Torvald Helmer is the least likeable character in A Doll's House, a play by Henrik Ibsen. Torvald is sometimes portrayed as a sexist pig. Such a reading does an injustice to Torvald. There is more depth to his character if one follows the hints that he had actively covered up for Nora's father.
The first hint came when Nora told Kristina that Torvald had given up his government post because there was no prospect of advancement. It may be that there was no opportunity for getting ahead because promotion was slow in the bureau, but it may have been because his most intimate co-workers (those who would have used the familiar Du with him) were aware of what he had done. While the management did not prosecute him (just as Krogstad was not prosecuted), those acquainted with the incident could prevent his advancement into an office where his larcenous tendencies could do real harm. A second hint is that Helmer saw Krogstad as a threat to his new post in the savings bank: "he seems to think he has a right to be familiar with me." Did he suspect that Krogstad knew the one awful secret that could destroy him? The third hint follows that trail: Krogstad expected that Nora had sufficient influence to persuade her husband not to dismiss him. Why did he believe this unless he had some suspicion of her past influence? A further hint comes when Helmer remarks: "I pretend we're secretly in love--engaged in secret--and that no one dreams that there's anything between us." Why does he want that? Is this not a reference to the conflict of interest regarding her father? Lastly, after reading Krogstad's letter, almost immediately Nora's father comes to mind; he exclaims, "So this is what I get for condoning his fault! I did it for your sake, and this is how you repay me. . . . You've completely wrecked my happiness, you've ruined my whole future. . . . I may very well be suspected of having been involved in your crooked dealings. They may well think that I was behind it--that I put you up to it."1
Helmer did not want to confront his own dishonesty, and in his efforts to cover up his past, he put all the blame on Nora and her heredity. Once, long ago, his lust for Nora was stronger than his desire for social and economic status. That is no longer the case. She can no longer influence him, not even by promising to do all her "little tricks." He even spends so much money on his own clothes that Nora has to work secretly to buy the children new clothing. Now Helmer's long work and sacrifice are beginning to pay off: after eight years as a struggling lawyer, he has just been appointed manager of the savings bank--a post that would not be available to anyone with the slightest history of dishonesty.
Torvald Helmer has never been able to have a serious conversation with Nora. Is it that he could not risk having the subject of Nora's father come to the surface except as a rebuke for her childishness? He was only able to deal with Nora as a doll because if he...