What is the major difference between Ibsen’s A Doll’s House and Ghosts?
Ibsen gave a whole new impetus to the drama of twentieth century. Two of his most famous plays A Doll’s House (1879) and Ghosts (1881) grabbed a lot of attention in early twentieth century. The plays have several common features and complement each other. In fact Ibsen said that A Doll’s House acts as “an introduction” to Ghosts. A Doll’s House portrays explicitly the incongruous condition of women in the patriarchal society. It is the story of a woman who chooses to leave her house, the cozy world to which her identity was linked and enter the bizarre world of opportunities. On the other hand, Ghosts portrays a woman who chooses to maintain her identity given by the society and stays in the cozy world forever. Mrs Alving knows the reality of her situation but refuses to rebel and suffers as a consequence.
How does Ghosts follow the tradition of Naturalism?
Forefathers of Scientific Naturalism are Kepler, Bacon and Descartes who gave importance to observation and experiment to understand the world. Darwin, Lamarck and Herbert Spencer followed the first batch and believed in the theory of organic evolution. All these insurgents and their revolutionary ideas challenged the Bible. Ibsen's Ghosts is naturalistic as the play is weaved keeping in mind the theories proposed by these naturalists. Oswald could not survive in unscrupulous Norwegian society because he was not the “fittest”. In this sense, the play iterate Darwin’s theory of “Survival of the Fittest”. Lamarck’s idea that of mutation stating that one species can physically develop from other and also inherit some non-evident features is also visible in Ibsen’s play. Oswald inherits his disease from his father and thus suffers. Herbert Spensor gave a philosophic bent to the theory of evolution and says that there is a vital force in nature that helps in evolution. He places human beings in context to the society. Ibsen saw this “vital force” in state or nation which should protect the rights and freedom of all people. Oswald’s freedom can only be achieved in Paris and he feels smothered at his house because of this reason. Ibsen’s play is a naturalistic play in which characters face large, uncontrollable forces and man is shown to be at the mercy of environment. Also, naturalism shows a cause- effect relation. In Ghosts, there is a natural progression of the scene and the end that comes to the audience is natural and the audience is not surprised.
Explain the significance of the symbol of ‘ghosts’ in the play.
In every Ibsenian drama, society is a dead institution and is no longer relevant to the quotidian. It is this reason that this play has been entitled as ‘Ghosts’. It is the society, its dead customs and morals which act as ghosts haunting and terrifying people. Helen Alving told Pastor Manders that she saw ghosts while listening to the conversation of Oswald and Regina. These ghosts are nothing but the “old, long dead ideas, all kinds of old, long dead beliefs” which “cling” to everyone. The title of the play reinforces the main theme of the play- clash between moral courage and convention. The past of the characters haunt their present in the form of “ghosts” to deteriorate them and keep them away from the “joy of living”.
Comment on the opening scene of the Ghosts.
It is raining while the play opens and Regina is trying to prevent his shabby and coarse father to enter the house. Newspapers and magazines are lying on the table indicating that someone is interesting in contemporary reading. It is none but Mrs. Alving who reads the books on feminism but is herself a voluntary victim of the patriarchal world. The first sound in the play is made by Engstrand who has a deformed leg which makes noise because of the wooden floor. While Regina shows her knowledge of French, he uses colloquial language and typical metaphors so that he can hide his crimes in this society. The gestures, dialogues and social alertness of class show hypocrisy of society. The interaction between Regina and Engstrand shows how no relation is ideal and those that are thought to be are questionable. It is here that the audience is already introduced to Pastor Manders, Mrs. Alving and Oswald without their being present on the stage. Rain is the metaphor of stark reality of outside threatening to enter the cosmetic inside world and is brought inside by Engstrand through his shoes. The delicate plants in the conservatory present on the stage are a metaphor of the world that will soon collapse. Hence following the realistic tradition, the opening scene helps the audience in making up their minds for the coming catastrophe.
Comment on the relationship between Oswald and Regina.
