HomeLiterature Study GuidesGhostsAct 3 Engstrand Takes The Blame Summary

Ghosts | Study Guide

Henrik Ibsen

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Ghosts | Act 3 (Engstrand Takes the Blame) | Summary

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Summary

The act opens with Mrs. Helene Alving, Regina Engstrand, Pastor Manders, and Engstrand trying to deal with the reality that the orphanage is now a total loss. Pastor Manders is worried that the public will direct "vicious attacks and innuendos" at him because of his association with the Alvings. Mrs. Alving, on the other hand, sees it as nothing more than a business loss. Pastor Manders turns his attention to salvaging some value from the land because the building was not insured.

Engstrand and Pastor Manders discuss the cause of the fire. Engstrand sets Pastor Manders up as the one who left a candle burning at their prayer meeting. Pastor Manders has no recollection of this but accepts Engstrand's version of what happened. Engstrand offers to take the blame for the fire if Pastor Manders funds his seaman's hotel. Pastor Manders willingly submits to the blackmail to avoid any hint of scandal.

Analysis

The destruction of the orphanage, a monument to corruption and lies, is the backdrop to this scene. Built to honor a dishonest view of Captain Alving, the orphanage stands for the society's willingness, even need, to accept appearance over reality. Henrik Ibsen uses fire to represent the inability of society to ultimately sustain such hypocrisy.

In this scene key character traits are solidified in response to the disaster. Pastor Manders reveals once and for all that he is concerned about his reputation above all else. He frets about what the town might think of him, given his close ties to the Alving family. He is so self-absorbed that he is willing to let Engstrand take the blame rather than risk personal scandal. Pastor Manders will trade the orphanage for Engstrand's "seaman's hotel," having convinced himself of Engstrand's worth. Pastor Manders and Engstrand leave together, bound to each other in their hypocrisy.

Mrs. Helene Alving's response to the fire underscores her desire to live truthfully. She admits that the "orphanage was never made for anyone's benefit." She is glad it is gone, because she desperately wants to put the past behind her. As the flames die away, she turns all of her attention on making a future with her son.

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