The play start from the apartment of Norway lawyer Torvald Helmer and his wife Nora. The apartment is furnished with not expensive things but is still very cosy and comfortable. The room is decorated for Christmas. Nora enters the house, holding lots of decorated boxes. There are decorations for the Christmas tree inside and also the presents for her husbands and children. Her husband meets her inside, jokingly accusing her - his butterfly, sweet flower, little squirrel, lovely bird etc. - of spending too much money for her little joys. But Nora, being as sweet as Torvald is, replies that she has a good reason to do it, since Torvald got a promotion and will be the director of the bank from next year. So they don’t need to save as much and be as cautious in spending money as they were before.
Nora seems very lively and innocently reckless - even after giving birth to their three children, she looks stunningly beautiful and behaves a bit childish, deserving all that little sweet nicknames Torvald calls her. After he flirtatiously plays with his wife, Torvald returns to his room to work, and another woman enters the house. Her name is Christine Linde and she is Nora’s school friend. They haven’t seen each other for ages, Christine married away and moved to her husband. But she recently widowed and returned to her hometown searching for work. She asks Nora if her husband, as a newly appointed bank director, can offer her a job, she is ready to do anything.
Nora promises to talk to her husband and invites Mrs Linde to stay for a while and talk to her. After Christine asks Nora if she is happy, Nora solemnly confesses that she has a secret debt and it haunts her for years. In the first year of marriage she and Torvald had a harsh time. He has just left the job at the ministry and his income was too scarce to feed them. Torvald took some additional job to do at night and the constant stress and undersleeping made him fall sick. The doctors said that only a prolonged vacation in a warm Southern country could restore his ruined health. Nora asked her rich father to help them (or that was what she told her husband) and the whole family went to live in Italy for a year.
But the reality is that Nora lied to her husband. She knew that his pride would be offended by borrowing such a big sum of money, so she did it herself, from a person she prefers not to disclose - because her father was on his deathbed at the time and just couldn’t help them. From than on Nora pretended to be a reckless shopping fan, asking money from her husband for this and that pretty things, but instead of buying them she used those money to cover her debt. Nora also secretly took part-time jobs to pay everything faster and finally forget about what she has done. Now Nora is happy with Torvald’s new job: she expects that she will pay off her debt soon, still pretending to be an innocent “bird, squirrel and flower” her husband wants her to be.
Nora asks Christine if she has a place to stay. Christine cheerfully says that she already found a place and is absolutely sure that Torvald will need a new worker, because he has just fired one of the workers in his bank, Krogstad. Nora is shocked to hear that, though she doesn’t show that. Krogstad was the man she borrowed money from and now she is afraid that he can use their secret to press on her or Torvald.
Later, after Christine leaves, Nora talks to Torvald, asking about her friend and also Krogstad. Torvald angrily replies that he indeed fired Krogstad because he is an awful man and a liar. He was Torvald’s classmate and once forged the signature on monetary document to get profit. Krogstad escaped the court, managing to get out of his difficult situation. But Torvald is absolutely adamant in his opinion that the person who lied once is irredeemable and will remain the liar for the rest of their life. He goes as far as suggesting that such people should be forbidden to have families, so the evil won’t procreate and they won’t raise new criminals.
Nora leaves, devastated with what she just heard. Without knowing that, Torvald was also talking about her. Nora had forged her father’s signature - but not to make profit, just to save her husband’s life. Moreover, the document was dated the day when her father couldn’t sign it because he had already died by that time. The things get worse: Krogstad indeed asks Nora to ask Torvald to let him keep his job or he will tell the new director everything his wife did. Panicking, Nora tries to persuade Torvald not to fire Krogstad, but he gently orders his little silly pretty wife to stay away of serious business. Krogstad isn’t satisfied with Nora’s answer. He blackmails her, promising not only to tell everything to Torvald, but also to Torvald’s boss, so Torvald - the husband of a scammer and criminal - will be also stripped of his position.
Nora enters the state of unhealthy agitation. She plays with her children, seeming extremely nervous, behaving like it is the last time she can see them (and indeed, if Torvald discovers what she did, it will be the last time - he clearly stated it!). The poor woman than calls Anna - the nurse who cared for Nora herself when she was a child and later for Nora’s children - and asks her to look after her kids if she ever disappears.
Nora desperately tries to find a solution. She asks a family friend, Dr. Rank, to help her. Dr. Rank is secretly in love with Nora, he always was, but he is dying from terminal disease, so he let Nora marry another man, content with her happiness. But when Nora tells him the whole picture, Dr. Rank is horrified. He tells her that Krogstad is corrupted to the bone and he indeed will ruin her life just to get what he wants. Nora is ashamed to ask, knowing about Dr. Rank’s feelings and his state of health, but she is desperate. Dr. Rank is ready to give Nora all the money he has - he knows that soon he won’t need it anymore - but Krogstad doesn’t want money anymore, he wants either his positions back or the public humiliation of Torvald. Dr. Rank still tries to negotiate, but his illness finally takes over. Dr Rank says that he will try to help her until his last breath, but when he understands he has mere hours left, he will send her a letter with a black cross. That will mean that he locked himself in his house to die and won’t allow anyone to come.
