Character Analysis of Torvald Helmer
Table of Contents
Torvald Helmer in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House is a lawyer who has been offered the post of the manager of a bank when the play opens. The first thing that strikes us about this man is that he is very fond of his wife and that he addresses her by all kinds of pet names such as “my little skylark” and “my little squirrel”. Subsequently also we find him using similar expressions to show his affection for her.
At the same time we perceive that his manner of speaking to his wife is somewhat patronizing. He speaks to her from a higher level. This becomes apparent in the way in which he tries to impress upon her the need of thrift in spending money on household needs. He tells her never to think of borrowing money because there is always something inhibited and something unpleasant about a household which is run on credit and borrowed money.
However, Helmer is not a miser. At the very time that he preaches to Nora the value of thrift, he gives her some extra money because it is Christmas time and she would need additional funds to be able to celebrate the festival properly. Apart from urging his wife to be economical in spending money, he takes upon himself the role of a mentor to her in other ways also. For instance, he has always advised her not to cat sweets, his reason being that they would spoil her teeth.
Torvald Helmer: A Moralist
Helmer speaks like a moralist whenever he gets an opportunity to do so. He seems to be quite strict with his wife so far as his moral principles are concerned, even though in course of time it becomes manifest to us that his own ego and his self-interest are more important to him than what he regards as his moral principles. He scolds his wife, though very mildly, for having told him the lie that nobody had come to the house when actually Krogstad had called upon her in his absence. When she recommends Krogstad’s case to him, he tells her that Krogstad had been guilty of forgery and that, furthermore, the man had not confessed his guilt but had escaped the punishment for his guilt by employing a cunning trick. He then tells her that a man like Krogstad, with a crime on his conscience, would always be telling lies to his wife and children, would be spreading moral disease and infection in his whole household, and would poison his children for years with lies and deceit. By talking like this, Helmer unconsciously gives rise to a feeling of guilt in Nora’s mind because she too, without his knowing it, had been guilty of forgery.
Torvald Helmer’s Egoism and Petty-Mindedness
Although Helmer’s apparent reason for deciding to dismiss Krogstad is that the man had a criminal record, Helmer’s real reason for his decision comes out when he admits to his wife that Krogstad had been a friend of his in their boyhood and that Krogstad, on the basis of his past intimacy with him, speaks to him now also, and in the presence of other people, in a familiar manner, creating an embarrassing position for him. Thus, as Nora points out, Helmer has a petty mind and is narrow in his general outlook. The hollowness of his moral principles is exposed here because he is willing to condone Krogstad’s moral lapses if koostad had not been speaking to him on terms of equality in the presence of other people. It is his ego which is hurt when Krogstad calls him by his Christian name in the presence of others.
- A Doll’s House as a Feminist Play
- Significance of the Title A Doll’s House
- A Doll’s House as a Modern Tragedy
- Symbolism in A Doll’s House
Torvald Helmer’s Patronizing Manner towards His Wife
Helmer entertains an exaggerated idea of his own importance. His ego is a determining factor in his decisions. His own wife does not have much importance in his eyes except as a kind of pet on whom he can lavish his affection and love and whom he can treat in a patronizing manner. When Nora speaks to him on Krogstad’s behalf on the second occasion, he even asks her how she has got the courage to raise the issue of Krogstad’s dismissal again after he has told her once that the man does not deserve any Jeniency. He tells her that her father’s professional conduct had something shady about it while his own professional reputation has always been above reproach. His patronizing attitude towards Nora becomes clear also when he promises to give her the necessary guidance and instruction in her rehearsal for the dance-performance which she is to give at the fancy dress ball.
Torvald Helmer: An Ardent and Passionate Lover
Although Helmer seems to be a man in whom the head is more important than the heart, yet he is capable of speaking in a romantic and poetic manner about his love for Nora. On seeing the seductive movements of Nora’s body when she performs the Tarantella, his passion is aroused and he cannot wait to make love to her. Back in his own apartment he gazes at her amorously, calling her his most treasured possession and claiming that all her loveliness is his, and his alone. He then begins to speak with the ardour of a romantic and youthful lover.
Torvald Helmer’s Failure as a Husband
Although Helmer is really fond of Nora, he treats her merely as his pet and his possession. She does not have any individuality or any personality of her own in his eyes. He regards himself as the master in the house and as the man who has to lay down the rules. He expects his wife to conform to the rules which he lays down and to conform to his moral ideas and to his opinions. When he goes through Krogstad’s letter revealing Nora’s long-kept secret, all his love for her collapses because his own reputation is now in danger.
Unable to cope with a Crisis
Helmer shows himself utterly unfit to face the crisis which Krogstad’s incriminating letter has created in his life. He calls his wife a hypocrite, a liar and a criminal. He says that she has inherited her irresponsible and vicious ways from her late father. He accuses her of having no religion, no morality, and no sense of duty. He tells her that she has ruined his entire happiness and put his whole future in danger. He also now believes that she is not fit to bring up her children. Thus it is clear that Helmer’s moral principles were shallow and fragile and that he cannot sustain them when he is faced with a crisis, just as his love for Nora has proved to be a mere self-deception and a make-believe.
Torvald Helmer’s Possessive Attitude
Helmer’s reaction to Krogstad’s second letter further emphasizes the weaknesses of his character. As soon as the danger from Krogstad ends, he relapses into his original self-complacency. He exclaims jubilantly that he has been saved. He also now assumes his previous patronizing manner towards Nora, and speaks of himself as her protector and director. He tells her with his usual airs of superiority that he has forgiven her and that from now on he would give her all the advice and guidance that she needs. Thus he has completely forgotten that he had failed her at a moment of crisis. This possessive attitude towards his wife is the most odious trait of his character. No wonder that Nora decides to leave him for good.
Torvald Helmer: A Pathetic Figure
Although we feel that Helmer richly deserves the fate that he meets at Nora’s hands when she forsakes him, he does appear to be a somewhat pathetic figure at the end. He tries his utmost to make her change her mind, but his appeals and assurances to her prove futile. He offers to live with her as a kind of brother to her, instead of as her husband. He then tells her that she would be his wife no matter where she is or what she does. He wants her permission to write to her and to send her money if she needs it. But her answer to all these suggestions and requests from him is a firm “no”. We do feel sorry for him at this point, but he has brought this punishment upon himself by his own behaviour and by his own wrong notions of the relationship between a husband and a wife. His ego-centricity, his false ideas of respectability, his ingrained conservatism and conventionality, his self-complacency, his feeling of his own moral superiority and, above all, his possessive attitude towards his wife are the causes which wreck his conjugal life.