HomeLiterature Study GuidesGhostsAct 1 Pastor Manders And Mrs Alving Summary

Ghosts | Study Guide

Henrik Ibsen

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Ghosts | Act 1 (Pastor Manders and Mrs. Alving) | Summary

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Summary

Pastor Manders comes to see Mrs. Helene Alving about business concerning the orphanage, but first he comments on the books she is reading. Mrs. Alving defends her choice of books and the progressive message they contain. Although Pastor Manders has not read the books, he harshly judges their contents as well as Mrs. Alving's opinions. When talk turns to business, Pastor Manders questions whether Mrs. Alving needs to insure the orphanage. He tells her that some in the community might see insurance as a lack of faith in God's protection. He recommends against insuring the building, and Mrs. Alving eventually agrees, although she sees this as a great risk. Their conversation winds down with Pastor Manders expressing support for Engstrand.

Analysis

Pastor Manders is at his condescending worst as he condemns not only Mrs. Helene Alving's opinions about morality, but also her past conduct as a wife and mother. After expressing his disapproval in a sanctimonious tone, they turn to business. The key components of his personality are presented in this scene. He is judgmental. He endorses conventional concepts of morality. He is gullible. Although Pastor Manders presents a grave attitude about Mrs. Alving's behavior and his reputation, he is almost cartoonish in his belief in Engstrand's good intentions. Most noticeably, however, he is acutely concerned with people's opinions of himself. He is worried that insuring the orphanage will cast doubt on his religious devotion and put him in a "painful" position with the "best circles in town."

Mrs. Alving, as she has done in the past, goes along with his advice against her better judgment. Their discussion about the insurance shows that she has sound ideas but lacks the courage to act on them. Pastor Manders reveals his ability to construct a position that looks like it is about the common good but is really about protecting himself. The decision not to insure the orphanage also introduces a sense of foreshadowing. Henrik Ibsen intends that such a specific detail will be revisited in the play he constructs toward a climax.

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