Ghosts | Study Guide

Henrik Ibsen

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Ghosts | Discussion Questions 1 - 10


How do the stage directions for Act 1 of Ghosts set the mood for the play?

In Act 1 (Regina and Engstrand), the description of the outside environment, "Somber fjord landscape can be glimpsed, half hidden by steady rain," creates a subdued, even depressing mood. Engstrand is described in detail, and his physical deformity sets him apart. He is literally on the outside of the room looking in. The detailed description of the garden room shows that it is an upper-class home, which contrasts with Engstrand's working-class appearance. His physical presence outside the room represents his position outside the social class of this kind of home. Regina Engstrand's attempt to bar Engstrand's path creates a mood of tension. The stage directions alone create a mood of bleak conflict.

Given the realistic setting of the garden room in Act 1 of Ghosts, what other components of realism should the audience or reader expect?

Characters in realistic drama come from the lower as well as the middle or upper classes. In Act 1 (Regina and Engstrand) of Ghosts, Engstrand is a carpenter from the working class. Regina Engstrand, as a maid and housekeeper in Mrs. Helene Alving's estate, is a step above him. Topics in realistic drama push the boundaries of polite society by exposing and exploring issues that are complicated and sometimes ugly. Subjects raised in Realism often contain a critique of the lifestyles and manners of the readers and spectators and their social class. Those reading or attending a performance of Ghosts might expect to have social conventions challenged, and possibly even to be made uncomfortable by the issues discussed.

In Act 1 of Ghosts, how is Regina representative of mobility between the classes?

In Act 1 (Regina and Engstrand), Regina Engstrand is from the working class, but she is a maid who is treated like one of the family. Her father is a laborer with a rough background who is always looking for a way to scam others out of money. Regina aspires to better things. There is a hint that she looks to Mrs. Helene Alving's son, Osvald, to help her move up the social ladder. Regina attempts to speak French to appear more cultured, scorning her father and his crude language and behavior. She moves between the vulgar world she started in, represented by Engstrand, and the world she aspires to, represented by Osvald Alving.

How does the behavior of Regina Engstrand and Engstrand toward each other in Act 1 of Ghosts show that Henrik Ibsen is challenging conventional expectations?

Regina Engstrand and Engstrand are presented as father and daughter in Act 1 (Regina and Engstrand), but they treat each other poorly. She shows contempt for him. He curses back at her and shows contempt for her. She refuses to live with him, and he only wants her to serve his own business needs. They do not exhibit socially acceptable parent-child affection. Regina says she feels no obligation to be involved in his life. Although Engstrand has no affection for her, he tries to invoke social convention to make her do what he says, not because he loves her but because he wants to use her, going against the conventional expectations from parents and children.

In Act 1 of Ghosts, what role do Regina Engstrand and Engstrand fill in the development of the plot?

Regina Engstrand and Engstrand provide plot details to the audience in Act 1 (Regina and Engstrand): they describe the orphanage and position the opening of the orphanage as a major event in the family. They introduce Pastor Manders, one of the "best people" in the community, as someone who will be intimately involved in the action as a close friend and business adviser to Mrs. Helene Alving. Conflict between Regina and Engstrand is also introduced into the plot in Act 1. The resolution of their problems influences plot development, and their conversation suggests that Regina's place in the story will develop as she seeks to improve her social position.

How does Pastor Manders's treatment of Regina Engstrand change over the course of Act 1 of Ghosts?

Early in Act 1 (Pastor Manders and Mrs. Alving), Pastor Manders appreciates Regina Engstrand because she is deferential to him; her subservience is appealing. He also notices her appearance, and his suggestive remarks about her voluptuous figure imply that he sees her as a sexual being. However, when it becomes apparent that she wants something from him, his tone changes. Regina begins to suggest that he can help her gain employment in the city, but he becomes formal and dismissive. He uses the tone of a superior speaking to a servant. Pastor Manders is either uncomfortable by her solicitations or is too self-absorbed to want to help her.

How do the two mysteries raised early in the conversation in Act 1 of Ghosts contribute to suspense in the plot?

As the action unfolds in Act 1 (Pastor Manders and Mrs. Alving), Pastor Manders and Mrs. Helene Alving raise issues that will need to be resolved. Mrs. Alving chides him: "You can't be persuaded even yet to spend the night here in my house?" Her question suggests that there is, or has been, discord between them, and the audience will look to the plot to resolve questions of why Pastor Manders will not stay in Mrs. Alving's house. The other question to answer is why Osvald Alving has been away. Pastor Manders also implies Osvald will somehow find his home lacking, compared to his life in Europe. The relationship between Osvald and Mrs. Alving is brought to the foreground. How the relationship is developed becomes a driving point in the plot.

What do Mrs. Helene Alving's comments about the books she is reading in Act 1 of Ghosts suggest about the society she lives in?

In Act 1 (Pastor Manders and Mrs. Alving), Mrs. Helene Alving suggests that she lives in a society that is repressed, if not outright hypocritical. She is not shocked by what she has read regarding free love, and in fact, she thinks that it is what most people believe, even in her own community. She claims to Pastor Manders that there is "nothing really new in these books." But she offers an insight that can be seen as a criticism of her society when she says, "most people don't want to face these things or what they imply." This comment applies to Pastor Manders, whose life is governed by surface appearances and shallow morality.

How do Mrs. Helene Alving's and Pastor Manders's responses to the books Mrs. Alving is reading compare and contrast in Act 1 of Ghosts?

In Act 1 (Pastor Manders and Mrs. Alving,) Mrs. Helene Alving and Pastor Manders think differently about the books she is reading. Mrs. Alving agrees with the message in these books, which supports free love and personal choice; she also thinks that most people in her community think this way. Pastor Manders, on the other hand, rejects the books and the ideas they contain; he is convinced that no one in their society agrees with ideas he thinks are immoral and scandalous. Another difference is that Mrs. Alving has formed her opinion on the ideas in the books by reading them for herself. Pastor Manders has not read the books, but forms an opinion about them based on hearsay rather than direct experience.

How does Henrik Ibsen use Pastor Manders's ideas about insuring the orphanage to deepen his characterization of the pastor in Act 1 of Ghosts?

Henrik Ibsen shows Pastor Manders's concern for people's opinion of him in Act 1 (Pastor Manders and Mrs. Alving). His reasoning not to insure the building comes from his notion that people may think he does not have "adequate faith in Divine Providence." He believes they will think insurance undermines his faith in God's protection. Although he knows it is dangerous to leave the orphanage uninsured, his fear of others judging him overrides his better business sense. He is willing to put Mrs. Helene Alving at great financial risk to avoid giving a "false and damaging impression." Early in the play, Ibsen begins to show that Pastor Manders puts his concern about others' opinions above his "own inner conviction," if he has one.

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