Something glorious is going to happen.
It is Christmas day. The messiness of the area around the Christmas tree indicates that the Christmas Eve celebration has taken place. Nora paces the room uneasily, muttering to herself about her dilemma. The nanny comes in with Nora’s costume, and Nora asks her what would happen to the children if she, Nora, disappeared altogether. Mrs. Linde enters and agrees to mend Nora’s costume for her. Nora tells Mrs. Linde that Dr. Rank is sick with a disease he inherited from his father, who was sexually promiscuous. Mrs. Linde guesses that Dr. Rank is the mysterious source of Nora’s loan, but Nora denies the charge. Mrs. Linde remarks that Nora has changed since the previous day. Torvald returns, and Nora sends Mrs. Linde to see the children, explaining that “Torvald hates the sight of sewing.”
Alone with Torvald, Nora again asks him to save Krogstad’s job. Torvald tells her that Mrs. Linde will replace Krogstad at the bank. Torvald says that Krogstad is an embarrassment and that he cannot work with him any longer. He explains that they are on a first-name basis only because they went to school together and that this -familiarity humiliates him. When Nora calls Torvald’s reasoning petty, he becomes upset and sends off a letter dismissing Krogstad. He then goes into his study.
After Torvald exits, Dr. Rank enters and hints that he expects something bad to happen soon. When it becomes apparent that he is referring to his health, Nora is visibly relieved that Dr. Rank is speaking about his own problem and not hers. Dr. Rank tells her that he will soon die and that he doesn’t want his best friend, Torvald, to see him in his sickbed. When the end is near, he tells Nora, he will leave a calling card with a black cross across it to indicate that his death is imminent.
Nora begins to flirt with Dr. Rank, coquettishly showing him her new stockings. She hints that she has a great favor to ask Dr. Rank (presumably she would like him to intervene on Krogstad’s behalf). Before she is able to ask her favor, however, Dr. Rank confesses his love for her. This disclosure disturbs Nora, and afterward she refuses to request anything from him, even though he begs her to let him help. He asks whether he should “leave for good” now that he has proclaimed his love for her, but Nora is adamant that he continue to keep Torvald company. She tells Dr. Rank how much fun she has with him, and he explains that he has misinterpreted her affection. Nora says that those whose company she prefers are often different than those she loves—when she was young, she loved her father, but she preferred to hide with the maids in the cellar because they didn’t try to dictate her behavior.
The maid, Helene, enters and gives Nora a caller’s card. Nora ushers Dr. Rank into the study with her husband and urges the doctor to keep Torvald there.
Krogstad enters and announces that he has been fired. He says that the conflicts among Nora, himself, and Torvald could be solved if Torvald would promote him to a better job in the bank. Nora objects, saying that her husband must never know anything about her contract with Krogstad. She implies that she has the courage to kill herself if it means she will absolve Torvald of the need to cover up her crime. Krogstad tells her that even if she were to commit suicide, her reputation would still be in his hands. Krogstad leaves, dropping a letter detailing Nora’s secret in the letterbox on the way out.
When Mrs. Linde returns, Nora cries that Krogstad has left a letter in the letterbox. Mrs. Linde realizes that it was Krogstad who lent Nora the money. Nora confesses that she forged a signature and makes Mrs. Linde promise to say that the responsibility for the forgery is Nora’s, so that Torvald won’t be held accountable for anything if Nora disappears. Nora hints that “something glorious is going to happen,” but she doesn’t elaborate. Mrs. Linde says that she will go to speak with Krogstad and she confesses she once had a relationship with him. She leaves, and Nora tries to stall her husband to prevent him from reading the mail.
When Torvald enters the living room, Nora makes him promise not to do any work for the remainder of the night so that he can help her prepare the tarantella that she will dance at the costume party. Torvald begins to coach Nora in the dance, but she doesn’t listen to him and dances wildly and violently.
Mrs. Linde returns, and dinner is served. Mrs. Linde tells Nora that Krogstad has left town but will return the following night. She adds that she has left him a note. Once alone, Nora remarks to herself that she has thirty-one hours until the tarantella is over, which means thirty-one hours before Torvald reads the letter—“thirty-one hours to live.”
Nora’s comment to Mrs. Linde that Torvald doesn’t like to see sewing in his home indicates that Torvald likes the idea and the appearance of a beautiful, carefree wife who does not have to work but rather serves as a showpiece. As Nora explains to Mrs. Linde, Torvald likes his home to seem “happy and welcoming.” Mrs. Linde’s response that Nora too is skilled at making a home look happy because she is “her father’s daughter” suggests that Nora’s father regarded her in a way similar to Torvald—as a means to giving a home its proper appearance.
Torvald’s opinion on his wife’s role in their home is his defining character trait. His unrelenting treatment of Nora as a doll indicates that he is unable to develop or grow. As Nora’s understanding of the people and events around her develops, Torvald’s remains static. He is the only character who continues to believe in the charade, probably because he is the only main character in the play who does not keep secrets or harbor any hidden complexity. Each of the other characters—Nora, Mrs. Linde, Krogstad, Dr. Rank—has at some point kept secrets, hidden a true love, or plotted for one reason or another.
Nora’s use of Torvald’s pet names for her to win his cooperation is an act of manipulation on her part. She knows that calling herself his “little bird,” his “squirrel,” and his “skylark,” and thus conforming to his desired standards will make him more willingly to give in to her wishes. At first, Nora’s interaction with Dr. Rank is similarly manipulative. When she flirts with him by showing her stockings, it seems that she hopes to entice Dr. Rank and then persuade him to speak to Torvald about keeping Krogstad on at the bank. Yet after Dr. Rank confesses that he loves her, Nora suddenly shuts down and refuses to ask her favor. She has developed some moral integrity. Despite her desperate need, she realizes that she would be taking advantage of Dr. Rank by capitalizing on his earnest love for her.
When Nora explains that Dr. Rank’s poor health owes to his father’s promiscuity, for the second time we come across the idea that moral corruption transfers from parent to child. (In Act One, Torvald argues that young criminals result from a household full of lies.) These statements clarify Nora’s torment and her refusal to interact with her children when she feels like a criminal. They also reveal that both Torvald and Nora seriously believe in the influence that parents have on their children. Although the children are seldom onstage, they gain importance through Nora and Torvald’s discussions of them and of parental responsibility.
In this act, Nora shows signs that she is becoming aware of the true nature of her marriage. When she compares living with Torvald to living with her father, doubt is cast on the depth of her love for Torvald. Nora is beginning to realize that though her life with Torvald conforms to societal expectations about how husbands and wives should live, it is far from ideal.