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Ghosts | Study Guide

Henrik Ibsen

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Ghosts | Discussion Questions 31 - 40


How do the views of Pastor Manders and Mrs. Helene Alving in Act 2 of Ghosts differ regarding Mrs. Alving's suggestion that Osvald Alving and Regina Engstrand form a relationship?

Their views in Act 2 (After Dinner) are entirely different. Although Mrs. Helene Alving does not want such a relationship, she would be able to tolerate it if she "knew he was serious about it, and that it would make him happy." She is trying to honor Osvald Alving's path toward happiness, even if it is beyond what is acceptable to society. She wants him to do with his life what she did not do for herself. Her desire to say to Osvald, "Marry her, or live any way you like—but just be honest together" expresses the philosophy that she herself believes at this point in her life. She is starting to value living honestly over living with lies but is still too much a self-described coward to give Osvald and Regina her blessing. Pastor Manders, however, is appalled at her suggestion that Osvald and Regina could have any kind of romantic relationship. It would be "barbarous" and "unheard of." He is grateful that she will not allow such a "monstrous union." What she calls cowardice, he sees as moral strength.

What do Mrs. Helene Alving's ghosts symbolize in Ghosts?

The ghosts that haunt Mrs. Helene Alving in Act 2 (After Dinner) symbolize both memories and outdated ideas. When she hears Osvald Alving making inappropriate advances toward Regina Engstrand, she is haunted by the memory of Captain Alving and Joanna. But she goes beyond the ghosts of people to say that they are all haunted by outdated ideas. "They aren't alive in us," she explains, "but they hang on all the same." These ideas determine values and behavior, and prevent people from thinking new thoughts and reaching their full potential. She extends this symbol beyond her own life. "They must be haunting the whole country, ghosts everywhere," she claims. Mrs. Alving understands that her society as a whole is the keeper and enforcer of ideas that suppress the individual.

In Act 2 of Ghosts, how do Pastor Manders and Mrs. Helene Alving each interpret his rejection of her early in her marriage?

In his own view, Pastor Manders faced the "hardest battle" of his life when she went to him distracted, saying, "Here I am, take me!" His choice to send her away, back to her husband, was the "greatest victory" he has known. He placed his duty to the church and society above his desire for personal fulfillment. Then he convinced Mrs. Helene Alving to do the same, and she returned to Captain Alving. However, Mrs. Alving considers this rejection his "most shameful defeat" and "a crime against us both." She now, in Act 2 (After Dinner), thinks he was the coward for not honoring the love they had for each other.

In Act 2 of Ghosts, how does Engstrand's idea to hold a prayer meeting with the other craftsmen contribute to his characterization?

In Act 2 (Engstrand Tells All), Engstrand once again cultivates an image of godly, thoughtful behavior. His frequent declarations that he is a sinner and has a conscience that "does turn pretty nasty at times" make him seem honest in his self-assessment. But although his need for repentance is real, his piety is not. Engstrand's suggestion to gather fellow craftsmen for prayer is hypocritical. He does not really care about communion with the divine, but he does care about impressing Pastor Manders. Engstrand knows that the pastor readily believes in behavior that seems to reflect accepted social convention. The prayer meeting is Engstrand's finishing touch on the false front he presents to Pastor Manders.

In Act 2 of Ghosts, how is the plot affected by Engstrand's confession to Pastor Manders that Engstrand took the blame for being Regina Engstrand's father?

In Act 2 (Engstrand Tells All), Pastor Manders is forced to take action after Engstrand's admission of the truth about Regina Engstrand and his manipulation of Pastor Manders. First the pastor asks Engstrand for forgiveness. Engstrand convinces the pastor that his lifetime of lying was to avoid shaming Joanna and calling attention to himself. Pastor Manders thinks he has made an error in judging Engstrand, which leads him to act on Engstrand's behalf. Pastor Manders agrees to help Engstrand with his proposed sailors' hotel. The pastor also agrees to meet Engstrand for the prayer meeting at the orphanage. Because Engstrand is able to save his relationship with Pastor Manders, crucial action advances the plot.

Why is it significant that Pastor Manders tells Engstrand to light candles at the orphanage in preparation for the prayer meeting in Act 2 of Ghosts?

Matches, fire, and the orphanage have been connected before in the play. Engstrand had started a fire at the orphanage days earlier by carelessly discarding a match. Now Engstrand again will be using a match in the orphanage, so the earlier incident now looks like foreshadowing. That the revelation of the first fire came in a conversation about not insuring the orphanage is even more ominous. Engstrand's lighting candles in Act 2 (Engstrand Tells All) creates suspense created by his past actions.

In Act 2 of Ghosts, what is the significance of Osvald Alving's observation, "Not a glimmer of sunlight the whole day long"?

Osvald Alving's comment in Act 2 (Osvald, Regina, and the Fire) is made after having dinner with Mrs. Helene Alving and Pastor Manders. He has been sitting at the table drinking heavily long after the meal ended. Osvald complains that the weather is too dreary for a walk. Then he makes a connection between "all this murk" and not being able to accomplish anything. He equates his inability to work with the absence of the sun. The lack of sunlight makes him agitated and impatient. Osvald implies that the rain of Norway is in direct opposition to the sun of Paris, where he was able to work happily and his creativity flourished. The sun is presented as a symbol of creativity and health.

In Act 2 of Ghosts, why is Osvald Alving devastated when he exclaims, "It's my mind that's broken down!"?

Osvald Alving panics when he starts to feel mentally fragile in Act 2 (Osvald, Regina, and the Fire). He is distraught for several reasons: he is convinced he will never work again because his mind is becoming too unstable to focus, and his artistic inspiration has fled. Work is crucial for Osvald, and without it, his existence is a "living death." Osvald also agonizes about how he has gotten to this point. He claims not to understand his debilitation, having never lived a "wild life." He is confused about how he could suffer the consequences for the actions of others. There are clues that his mental breakdown is more than it seems, but he rejects the diagnosis given by his doctor because it suggests his father was the one who lived the wild life.

In Act 2 of Ghosts, why is it significant that Osvald Alving declares affection for Regina Engstrand because of "the joy of life" that was in her?

In Act 2 (Osvald, Regina, and the Fire), Osvald Alving uses one of the key phrases in the play, "the joy of life." The phrase is synonymous with freedom, personal choice and fulfillment, and happiness. Osvald is the spokesperson for this ideal based on what he has seen and experienced outside his country. As his health fails, he is increasingly desperate to regain this feeling. His sees Regina Engstrand as his lifeline back to happiness. Her physical vitality is appealing to him as he becomes frailer in mind and body. Her desire to move beyond duty and class restrictions represents the joy of life as Osvald defines it.

In Act 2 of Ghosts, why does Pastor Manders discourage Mrs. Helene Alving from telling Osvald Alving and Regina Engstrand the truth about their relationship?

In Act 2 (Osvald, Regina, and the Fire), Pastor Manders is horrified that Osvald Alving and Regina Engstrand intend to get married. But he is even more dismayed that Mrs. Helene Alving wants to tell them the truth. He advises against admitting the truth, because it is such a scandalous revelation. The truth would reveal Captain Alving's true behavior, and everyone would know that his good reputation was false, which would tarnish the worth of the orphanage built in his honor. Pastor Manders is also worried that he would be judged unfavorably because of his close association with Captain Alving and the orphanage. By wanting to keep the truth about Osvald and Regina hidden, Pastor Manders is more interested in appearances than in living honestly or providing a sure way to keep Osvald and Regina apart.

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