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Ghosts | Study Guide

Henrik Ibsen

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Ghosts | Act 2 (Osvald, Regina, and the Fire) | Summary



In this section Osvald Alving begins to explain his illness to his mother. He says that he has headaches and fatigue because his life in Paris overwhelms him. He is distraught that he has brought his weakened state upon himself. Although his doctor said his illness comes from the "sins of the father," Osvald refutes this diagnosis. He still believes in his father's respectability. Osvald becomes more agitated and begins to imply that he is sicker than he has let on. Mrs. Helene Alving begins to panic about her son's health.

Mrs. Alving summons Regina Engstrand to bring wine for Osvald, who wants to drown his thoughts and warm himself against the chill. Osvald confesses to his mother that he intends to marry Regina. He declares his intentions to Regina, who is willing but confused. Mrs. Alving is horrified, but before she can explain to Osvald and Regina why they cannot be together, they all realize the orphanage is suddenly on fire.


In the last section of Act 2, the family heads toward a final crisis. Osvald Alving's health moves to the foreground, and the action begins to move more quickly. Henrik Ibsen has Osvald articulate many core ideas in the play: Osvald raises the issue of not being able to escape the past. Although he attempts to deny it, Osvald sees that the sins of the father do haunt the son. Osvald also explains the joy that has infused his life in Paris. The joy of life depends on the ability of individuals to choose their own futures. Osvald sees that his hometown society and even his family are unable to support such a belief. "The joy of life, Mother," he says, "I never feel it here."

Ibsen also foregrounds the sun as a symbol in this scene. Remarking repeatedly on the rainy, gloomy weather, Osvald observes that he never sees the sun when he is home in Norway. The sun represents the warm weather of mainland Europe, a place where the joy of life thrives. Osvald equates the sun with the ability to work and personal happiness.

In many ways Osvald is Ibsen's mouthpiece. As Ibsen broke with convention in the topics and staging of his plays, so Osvald lives outside the conventions of his conservative, often hypocritical, society. Ibsen suggests that denying the joy of life produces tragic consequences. Osvald and Regina Engstrand's declaration of their devotion to each other is punctured by the orphanage fire, which will change all.

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