Literature Study GuidesGhostsAct 1 Osvald Arrives Summary

Ghosts | Study Guide

Henrik Ibsen

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Ghosts | Act 1 (Osvald Arrives) | Summary

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Summary

Osvald Alving finally appears, and Mrs. Helene Alving beams as Pastor Manders welcomes him home. They share memories of Captain Alving, and Osvald reveals that when he was a child, his father gave him a pipe to smoke, which made him ill. The conversation then turns to free love. Pastor Manders disapproves of the artists' lifestyle Osvald has been exposed to in Europe. Osvald defends his friends in Paris, many of whom have happy homes, even though they live together without marrying. Pastor Manders is scandalized by this description of "illicit relations." Osvald explains that he has seen many so-called respectable men behave much worse than his friends who keep "unconventional homes." In a sense, because the conflict cannot be resolved in the traditional society, Pastor Manders and Osvald agree to disagree.

Analysis

The debate over conventional morality versus "free love" that Henrik Ibsen introduced earlier in the act continues in this scene. Ibsen provides a glimpse into the character of Captain Alving through Osvald Alving's story about the pipe. Captain Alving's insistence that his young son smoke until he vomits reveals poor judgment at best, and at worst, manifest cruelty. Yet Osvald ("he got so much accomplished—so much that was good and useful") and Pastor Manders ("it's a strong and worthy name you've inherited") still praise Captain Alving, in ignorance of the truth of his life still hidden.

Pastor Manders again focuses on his strict rules of morality. Like Mrs. Helene Alving's books, Osvald's life in Paris is the target of his criticism. To Osvald his friends are decent people. To Pastor Manders they are, by definition, indecent, although he does not know them. Ibsen uses Osvald's response, that it is the "exemplary husbands and fathers" who behave the worst, to critique his own society. This short exchange is significant because Osvald shrewdly and fearlessly observes that respectability is not always what it seems.

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