Oswald describes Regina in superlative terms. While class division is the reality of the time, he describes a common girl who belongs to a low class in prodigiously. He is the first man and probably the only man who values Regina for her health and vigor and not sexually. It is noteworthy that Oswald does not admire her because of her morals or ideals but because she embodies youth and robustness, something he can never achieve. He wants Regina as a “helping hand” so that he can achieve salvation which means “joy of living” for him. Throughout Regina is shown to be a practical woman who does not even mind entering the world of prostitution after realizing that Oswald can never stay with her and she should move on without regretting.
In what ways does Ibsen portray the female characters in Ghosts?
Mrs Alving, the female lead in the play fights the dictates of the society in her own way. She tries to understand new ideas and orient those in her own way. She never wants to understand the truth. She confronts her son who is the metaphor of truth like a wounded soldier who cannot retaliate. Her entire life is a disaster because she not only takes help of lies but also uses others to comfort herself. She knows the reality, questions and yet doesn’t act. Other female characters in the play are Regina and Johanna. They do not have the luxury of money or upper class and have never got the social respect that Mrs. Alving receives. Their struggle is even more as they grapple not only for respect but also for sustenance of themselves. This is the reason they uses everything they can to climb the social ladder. Regina uses social pretenses of beautiful dresses and mannerisms and even her own sex to achieve these. Even Johanna is not shown as a victim. She even thought that she could secure herself by getting engaged with Mr. Alving. The female characters in Ibsen’s Ghosts are unconventional and know how to question and manage to survive in the ravenous world.
How has Ibsen dealt with the institution of marriage in his play Ghosts?
Institution of marriage is exposed by Ibsen through the three women characters. Marriage is shown as a hindrance to self-fulfillment in one way or the other for the women. Marriage proves to be detrimental as long as the women are scared of the “ghosts” of the society. This is the reason why Mrs. Alving is dejected and regretful throughout. Marriage does not prove to be life-affirming for Regina and Johanna too.
Write a note on the language used in Ghosts.
Language in a work of art shows how the society affects individuals as the characters speak the way society wants them to. Through their way of speaking, they expose the society because throughout they live by the traditions and ideals which they have not studied at an individual level. In the play, audience notices that the characters speak neat, predictable and well-patterned language. What happens to the characters who cannot speak such language? They make their own language and hence are more spontaneous like Oswald. His speeches are unpredictable, not well-mannered and filled with exclamation marks. People like Oswald are so true to themselves and the society has no space for ultimate, vital reality hence they are completed discarded. Those who speak conventionally actually reiterate the power of society which it holds over them. To get rid of this power, one says “pooh!” like Regina does and unlike Mrs. Alving who deliver long speeches.
How does the setting of the play help in bringing out the main themes of the Ghosts?
Mrs Alving’s room is set conventionally in the play. It seems that it is a comfortable living room but actually it is not. It is a usual, normal and naturalistic setting. The fact is that the society creeps and traps through these normal actions. Through this conventional setting, Ibsen shows how the society traps secretly. The frame of the play shows dominance of society which gives standard ideas of “decency”. One had to travel through the artificial conservatory to reach the outside world where it is raining. This is used at a metaphorical level to show manifest that only after traveling through artificiality one can reach the truth. The darkness symbolizes the growing convalescence of Oswald.
What prompts Mrs. Alving to set up the orphanage as a memorial to her husband?
Mrs. Alving had constructed a stunning image of Mr. Alving for Oswald through the letter she used to send to him. She decided to set up the orphanage as a memorial to her husband to impart the same image in the society too. It is the false image that she had to impart to maintain the hollowness of reputation. The society too never guides but encourages living by lies in public and private sphere. This is what Pastor Manders does. It is in this way that the hypocrisy of the society becomes conspicuous. It forces to maintain the law and order and also to hide the truth. One has to survive by building an image in the society. This image becomes endangered with the burning of the orphanage making Mrs. Alving anxious.
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