Literature Study GuidesGhostsAct 3 Osvald And Mrs Alving Alone Summary

Ghosts | Study Guide

Henrik Ibsen

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Ghosts | Act 3 (Osvald and Mrs. Alving Alone) | Summary



All the other characters have gone, leaving Mrs. Helene Alving and Osvald Alving alone. Osvald says he has no feelings for his father because he never knew him. He also reveals that although he appreciates Mrs. Alving's feelings for him, he has no real love for her. He hopes, however, that she will be useful to him during his illness.

Osvald reveals his own secret: that his illness is the syphilis he is said to have inherited from his father. He explains to his mother that he will become mentally and physically incapacitated. Mrs. Alving tries to run from the room, but Osvald locks them in. He shows her a box of morphine pills and asks her to use them to end his life when his end is near. She recoils in horror, but he is soon slumped motionless in his chair, mumbling for "the sun." Panic-stricken, she now faces a terrible choice.


Osvald Alving again offers the play's critique of a society with outdated traditions. Mrs. Helene Alving is an enlightened thinker in many ways, but she still expects a child to have affection for his parents, even though he never knew them. Osvald dismisses this notion as an "old superstition." Her ideals are stuck somewhere between the society that produced her and Osvald's progressive thinking.

The theme of consequences comes to fruition here, as Osvald faces the deadly consequence of his parents' actions. He becomes the embodiment of a past that haunts the future. Even the promise of the sun, a symbol of life and freedom, comes too late.

As Mrs. Alving stands holding the morphine pills, Henrik Ibsen distills the plot of the play into one moment of inaction rather than action. Her entire life has been filled with choices: to stay married or to leave, to send her son away or keep him home, to reveal her husband's life or cover it up. Ibsen gives the audience a final scene with no clear conclusion. He makes spectators uncomfortable as they wonder what Mrs. Alving will do. Spectators are forced to think about what their own responses would be, as well.

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