HomeLiterature Study GuidesGhostsAct 1 Mrs Alvings Secrets Summary

Ghosts | Study Guide

Henrik Ibsen

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Ghosts | Act 1 (Mrs. Alving's Secrets) | Summary

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Summary

Osvald Alving leaves to take a walk, and Pastor Manders launches another round of criticism at Mrs. Helene Alving, condemning her as a bad wife and mother. Mrs. Alving listens, and then it is her turn. She tells Pastor Manders dark secrets about her marriage, explaining that Captain Alving lived a debauched life until he died. Pastor Manders is shocked. He is still reeling from this news when she tells him that Regina Engstrand is the illegitimate child of her husband and her maid. Just as Mrs. Alving thinks she is putting the past behind her by telling the truth, Mrs. Alving and Pastor Manders hear Osvald making advances toward Regina.

Analysis

This scene is key to the play's action. A series of important revelations begins here with two bombshells, the truth about Captain Alving's behavior and Regina Engstrand's illegitimacy.

Pastor Manders speaks first and in his ignorance presents a scathing assessment of Mrs. Helene Alving's character. He calls her "undisciplined" and "lawless," a selfish woman who acts "carelessly and irresponsibly." He condemns her for wanting to leave her marriage as a newlywed; he upbraids her for coming to him for support; he downplays her young love for him and his feelings for her; he calls her a bad mother. When Mrs. Alving wanted to leave her husband early in her marriage, Pastor Manders "bent her will to duty and obedience." He takes pride in the fact that he convinced her to return to a husband and marriage she abhorred. She, in turn, has come to regret her devotion to duty and the lies she has told to protect her husband's reputation as well as her own.

Pastor Manders's initial indictment of Mrs. Alving rings hollow after she reveals the depths of her husband's depravity and the struggle of living with him. Her greatest sacrifice was sending Osvald Alving away as a child to protect him from the "poisoned" atmosphere of their home. Mrs. Alving thus becomes a sympathetic character, and Henrik Ibsen shows she has great reserves of strength.

In this exchange with Pastor Manders, Mrs. Alving takes her first steps toward living a truthful life. She is eager to open the orphanage, because then "it will really seem as if the dad had never lived in this house." But before her life can be transformed, the ghosts of her husband and maid return as Osvald pursues Regina.

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