Nora greets the female visitor hesitantly, and the visitor realizes that Nora does not remember her. Finally, Nora recognizes the woman as her childhood friend Kristine Linde, and she remarks that Mrs. Linde has changed since they last met nine or ten years earlier. Mrs. Linde says that she has just arrived by steamer that day. Nora remarks that Mrs. Linde looks paler and thinner than she remembered and apologizes profusely for not writing three years earlier, when she read in the paper that Mrs. Linde’s husband had died.
Nora asks if Mrs. Linde’s husband left her very much money, and Mrs. Linde admits that he did not. Nora then asks whether he left her any children. When Mrs. Linde says that he didn’t, Nora asks once more if he left her “nothing at all then?” Mrs. Linde says that he did not leave her even “an ounce of grief,” but this sentiment is lost on Nora. After commenting how awful life must be for Mrs. Linde, Nora begins to talk about her three children and then apologizes for babbling on about her own life instead of listening to Mrs. Linde. First, though, she feels that she must tell Mrs. Linde about Torvald’s new position at the bank, and Mrs. Linde responds enthusiastically.
When Mrs. Linde comments that it would be nice to have enough money, Nora talks about how she and Torvald will have “pots and pots” of money. Nora tells Mrs. Linde that life hasn’t always been so happy, however. Nora once had to work as well—doing tasks like sewing and crocheting. Torvald also had to take on more than one job, but he became ill, and the entire family had to go south to Italy because of Torvald’s condition. Nora explains that the trip to Italy was quite expensive and that she obtained the money from her father. The family left for Italy at just about the time that Nora’s father died. Nora excitedly says that her husband has been completely well since returning from Italy and that the children are very healthy too. She apologizes again for babbling on about her happiness and monopolizing the conversation.
Mrs. Linde describes how she married a husband of whom she was not particularly fond. Because her mother was confined to bed, Mrs. Linde had to look after her two younger brothers. She says she feels it would not have been justifiable to turn down her suitor’s proposal and the money that would come with marriage to him. When her husband died, however, his business collapsed, and she was left penniless. After three years spent working odd jobs to support her family, Mrs. Linde is finally free, because her mother died and her brothers are grown. She adds that with no one dependent upon her, her life is even sadder, because she has no one for whom to live. She reveals that she came to town to find some office work.
When Nora protests that Mrs. Linde ought not work, Mrs. Linde snaps that Nora could not possibly understand the hard work that she has had to do. She quickly apologizes for her anger, saying that her predicament has made her bitter. She explains that because she has no one for whom to work, she must look after only herself, which has made her selfish. She admits that she is happy at the news of Torvald’s new job because of the implications it could have for her personal interests. Nora promises to talk to her husband about helping Mrs. Linde.
Nora’s first conversation with Mrs. Linde plays a key role in establishing Nora’s childlike, self-centered, and insensitive character. Though she purports to be interested in Mrs. Linde’s problems, Nora repeatedly turns the conversation back to her own life with Torvald. Nora’s self-centeredness is further demonstrated in her revelation that she failed to write to Mrs. Linde after her husband passed away. It is only now, three years after the fact, that Nora expresses her sympathy; up to this point, she has made no effort to think beyond herself, and the fact that she does so now seems only a matter of polite reflex. Like an impetuous child, Nora does not filter her thoughts, expressing what comes to mind without regard for what is and what is not appropriate, as when she tactlessly comments that Mrs. Linde’s looks have declined over the years. Though she recognizes that Mrs. Linde is poor, she unabashedly delights in the fact that she and Torvald will soon have “pots and pots” of money. She does not recognize that such comments might be hurtful to her old friend.
From a structural point of view, Nora, as the drama’s protagonist, must develop over the course of the play. Because her first conversation with Mrs. Linde shows Nora to be childlike in her understanding of the world, it becomes apparent that Nora’s development will involve education, maturation, and the shedding of her seeming naïveté. Whereas Nora clings to romantic notions about love and marriage, Mrs. Linde has a more realistic understanding of marriage, gained from her experience of being left with “not even an ounce of grief” after her husband’s death. Nora’s incredulity at Mrs. Linde’s remark indicates to Mrs. Linde, and to us, that Nora is sheltered and somewhat unsophisticated. The thread between Nora’s initial interactions with Torvald and Mrs. Linde is the tension between Nora’s childish nature and her need to grow out of it.
As someone who has experienced an existence that is anything but doll-like, Mrs. Linde seems poised to be Nora’s teacher and guide on her journey to maturity. Mrs. Linde recounts hardship after hardship and sacrifice after sacrifice—a far cry from the pampering that Nora receives from Torvald. At the same time, both Mrs. Linde’s and Nora’s marriages involve sacrificing themselves to another in exchange for money. Nora becomes her husband’s plaything and delights in the comforts he provides her, while Mrs. Linde marries her husband for money so that she can support her sick mother and dependent younger brothers. Again and again in A Doll’s House, women sacrifice their personal desires, their ambitions, and their dignity. While Nora marries for her own welfare, however, Mrs. Linde does so for the welfare of her family.
Unlike many of the dramatists who came before him, Ibsen doesn’t portray rich, powerful, or socially significant people in his plays. Rather, he populates his dramas with ordinary middle-class characters. Ibsen’s language too is commonplace. Though his dialogue is uncomplicated and without rhetorical flourish, it subtly conveys more than it seems to. For instance, Nora’s insensitivity to Mrs. Linde’s plight manifests itself when she speaks of her three lovely children immediately after learning that Mrs. Linde has none. That Ibsen’s dialogue is apparently simple—yet full of loaded -subtext—sets Ibsen’s drama apart from earlier and contemporary verse plays.