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A Doll's House

Lesson 1


Analyze and interpret the relationship between Helmer and Nora in the opening scene of the play.

Readings and Materials

  • Play: A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen  — Note (p. iii), Act 1 pp. 1-6

  • Article: “Gender Roles in the 19th Century” by Kathryn Hughes 

Target Task


Multiple Choice

In the opening scene, Ibsen encourages the audience to sympathize with Nora in all of the following ways EXCEPT

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Which of the following can be inferred from the line “There can be no freedom or beauty about a home life that depends on borrowing or debt”? (p.2)

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Writing Prompt

Describe the relationship between Nora and Helmer in your own words. Explain the techniques that Ibsen uses to convey this relationship. 

Based on what you know of the Helmers and of Victorian society, in what ways do they seem to typify a Victorian family? Explain using evidence from the play and the article.

Key Questions


  • What can you infer about the setting and the Helmer family from the opening stage directions on p. 1? What is the season?
  • In what ways is the setting specific to its time and place? In what ways is it more general? Why might the author make these choices?
  • What do you know about the Victorian era and what can you predict about the relationship between Nora and Helmer based on this?
  • Track Ibsen’s characterization of Nora throughout this opening scene. What do we learn about her? (Her beliefs, physical appearance, attitudes, etc.)
  • What techniques does he use to convey this information?
  • What does Helmer’s use of pet names for Nora convey about their relationship? About Helmer as a character?
  • Track Ibsen’s characterization of Helmer throughout these opening pages. What do you learn about him? (His beliefs, physical appearance, attitudes, etc.)
  • What does Nora do with the Christmas tree? Why? Track further appearances of the tree.
  • What conflict emerges in this opening scene?
  • What is Ibsen’s tone toward the characters? With which character does he seem to want us to sympathize?
  • In what way’s is the character of Nora reflective of Victorian norms? In what ways does Ibsen seem to be challenging these norms through her character?
  • Where in this opening scene does Ibsen signal that the Helmers’ marriage is largely based on appearances?
  • What is the significance of the title? Who is the “doll”? What does it imply about her life?



  • Students should begin by reading the back of the book as well as the brief “Note” in the opening pages. Both describe the impact that Ibsen’s play had on Victorian audiences and its lasting impact in the world of theater. 
  • Students should track the various characters as they are introduced as well as their major traits, paying close attention to their motivations and psychological constitution.
  • In lesson 4, students will further investigate Victorian society and its values and norms. If students seem to need more background prior to reading the play, that reading could be done prior to beginning the play. The BBC video series "The Victorians" and/or more chapters from Inside the Victorian Home by Judith Flanders might be helpful. The article "Victorian Sexualities" published by the British Library might also be interesting and useful.