Ghosts | Study Guide

Henrik Ibsen

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Ghosts | Discussion Questions 21 - 30


Why is it significant that Mrs. Helene Alving tells Pastor Manders the truth about Captain Alving in Act 1 of Ghosts?

Mrs. Helene Alving's revelations are significant because she shows in Act 1 (Mrs. Alving's Secrets) that Pastor Manders, in fact, knows nothing about her life. She wants to tell him of all people that Captain Alving never reformed his ways the way Pastor Manders thinks he did. Pastor Manders is shocked to learn that Mrs. Alving's entire marriage was a "hollow mockery." Mrs. Alving can no longer bear the weight of the secrets she carries about her husband's "dissolute life." She also wants Pastor Manders to understand the life that she was forced to lead after he made her return to her marriage.

What is the significance of the setting in Act 1 of Ghosts in light of Mrs. Helene Alving's confessions to Pastor Manders?

In Act 1 (Mrs. Alving's Secrets), Mrs. Helene Alving explains to Pastor Manders that Captain Alving's greatest transgression was an affair with her maid that produced an illegitimate child. While Pastor Manders is shocked by this act, he is most horrified that the act happened "in this house!" "This house" is the stage set in which the entire play's action occurs. Mrs. Alving points to the door on the stage that leads to the dining room, where she and Pastor Manders will soon go for dinner. The setting is now not just where the present action takes place, but where defining action of the past occurred. The plot is governed by what has, does, and will happen in the singular space of Mrs. Alving's home.

At the end of Act 1 of Ghosts, how does Mrs. Helene Alving propose to get rid of the dead whose memory troubles her?

Mrs. Helene Alving is eager in Act 1 (Mrs. Alving's Secrets) to open the Captain Alving Memorial Orphanage she built to deflect interest in her husband's past. Once it is open, she believes "it will really seem as if the dead had never lived in this house." The dedication of the orphanage will be the last time Mrs. Alving must support her husband. It will be her last public presentation of the reputation she created for a man who was deeply flawed. Mrs. Alving has explained to Pastor Manders that her husband of 19 years drank too much and had affairs, one of which produced a child. When Mrs. Alving walks away from the orphanage, she is walking away from her troubled past.

In what ways does the revelation about Regina Engstrand's parentage in Act 1 of Ghosts affect the plot?

Regina Engstrand and Osvald Alving cannot have a romantic relationship because they are siblings. Osvald's actions have just signaled that he is interested in Regina, and his behavior introduces a new and central conflict in Act 1 (Mrs. Alving's Secrets). The plot is now more complicated, and the resolution of this problem moves to the foreground. The progression of the plot will now incorporate a moment when Regina and Osvald discover the truth—or not. The plot will unfold around their relationship and its demise: Regina's future is now unsure, a plot point that must also be addressed. Because the consequences of a relationship between Osvald and Regina are so dire, the spectators' and readers' emotional investment in the action deepens.

How does Pastor Manders's newly acquired knowledge that Osvald Alving and Regina Engstrand are siblings affect his plans for the future in Act 2 of Ghosts?

Pastor Manders must redirect his plans involving Regina Engstrand in Act 2 (After Dinner); he has been planning since the beginning of the play for Regina to return home to her father. Pastor Manders has expressed his belief that children, including Regina and Osvald Alving, should live with their parents. He thinks Regina has an obligation to live with Engstrand and provide moral guidance to him. She could also work for Engstrand if he opens his hotel for seamen. Now that Regina must leave Mrs. Alving's household, Pastor Manders's first thought is for Regina to return to Engstrand, but he realizes this is now impossible. Regina cannot live with a man who is not her father.

In what ways does Mrs. Helene Alving compare herself to her former maid, Joanna, in Act 2 of Ghosts?

Mrs. Helene Alving explains in Act 2 (After Dinner) that Joanna was given $300 to keep the secret that Captain Alving was the father of her child. Engstrand agreed to take the blame and marry her for the money. Mrs. Alving considers herself the same as Engstrand, because she married Captain Alving in part for his wealth. She knew he was a "fallen man" in his habits, just as Engstrand knew that Joanna had made disreputable choices. Mrs. Alving thinks she is no better than either Joanna or Engstrand, who both agreed to live with a lie for monetary gain; Mrs. Alving behaved similarly. Engstrand, Joanna, and Mrs. Alving all forsake the truth to live with lies that came with money.

How does Engstrand's marriage to Joanna contribute to the characterization of Pastor Manders in Act 2 of Ghosts?

When Pastor Manders learns in Act 2 (After Dinner) that the marriage between Engstrand and Joanna was a sham and that Engstrand is not Regina Engstrand's father, he is outraged. He feels duped by Engstrand, who had been "woefully penitent, accusing himself so bitterly" of having behaved badly. Pastor Manders's belief in Engstrand's story shows how easily Pastor Manders is willing to believe outward shows of piety, especially if they are extreme or excessive. The louder someone professes devotion to God or remorse for past sins, the quicker Pastor Manders believes them. He does not look too far beyond the surface of people's behavior, nor his own.

How does Mrs. Helene Alving's description of her marriage arrangement with Captain Alving in Act 2 of Ghosts illustrate the theme of individualism?

Mrs. Helene Alving married Captain Alving because her aunts and mother thought it was a good idea. He was wealthy and from a good family. Her family represented society and the accepted ideas of how a woman should choose a husband. However, in Act 2 (After Dinner), Mrs. Alving explains that the marriage felt more like a business transaction. She was never fully committed to Captain Alving, in part because she was in love with Pastor Manders. About her choice to marry Captain Alving, she says, "One thing is clear: I never really listened to myself." Mrs. Alving put aside her individual feelings to fulfill society's expectations.

What is the significance of Mrs. Helene Alving's observation in Act 2 of Ghosts that law and order are "the root of all our miseries on earth"?

Mrs. Helene Alving makes these comments in Act 2 (After Dinner) as she thinks about her life. She traded personal freedom and a chance to pursue her own happiness to follow the law and order of social convention. The consequences of her choice were unintended but still tragic. She covered up Captain Alving's affairs, which left her family open to the consequences of his irresponsible behavior. As she contemplates the crisis brewing around Osvald Alving and Regina Engstrand's potential relationship, she laments that she succumbed to the authority of law and order. She has grown weary of upholding a system of beliefs that can lead to such personal misery for so many.

In what ways does Mrs. Helene Alving consider herself a coward in Act 2 of Ghosts?

Mrs. Helene Alving calls herself a coward in Act 2 (After Dinner) because she did not tell Osvald Alving the truth about his father. She was too afraid of dashing his good opinion of Captain Alving, so she chose to lie to him instead. It was her "duty and obligation" to cultivate a perfect image that Osvald could love and honor, because it is a child's duty to admire the father. Mrs. Alving now thinks she should have told Osvald the truth about Captain Alving, just as she told Pastor Manders. She also considers herself a coward for not speaking up about her husband for fear people would judge her. She sought to avoid both pity and accusations that she was somehow to blame. Pastor Manders does, to some degree, hold Mrs. Alving responsible for her husband's degenerate life because of her attempt to flee her marriage. She reflects, "I never should have covered up Alving's life. It was all I dared do ... to spare myself." She insists that real courage would have been to make the truth known to everyone, including Osvald.

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