Torvald Helmer


The ambitious and principled lawyer

The lawyer Torvald Helmer is married to Nora, the main character of Henrik Ibsen's play A Doll's House. He has three children, Emmy, Bob and Ivar. He is probably about 40 years old, having met Nora after his education as a lawyer. He leads a middle-class and comfortable life with his family in a large house in a town in Norway. The couple can afford a wet nurse and a maid.

Torvald meets Nora when he is working at the ministry. He was supposed to investigate the accusations against Nora's father, who at the time was the victim of a character assassination campaign in the form of newspaper articles. The young lawyer succeeded in helping him. He does this mainly for Nora. 

After Nora and Torvald's wedding, Torvald quits his job at the ministry because there is no prospect of promotion in his department. He now has to earn more money than before as a provider for his family. However, because he works quite hard, he becomes very ill. 

When the doctors recommend that he should travel south, Torvald initially rejects this request. He does not want to accept even when Nora begs him and tells him they could get a loan. This angers Torvald who does not agree with gathering debt. 

When Nora lies to him and claims she has money for the trip from her inheritance, Torvald finally agrees. He travels to Italy and regains his health there. Torvald is a very reliable and dutiful worker. During the time he works as a lawyer, he only gets involved in business which is not "unsavoury" (Act 1, 23%). Now the reliable lawyer has been promised a great future. From the beginning of January, he will be promoted and take up a new post as manager at a joint-stock bank (Act 1, 23%)

Control, safety, and determination

At home, Torvald acts as a controller, watching over every aspect of his family's life. For example, he asks his wife at the beginning of the play if she has been snacking on the sly. Through the money he gives her, he can control her spending, at least to some extent. 

The thought that he will have a secure job with a good income in the next year gives him inner peace: "It is splendid to feel that one has a perfectly safe appointment, and a big enough income. It’s delightful to think of, isn’t it?" (Act 1, 15%). Material security means inner security to him. That's why he doesn't want to become dependent on debt: "No debt, no borrowing. There can be no freedom or beauty about a home life that depends on borrowing and debt." (Act 1, 6%).

Torvald gives his wife many different nicknames, such as skylark, squirrel or singing-bird (Act 1, 5%), treats her like a small child or a doll, and does not take her seriously. Nora is just an expensive little person for him, which he can proudly present in public and which is supposed to entertain him and satisfy him physically.

For example, when Nora cannot decide on a costume and therefore asks Torvald for help, he decides that she will go as a Neapolitan fisher girl and dance the tarantella, which she learned in Capri (Act 2, 8%). Torvald is proud of his idea and praises himself for it. When Nora remarks that he can also praise her for going along with his suggestion, his dominant side shows itself: he grabs her by the chin and reminds her that she has no choice (p. 51).

The hard-hearted power seeker

When Nora asks Torvald about Krogstad's former misdeeds and learns that he has forged signatures, Torvald presents her with his view of things. For him, it is an unbearable thought that one of the family members "has to lie and play the hypocrite with every one" (Act 1, 96%) as well as wear a mask while in the presence of those closest to him.

Torvald believes that "such an atmosphere of lies infects and poisons the whole life of a home" (Act 1, 96%) and that the children take in "the germs of evil" (Act 1, 96%) with every breath. Based on his experience as a lawyer, he believes that "almost everyone who has gone to the bad early in life has had a deceitful mother." (Act 1, 98%). 

This also applies to fathers: "This Krogstad, now, has been persistently poisoning his own children with lies and dissimulation; that is why I say he has lost all moral character" Act 1...

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