Literature Study GuidesGhostsAct 2 After Dinner Summary

Ghosts | Study Guide

Henrik Ibsen

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Ghosts | Act 2 (After Dinner) | Summary



Now that dinner is over, Pastor Manders and Mrs. Helene Alving return to their conversation about Regina Engstrand. Mrs. Alving explains how her husband's affair with her maid, Joanna, resulted in the illegitimate child. To ingratiate himself to the family and claim the hush money given to Joanna, Engstrand pretended he was the father and married Joanna.

Mrs. Alving compares her own marriage for money to Engstrand's marriage to Joanna. Mrs. Alving agrees with Pastor Manders that there can be no romance between Osvald Alving and Regina, even though she is almost tempted to give her blessing to make her son happy.


This conversation lays out the core of Henrik Ibsen's message and clarifies the title of the play. As Pastor Manders and Mrs. Helene Alving discuss Regina Engstrand, Mrs. Alving explains the ghosts that haunt her. Seeing Osvald Alving and Regina most obviously recalls the ghosts of her husband and Joanna. But she goes beyond this connection. She calls outdated beliefs, "old dead doctrines and opinions," ghosts that haunt individuals and perhaps the entire country. These ghosts warp people's behavior, which can lead to the very tangle that has snared Osvald and Regina. Ibsen breaks open the past by tracing the choices of Mrs. Alving and her husband in a house built on fear and social convention.

Mrs. Alving also offers a stinging rebuke to Pastor Manders for his devotion to traditional principles of behavior. "When you made me give in to what you called duty," she says, "when you praised as right and proper what I rebelled against heart and soul as something loathsome," that's when she began to question his teachings. She buried her personal integrity to follow what society prescribed as her duty. The wreck of a family created by that choice is Ibsen's indictment of her path and those who set her on it.

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