There is a story of redemptive love in A Doll’s House, which emerges in the only scene where the protagonist, Nora, is off stage. This where Cristine Linde proclaims her love for Niels Krogstad, and it turns the action of the story drastically, as redemptive love usually does.
Cristine grew up with Nora, the main character, and comes to see her friend at a crossroads in her life. She has been married and taken care of two children who weren’t hers for several years, because she had ill family members who needed her support and there was no job that would pay her enough to take care of them adequately. As the play unfolds, we find she was in love with Krogstad, but he was a poor student at the time with uncertain prospects, and she had to choose a mate for financial reasons rather than affection. When she broke up with him, she made it a point to try to extinguish his affection for her so he would be free to move on with his life.
Krogstad is someone whose story we know incompletely. He was a classmate of Torvald, the male lead, and was a personal friend at the time. He had married and had children, but no wife at the time of the play. It can be assumed from Nora’s business with him that he indulged in illicit financial activities, with other shady dealing implied. He’s tried to go straight for about a year and a half, working at Torvald’s bank, but his familiarity with Torvald has been an irritation, and it’s implied the quality of his work is inadequate. He’s desperate enough to blackmail Nora to try to keep his job, and use his leverage with her to get a promotion and responsibility he hasn’t earned.
It turns out Cristine’s motive for visiting her old friend was to make contact with Niels and rekindle their relationship. Her friendship with Nora leads her to take action that will make Nora face her secret and deal with who she is, which is the beginning of Nora’s liberation. Cristine’s also free of her responsibilities and can work for herself, but her life is empty. She still loves Niels and wants to make her choice of a new mate based on her standards rather than her need. He protests that she doesn’t know him now and things are different, but she responds by telling him that she knows who and what he is and what she’s getting into: she loves him in spite of everything.
This kind of love isn’t blind. It’s realistic, honest, self-assured and unconditional. It’s not hung up in romanticism or idealization, it doesn’t call black white or evil good. This is the kind of love almost everyone aspires to: a liberating relationship that puts us in touch with our best selves; an acceptance that doesn’t deny the Dark side of human nature, but understands that Darkness shouldn’t be feared because it has no power to harm it. It’s not co-dependent or necessarily tolerates evil, but comes from deep inner strength and faith. It’s a love that can survive crises and bring healing.
This love turns Krogstad around, and convinces him to leave the path he’s chosen. He tells Torvald he won’t blackmail him after all, lets Nora off the hook by returning her note, and embraces a new reality, the fulfillment of a hope he thought long lost. Restored hope and love help him recover his best self, make him a good man again. To be honest, this transformation is a bit too sudden to be credible in the timeline of the play, but it’s possible: men have been known to make drastic changes quickly for the sake of true love. It’s probably true he carried a torch for her though the years, and he was ready to embrace her again once the opportunity arose. Since Krogstad has lived a life outside the boundaries of social convention, he seems more open to marrying a woman who’s taking his job and being content with a family role than Torvald, who could never accept a similar place.
I would call Cristine the heroine of the story. Some might criticize her since she could have helped Nora hide her shame and keep her marriage intact, but a false peace is no real peace: Nora and Torvald were bound to part at the first disaster in their life together, when their distrust of each other finally surfaced. Cristine not only follows her own heart, but also willing to do what is best for everyone.
The artistic genius of Ibsen is putting this little story of redemptive love in the backdrop of the larger tragedy of A Doll’s House. In this midst of this dark tale of shame unmasked and love lost, a ray of hope shows that unconditional love can move hearts, and there is redemption in the genuine, equal love of two people for each other. In the midst of tragedy, we need to remember that there is redemptive love, that hope does get fulfilled and changes lives for the better, and there is Light in the Darkness.