes independent at the end of the play and saves herself from what could be called a sham of a marriage.
Christine and Krogstad were married before but Christine left Krogstad for a richer man in order to take care of her ailing mother and younger brothers. Christine loved Krogstad but at the time he did not have the money she needed to insure that her family would be taken care of. Krogstad was devastated after Christine left him, which made him into a bitter, unhappy man. “Krogstad: When I lost you, it was as if all the solid ground went out from under my feet. Look at me now–I am a shipwrecked man clinging to a bit of wreckage.” (Act III) Krogstad secretly still loves her and in the end they get back together. The one fundamental difference between the Helmers and Christine and Krogstad is that they were able to work out their problems and solve their issues like reasonable adults.
Henrik Ibsen creates a fascinating tale filled with intrigue and set of characters that make for a great story. The Helmers and Christine and Krogstad have very different perceptions of what love is. The key to any healthy relationship is to be able to work out your problems and not let anything get in the way of the love felt for the other person in the relationship. Nora and Torvald in the end weren’t meant for each other and Christine and Krogstad, after working out their differences were able to continue on happily. Nora/Torvald and Christine/Krogstad truly are two fundamentally different sets of people.
Initially, all seems well in the Helmer household. Nora and Torvald's marriage appears to be a conventional one, entirely consistent with prevailing middle-class standards of respectability. Torvald is the undisputed head of the house, the paterfamilias and sole breadwinner whose overriding purpose in life is to protect and provide for his family.
Nora's role within the marriage is also highly conventional. At first, she's a rather meek, submissive figure. Torvald seems to love her, but also treats her like a child, calling her things like "scatterbrain" and "my little squirrel." Torvald also doesn't think much of Nora's intellectual capabilities, bestowing patronizing and demeaning pet names upon her such as "feather-brain" and "my lost squirrel." Whatever else it might be, this is not a relationship of equals, but then nor is it intended to be. Torvald rules the roost and that's precisely what society expects of him.
As their relationship is largely conventional, with no real depth to it, it's not surprising that Torvald doesn't consult with Nora concerning the household finances. As far as he's concerned, Nora's too naive, too inexperienced to be bothered with such details. As head of the house, he holds the purse-strings and, as such, is the only one needing to be aware of the state of the family finances.
Yet, it is ultimately Torvald who proves to be the more childlike of the two. As Dr. Rand points out, it is Torvald who needs to be protected from the harshness of this world; he simply cannot face up to anything ugly. Torvald is not just childlike, but childish, as we see in the petty, vindictive way he fires Krogstad. And it is Torvald's arrested development that ultimately destroys his marriage, allowing Nora to assert herself at long last.
As the play develops, the tables are turned in suitably dramatic fashion. Nora emerges from the constraints of her previously doll-like existence to become a woman in her own right. Unlike Torvald, she has the courage and the maturity to face up to the harsh realities of life, especially in relation to business. It was she who confronted head-on the unpleasant details of Torvald's illness, for the treatment of which she got into considerable debt. Once again we see how the outward respectability of Nora and Torvald's marriage merely papers over the cracks of secrets, lies, and countless deceptions. Yes, Nora lied—and also broke the law—in obtaining the loan to pay for Torvald's health care, but it wouldn't have been necessary for her to have done this had Torvald treated her as an equal and been able to face up to the grim reality of his illness.
One measure of the way in which the relationship's dynamic has changed lies in how Nora starts to manipulate Torvald and also Dr. Rank, playing on their low estimation of her intellectual abilities. If she cannot openly express herself, then Nora will act the part of coquette to get what she wants. Yet an act is all it is, for Nora is becoming more self-aware of who she is and of her growing influence within the marriage.
But there are still limits to her influence, even towards the end of the play. Torvald is still head of the house, still nominally in control, still treating Nora as his little poppet, as his own private property. Though not for long. Torvald's selfish reaction to Krogstad's letter finally allows Nora to see a way out of this sham relationship. Torvald has proved himself utterly indifferent to his wife's sacrifice on his behalf. She made a huge personal sacrifice for the good of his health, and yet what thanks does she get? None whatsoever. All Torvald cares about is keeping up appearances. All these years he's prevented Nora from growing and developing as an adult woman. Yet, all the while, he has been the one who hasn't changed, his whole identity as a husband and as a man constructed for him by society's double standards.
By the close of the play, Nora and Torvald's marriage lies in tatters. Despite the revelation of all the dark, tawdry secrets between them, both husband and wife remain childlike, but with one crucial difference. Nora has shown that she has the capacity to grow and develop, to engage with the outside world without illusions. Torvald, however, is incapable of doing any such thing. He remains trapped by a rigid social structure, shackled to certain expectations of what a man should do and be; expectations that he lacks the strength and the maturity to fulfil.