Nora begins the play as a silly, callous girl, sneaking sweets and batting her eyelids at her husband. She’s initially unable to understand other people’s pain; she bluntly asks her old friend Kristine why she married her dead husband if she didn’t love him, and she dismisses Dr. Rank’s fatal illness as a morbid fancy. But, as she discovers during the play, her callousness isn’t altogether her fault: As the pretty property of first her father and then her husband, she’s never been treated like a real human, and she has never learned to understand anyone else’s humanity either. When she finally leaves her husband, she’s wise enough to know what she doesn’t know.
Nora’s husband Torvald is, on the outside, the picture of competent masculinity. Newly promoted to bank manager, he takes a masterly pleasure in deciding other people’s fates. He especially enjoys being his wife’s protector, doling out little treats and sternly refusing her pocket money by turns. But when he finds that his reputation is in danger, he’s quick to give up his protective posture to preserve his own social standing. Torvald’s falsity, like Nora’s silliness, is a condemnation of sexist standards; his blustery performance of masculinity conceals a deep moral cowardice.