Helmer is one of the central characters of A Doll’s House. At the beginning of the play he is seen as the loving husband, a little patronising, but kind and caring nevertheless. However, by the end of the play our views of him have changed, he is not seen as such an admired figure. Throughout the play there are times were Helmer is a bigot and this gives you a sordid view of his character. Helmer is a typical nineteenth century respectable husband. He follows the rules society has set; this is how he has been brought up. A very stereotypical man of this patriarchal time. You cannot condemn him for this, nor can you dismiss it.
He has fitted this role without consideration. Although the people of the time had the desire for social approval, Helmer takes this to the extreme and is guilty of elitism. He treats his wife as a pet “my little squander-bird” and “little squirrel” to use, but two of the many times he speaks of her as more of a possession rather than a wife a person. He enjoys this role, he loves being in control and his security depends on this superior feeling. This dominance over Nora is further shown to the audience in the games he plays with her and moreover in the way he holds financial control, he holds the purse strings, therefore has the power.
He dresses Nora up and makes her dance the tarantella at a party, then on their return proceeds to tell her, “I pretend to myself that you’re my secret mistress” this shows he treats his wife with little respect, regard and is very arrogant in his approach to her. However, Nora plays up to this role at several points in the playing saying things like “I can’t get anywhere without your help. ” He has knowledge far greater than hers giving him a further hold over her. She is dependant on Helmer to guide her to some extent and Helmer gladly fulfils this role.
The most obvious way Helmer upholds his authority over Nora is with money, he playfully reprimands her for spending so much, but enjoys having this hold over her. Money is a key theme throughout the play and ultimately destroys the marriage. Helmer’s attitude at the end of the play shows a great deal about him and shows he is a finally monster. Nora is willing to lay down her life for Helmer, but he is unwilling to do the same for her. He does not support her at the time she needs it most and lets her down at the most crucial point. His treatment of Krogstad shows his pettiness and parsimoniousness in very trivial matters.
He is embarrassed that Krogstad uses his Christian name to address him, and feels this is inappropriate. “We-well we’re on Christian name terms. And the tactless idiot makes no attempt to conceal it when other people are present. ” This shows he regards how he maybe judged, above what is right. He therefore, considers this to be an apt and suitable reason for dismissing him. Even Nora can see this is immoral and makes no attempt to cover up this feeling, “But it’s so petty” this unfortunately annoys Helmer and he immediately sends the letter of dismissal to Krogstad, this shows his power and his control over the situation.
This also shows he only gives in to Nora’s whims when it suits him. His self-obsessed nature is further proven, when he is informed of Dr. Rank’s imminent death. Dr. Rank is meant to be his closest friend, however he almost dismisses his death and carries on as normal. He does not care for anyone, but himself and is pompous in his attitude towards everyone. Helmer shows how righteous he is by saying: “He was so much a part of our life. I can’t realize that he’s gone. His suffering and loneliness seemed to provide a kind of dark background to the happy sunlight marriage.
Well, perhaps it’s best this way. ” He then proceeds to advance on his wife, she turns away saying, “When your friend is about to die? ” he arrogantly suggests, “This news has upset us both. An ugliness has come between us”. This shows how self-absorbed Helmer is. His behaviour towards Mrs. Linde is another example of the atrocious way he deals with people. He willingly assures her of a job at the bank “it’s quite likely I may be able to find some job for you,” however in a later scene refers to her as a “Dreadful bore” and is happy to be “rid of her at last.
” This shows deceitfulness and again patronising behaviour. Helmer however, is only adhering to the social morals of the time and therefore, can be sympathised with in a way. He wishes only to protect his reputation, which he has built up and kept unblemished for many years. He obviously loves Nora to an extent, so when she walks out, not only is she leaving him with his reputation in tatters, but also with a feeling of loss. This is therefore a great shock to him and his ethics, causing a scene of tragedy
In conclusion, Helmer is a monster in the way he treats his wife, friends and associates. His behaviour towards them is inexcusable and leads us to feel that these actions are outrageous. His pettiness towards Krogstad and lack of understanding towards Nora shows us he is ostentatious. And his dismissal of Dr. Rank and Mrs. Linde gives us another negative view of him. However, he does only adhere to what was socially acceptable at the time, while this may not excuse his behaviour, it leads us to understand it. We may feel a little sympathy for Helmer, but overall he is a self-righteous prig.