How does Nora conform to society’s expectations about women?
When we meet Nora, her girlish, silly behavior and position of proud housewife create the sense that she happily upholds societal expectations and gladly fulfills the role of a stereotypical middle-class woman in order to lead a comfortable life free from worry. In the opening scene, we see Nora unfazed by Torvald’s diminutive nicknames for her, responding to them and speaking as a child might: “You are going to have a big salary and earn lots and lots of money.” She is obsessed with money, looks, and clothing (“It is delightful to be really well dressed, isn’t it?”), and instead of listening to the troubles of her old friend Mrs. Linde, she selfishly talks about her own good fortune. Furthermore, Nora prioritizes Torvald’s manly pride and keeps secrets from him that might threaten his sense of importance.
As the play progresses, it becomes clear that Nora actually uses her childish behavior to her advantage, understanding that Torvald likes seeing her as a helpless woman and leveraging this to get money and information from him. We see that Nora is actually very aware of the expectations laid on her, and she finds pleasure in rebelling against these expectations. When Torvald mentions how many expenses Nora seems to have, Nora smiles “quietly and happily” about “how many expenses […] skylarks and squirrels have.” In truth, Nora has so many expenses because she is paying off the illegal loan she got in order to save Torvald’s life, and her happy smile shows the pride she takes in her rebellious action. She also admits that she did not find the copy work she did the previous year dull, and that working and earning money (something she equates with being a man) was a “tremendous pleasure.” In securing the loan without her husband’s consent, Nora calls herself a wife with “a head for business” and “the wit to be a little bit clever,” two descriptions that distinctly separate her from the dainty housewife she initially portrays.
Nora generally conforms to societal expectations because she has been raised and shaped to do so. But in her moments of rebellion, she catches glimpses of another world, and in order to explore it, she ultimately leaves conventional society. As she tells Torvald in their final confrontation, Nora’s father groomed her as a “doll child” and once she was properly trained, he transferred ownership of her over to Torvald. Nora recognizes the advantages her beautiful, dainty appearance give her, often admiring her own looks, which conform to society’s standards of beauty. Yet, when she could take advantage of Dr. Rank’s devotion to her, she refuses anything from him, demonstrating an understanding of her limits in conforming to conventional society. Ultimately, Nora must shed any association with traditional society in order to know whether she ever wants to be a part of this society again.