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Analyzing Conflict in Ibsens A Doll House

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Analyzing Conflict in Ibsen’s A Doll House


            A Keirseyian analysis of conflict in Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll House reveals the temperament of the protagonist, Nora Helmer, as an Idealist Teacher.  To understand how her temperament is revealed in the play, I shall break down both her own behavior and her interactions with other characters to reveal how conflict in the play unmasks her Keirseyian temperament.

            To begin, we find the protagonist, Nora Helmer, at a high level of tension at the start of the play.  She is lying profusely to Torvald, even to the point of having to hide the macaroon.  This is a terribly stressful situation for her, since as an Idealist, Nora is not being true to herself or her core identity and even says as much when confronting Torvald for the first time at the end of the play:

Helmer: Before all else, you’re a wife and a mother.

Nora: [. . .] I believe that, before all else, I am a human being [. . .] (Ibsen, 1759).

Her plea to her husband that “I don’t want anything at all” for the holidays underscores the fact that it is her abiding love for Torvald that has led her to go into debt deceitfully so as to save his life.   She is less concerned about concrete, material possession that money can bring and more focused on the fact that the additional money her husband will soon earn will allow her to rid herself of Nils Krogstad sooner than she could have hoped.  It is this secret debt that has led to the play’s greater level of tension at the start.

Of course, a large part of this great tension we find at the play’s beginning involves Torvald’s  fastidiousness in monitoring the money, calling Nora a “little spendthrift” and making her feel guilty for her expenditures (Ibsen 1714).  Additionally, he controls her expenses and says, “Spendthrifts are sweet, but they use up a frightful amount of money” (Ibsen 1716).  He even goes as far as to control the key to the mailbox, thereby preventing anyone else from accessing mail that might concern the household finances and more.  As an Idealist, Nora’s core values are threatened by her husband’s role-directive, extroverted, Guardian nature.  Instead of valuing money as a concrete object exemplifying solidity of character (as Guardian Supervisors like her husband do), she uses money only as a tool to better her family’s existence, having signed an agreement fallaciously with the lawyer, Krogstad, in order to save Torvald’s life. In this, too, we find the protagonist’s role-directive, expressive nature as an Idealist Teacher temperament. 

For instance, Nora is very direct in seeking a loan from Krogstad and apparently unabashed in forging her father’s name, unconcerned with the potential consequences.  When Krogstad threatens to inform Torvald of Nora’s illegal act, the latter is shocked, telling the lawyer “how shameful of you” (Ibsen 1728).  She pleads with Krogstad, begging him not to tell “this secret – my joy and my pride” (Ibsen 1728).  From the perspective of her core values, Krogstad – and others – should understand this act that involves self-identity, yet the lawyer’s Guardian core values clash with hers in this instance, and she is appalled by the subsequent “crude and disgusting way” that he intends to reveal her truth (Ibsen 1728).  In this fashion, we are able to decipher the protagonist’s temperament through her interaction with others in the play.

Ultimately, as an Idealist, Nora hungers most for romance, idealizing her relationship with a man whom, when he later turns on her by play’s end, she calls a “stranger” (Keirsey 142, Ibsen 1760).  In fact, being an Idealist, Nora assumes that Torvald’s response to reading Krogstad’s letter is to “suffer for [her] sake” and “take on [her] guilt,” much like she would be willing to do simply because she “loved [Torvald] more than all this world” (Ibsen 1755).  It is not difficult to deduce that Nora is a Teacher sub-type because she is role-directive, freely “directing others to act” as when she handily gets Kristine hired at her husband’s bank.  In addition, she is not at all reserved in nature, but is very extroverted, interacting vividly with all around her whether it is the doctor, her children, Krogstad, or even Mrs. Linde, whom she has not seen in nine years yet begins a conversation as if it was only yesterday (Keirsey 126, Ibsen 1717). 

            In fact, in Nora’s interaction with the doctor, too, we can see how she is an Idealist.  Rank’s profession of open love for her bursts a bubble, the romanticized idealization of love:     

Rank: “[. . .] sometimes I’ve felt you’d almost rather be with me than with


                        Nora: Yes – you see, there are some people that one loves most and other people

                        that one would almost prefer being with (Ibsen 1741).

According to John J. McKenna, friendship between Rationals (the doctor) and Idealists are some of the best matches, and Nora intuitively feels this connection.  Once Rank states his feelings for her, Nora tells him “that was quite unnecessary” and “clumsy” (Ibsen 1740-41); they are better off as friends than lovers.

            Moreover, it can be seen that Nora is role-directive as when she aids her acquaintance, Mrs. Linde, in being hired at her husband’s bank.  It is a two-fold purpose, first her core need to be true to herself; so, as a role-directive Teacher, she tells Kristine “I’ll bring it up so delicately” then announces boldly to her husband “[Kristine] made the long trip down here in order to talk to you” (Ibsen 1720, 1725).  More importantly, Nora promises to assist Kristine even before Dr. Rank hints that Krogstad’s job may be on the line due to the latter’s previous indiscretion.  Nora really has little idea of Kristine’s work experience or skills, but she is pleased to find out in the three-way conversation with Torvald that Mrs. Linde is fit for the position.  Thus, the second of her two-folded purpose is conveniently taken care of: Krogstad’s ouster. 

            Furthermore, the core value clash in the last scene indicates that Torvald’s values do not reflect Nora’s.   After Torvald reads the letter and discovers Nora’s indiscretion, he is more concerned about his own “happiness” and “future,” worried that Krogstad would “make the whole thing known” to the world, thus ruining Torvald’s social standing (Ibsen 1755).  “No religion, no morals, no sense of duty” Torvald accuses her, thereby underscoring what Keirsey says of Guardian Supervisors who “worry” about “morality decaying” (Keirsey 105).  But Torvald has little understanding of his wife’s core value, being authenticity of self.  This is why Nora finally chooses to leave Torvald and her children, balking at his terms of controlling endearment and determining that she needs to find herself:

                        Nora: [. . .] but you neither think nor talk like the man I could join myself to.

                        When your big fright was over – and it wasn’t from any threat against me, only

                        what might damage you – when all the danger was past, for you it was just as if

                        nothing had happened.  I was exactly the same, your little lark, your doll, that

                        you’d have to handle with double care now that I’d turned out so brittle and

                        frail. [. . .]  Torvald – in that instant it dawned on me that for eight years I’ve been

                        living here with a stranger, and that I’ve even conceived three children – oh, I

                        can’t stand the thought of it!  I could tear myself to bits (Ibsen 1760).

Clearly, this is reference to an Idealist’s need to have a soulmate. As Keirsey observes, Idealists “can turn irritable” when their mates become clingy, and “this shift in attitude is usually abrupt” (Keirsey 235).  This is exactly what happens in the play, as Torvald now finds himself “suddenly rejected” (Keirsey 235).  Nora has been “caught up in the romanticized expectations” of intimacy in her marriage, which suddenly unravels with her revelation of Torvald’s inability to interact with her in a manner suited to her needs (Keirsey 237).  Therefore, as an Idealist, Nora is “simply disconnecting from a relationship” that she can bear no more (Keirsey 235).   There can really be no other temperament for the protagonist, for only a role-directive, outgoing Idealist would act in this manner, thus ensuring the reader that Nora is indeed an Idealist Teacher. 

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