Krogstad appears again, mocking her and saying that he has already sent a letter to Torvald’s mailbox and he knows Nora doesn’t have a key from it. Even if she commits suicide Krogstad will do everything to shame the very memory of her. He is just in time: that was exactly the last solution that Nora was going to resort to. Now Krogstad took away even that one.
But the least expected person comes to aid. Christine returns to Nora to have another talk. She tells her that in the past she and Krogstad were in love, but she had to marry another and become Mrs Linde - she had a mother and two little brothers to support and Krogstad was too poor for that time. But now she is free, her husband died as did her mother, her brothers are adult already - so she decided to marry Krogstad. In despair Nora tells her friend everything, saying that it was Krogstad she borrowed the money from and now he is eager to ruin her life. Christine says that she will talk to Krogstad and persuade him not to do that. But she needs time and the letter is already in the mailbox.
Trying to win some precious time, Nora pretends to be overagitated with the preparation for Christmas party. She tries on the new dress she bought for it and dances in front of her husband. Her dance is the most furious tarantella he has ever seen, Nora’s passion borders with insanity. Fascinated with emotions shown by his wife, Torvald agrees to do nothing except entertaining her before Christmas, thinking that it’s just one of the pretty quirks of his wife.
Christine talks to Krogstad. He eventually softens and even decides to go to Torvald and demand his letter back unopened, but Christine herself, who is fed up with seeing her friend’s sufferings, asks him just to send another letter - so that Torvald will see his own hypocrisy and maybe will forgive Krogstad himself.
The next scene is the Christmas party. Nora counts the last hours of her life. Finally the party ends and Torvald returns to check his mail. The first letter is from Dr. Rank and there are no words inside the envelope - only the black cross painted on the paper. Nora solemnly explains that their friend is dead. Touched, Torvald grieves over the death of Dr. Rank and says to Nora that sometimes he wishes that she was in an inevitable danger, for example, very ill, so he would do anything to rescue his bird, squirrel, butterfly etc etc. Nora just tells him to open the second mail, knowing that he will have such a chance right now.
But after Torvald reads the letter from Krogstad, he goes outright hysterical. He is shocked that his silly pretty little wife is a cunning criminal who forged the signature of her own dying father, He is disgusted that he slept with her and had three children with such a hideous person. Now she endangered his own well-being, career and reputation, giving his own employee an instrument to blackmail them. Of course, to maintain a pretty picture, he won’t divorce her, but she will never see neither him nor their children, so they won’t be spoiled by her rotten influence.
Just after he finishes, the postman brings another letter - from Krogstad also. Krogstad writes that Christine persuaded him not to use Nora’s noble intention to ruin Torvald’s career. Now he, Krogstad, understands that Nora did it of pure love, and in the name of his own love he promises to never blackmail Torvald and Nora again.
Torvald is relieved to understand that his career is now out of danger. He immediately has a change of heart, softly speaking to Nora, saying that he understands that she wanted to do what was better for them and it was just a single mistake. Now he is touched, he was ready to do everything to save her husband - himself! It’s not her fault that she isn’t smart enough to know better, because she is just his little squirrel, butterfly…
But Nora isn’t buying it this time. She coldly refuses, calmly changing to her everyday clothes and saying that she is leaving the house immediately. There is nothing sweet and childish in her behaviour anymore. Nora says that she was hoping that Torvald will share with her everything - the guilt and danger - because they are a family and they have to endure the difficulties together. She isn’t shocked as much with his reaction for the first letter, but his reaction for the second one killed their marriage. Nora understands that he never treated her as a real person, seeing just a cute little doll unable to decide for herself. So he didn’t even bother to know her motives - forgiving her right after his own career and reputation was safe. Until the last moment Nora hoped for a miracle, but her hopes are now shattered.
Nora says that they didn’t have real love, so their marriage can’t continue. Before that she forgave such an attitude again and again just of her sheer love, but now she sees that Torvald doesn’t need anything except the outer appearance. Nora doesn’t want to play a pretty wife for money and gifts anymore. That’s not marriage, it is called prostitution. She adds that she was willing to commit suicide just to preserve his reputation. Shocked, Torvald replies that no man can trade his honor for love, so he was right. Nora says that many women did so and that’s one of the reasons she doesn’t believe in his love anymore.
Torvald tries to stop her, reminding Nora of her sacred duties as wife and mother, saying that he will pamper her as a child, because she is so oblivious to the cruel world, but Nora answers that, if she is indeed oblivious, she is going to discover the world by herself and her duty to herself is not less sacred. She returns to Torvald her wedding ring and the keys from the house and takes his ring. Nora leaves without even a glance to her children. She says she leaves them in better hands than her own and she and Torvald now aren’t connected by any means. The play ends with Nora exiting the house, saying that tomorrow Christine will come to pick up her belongings.