Play: Ghosts , by Henrik Ibsen (1881) Characters: 2 women, 3 men Setting: Mrs. Alving's country estate by a large fjord in West Norway.
Summary: In the opening scene, Regina (Engstrand's daughter and Mrs. Alving's maid) is talking with her father Engstrand. He tells her that he wishes to establish a home for wayfaring seaman and seeks her to reside at the house with him for "atmosphere." She is obviously against this idea and gets rid of him in the most expedient manner. Then Pastor Manders enters the house to speak with Mrs. Alving about the dedication of her orphanage later that day. Many items of business are discussed and the reader discovers the hold which duty claims upon these people. Osvald, Mrs. Alving quote s son, has recently returned from Paris and is rather ill. He was sent away when he was six by his mother so that he would not contract the socially diseased attitude of his father, Captain Alving.
During the course of action we find that Osvald is quite taken with Regina and desires to marry her, or going against the strict rules of the area live with her and have children out of wedlock. At the end of act III, the orphanage burns to the ground by means that are unclear. Engstrand claims the he saw Pastor Manders snuff out a candle and the wick was tossed into wood shavings thus igniting the fire. Pastor Manders does not remember this, but Engstrand steps in and offers to take the blame as a kind of blackmail for money. In the end, Mrs. Alving and Osvald sit together with the orphanage burned and Regina gone. Osvald tells his mother that his illness is terminal and to help him die with morphine pills he has saved when the time comes. The final lines of the play are spoken by Osvald asking: "The sun - the sun." He sees the sun shining over his home for the first time and is not able to enjoy it.
Personal reaction and feelings: The title of the play misled me for a few pages, but I quickly realized what the author intended. The ghosts of the play seem to point out the way peoples personality live on in the bodies of others generally and in the posterity specifically. I felt empathetic towards Regina and Mrs. Alving and wanted to see them freed of their lots in life, but slowly realized that every soul has to stand alone in life. It is as if Mrs. Alving can finally see the light leading out of an abyss of darkness created through social "duty" and then the light is snuffed out by the very freedom she sought. The message of the play almost sounds fatalist, crying the tale of woe and imprisonment all of humankind is forced to endure. We may either live a socially acceptable life and remain confined and miserable within or seek the freedom of living truthfully and face the destruction of outside forces. This the conundrum faced by humans living together as a society. There will always be others to tell you what is right or wrong and yet there are no absolutes. What is deemed right for one may not necessarily be right for another. Ibsen understood this enigma of the human psyche and created scenes of a real nature upon the stage.
I am left wondering whether Osvald is really sick or merely tired of the struggle we call life. He represents people who live divergent lifestyles. Does he just give up his will to live? What makes life worth living? He returned home to seek the company Regina and that is taken from him. It is possible that Osvald may have lost the will to live and withdrew inside himself where the only opinion that matters is his own.
Symbolism seems very prevalent although I am unclear of the intent. Does the orphanage stand for something? When it burns down, does that demonstrate the resurgence of Captain Alving's grip? Weather is wonderfully manipulated. During the course of action the fjord is obscured by fog and rain, then darkness and at last the dawn is announced over the mountains. These references are very poetic and create a wonderful mood for the piece. It would be interesting to see this performed.