The Ghost Sonata

The Ghost Sonata Summary and Analysis of Part 3


Scene 2. Inside the Round Room. The Girl is reading in the Hyacinth Room, while the Colonel sits in the Green Room, writing. Bengtsson, the Colonel's servant, enters from the hall with Johansson, who is now dressed as a waiter. Bengtsson asks Johansson if he has ever served tea in the house, and Johansson says he has long dreamed of entering the house.

Bengtsson tells Johansson that the family is going to have one of their ghost suppers that evening. He describes it, saying, "they drink tea and don't say a word—or else the Colonel does all the talking. And they crunch their biscuits, all at the same time. It sounds like rats in an attic...They look like ghosts. And they've kept this up for 20 years, always the same people saying the same things or saying nothing at all for fear of being found out."

Bengtsson then signals to a papered door nearby, where he says the mistress of the house, who has gone insane, sits. He opens the door to show Johansson. The woman is sitting there, "white and shriveled into a mummy." The mummy orders him to shut the door, but Bengtsson speaks to her as though she were a parrot, calling her Pretty Polly. "She thinks she's a parrot, and maybe she's right," Bengtsson says. He tells Johansson that the mummy has been in the room for 40 years, and that her daughter is sick.

"...It's said that when she was 35 she looked 19, and that's what she made the Colonel believe she was—here in this very house," Bengtsson says, before pointing out a black screen nearby, called a "death screen" that they put around someone when they are about to die. They discuss the fact that the Colonel and his daughter took a liking to the Student at the opera, and so he is now accompanying them home. Bengtsson becomes curious about Johansson's master, and asks about him. Johansson doesn't say much, but suggests that the Old Man will come to the house, "uninvited—if need be."

No sooner has he said this than the Old Man appears in the hall, on crutches, and listens to Johansson and Bengtsson's conversation for a moment, while they discuss the fact that he is a devil and a wizard. Suddenly, he grabs Johansson by the ear and orders Bengtsson to announce his arrival to the Colonel. Bengtsson goes to announce the Old Man's arrival, as the Old Man tells Johansson to leave the room, before admiring the statue and calling it "Amelia."

Suddenly, the Mummy cries out from her small chamber. "Are you there, Jacob?" she calls, and the Old Man jumps. Eventually, the Mummy goes over to the Old Man and pulls his wig. She identifies him as Jacob and herself as Amelia, his old love, which horrifies him. "Life opens one's eyes, does it not?" she says, menacingly, and the Old Man asks where their child is. The Mummy points to the Girl in the Hyacinth Room. The Mummy tells the Old Man that one day she told the Colonel the truth, that their daughter was in fact fathered by the Old Man, and it completely ruined their relationship. "My mother made me do that. I was not to blame. And in our crime, you played the biggest part," the Mummy says.

The Old Man fires back, "Your husband caused that crime, when he took my fiancée from me." The Mummy suspects that he has come to kill the Colonel, and tells him he must not, or he will die. "You want to marry her to that student. Why? He is nothing and has nothing," she says, but the Old Man assures her that the Student will become rich through him. The Mummy tells him that the Baron, the man who is getting divorced in order to marry the Caretaker's wife, and the former lover of the Mummy, is coming to dinner that evening. She also tells the Old Man that his former fiancée, who was seduced by the Colonel, is also coming.

When the Old Man asks the Mummy why she has stayed with the Colonel, she replies, "Crime and secrets and guilt bind us together. We have broken our bonds and gone our own ways, times without number, but we are always drawn together again."

As the Colonel enters, the Mummy goes to the Hyacinth Room, where the Girl, Adele, is. When the Colonel enters, he orders the Old Man to sit down and references a letter that the Old Man sent him asking for repayment. "Let us not mention the money," the Old Man says, "Just bear with me in your house as a guest." Then, he requests that the Colonel dismiss Bengtsson as his servant, saying, "He is not the man he appears to be."


This section scene transports the audience into the house outside of which the characters have been standing. It is a lavish and well-equipped home, with statues, mahogany, and other fineries, but there is something off-putting about it. Indeed, at the top of the second scene, the servants are preparing for a ghost supper, named for the fact that everyone in the family looks like ghosts and barely speak.

Strindberg stages a division not only between the ghostly world and the world of the living, but also between the ruling class and the lower class. The second scene begins with a lengthy scene between two servants, Bengtsson and Johannson, as they candidly discuss the behavior of their superiors. The servants may lack the financial privilege of their masters, but they have access to privileged information, which they share with one another privately. Strindberg's work often examined the relations between classes, the ways that economic power informed human social dynamics, and this is on display even in this markedly surreal ghost story.

The play examines, in a symbolic and non-literal way, the ways that the world of the living can begin to mimic the world of the dead, particularly within the family unit. Strindberg had a notoriously negative view of family life, having been raised in an unforgiving and tragic family environment as a child. The Ghost Sonata explores the tragedy of confinement within the family home, as reflected in Bengtsson's diagnosis of the Colonel's family ills: "You see, when a house gets old, it grows moldy, and when people stay a long time together and torment each other they go mad."

The web that binds the characters together is a convoluted and scandalous one, filled with affairs, betrayals, and abuse. The Mummy, now a shell of a woman, is the former lover of the Old Man, and the dinner at the house is being attended by a man who is leaving his wife for the Caretaker's Wife—who is also the Old Man's former fiancée. The world of the play is a world of complex coincidences, in which nothing is as it seems, yet events conspire to bring enemies and allies together in unusual circumstances.

The mysterious conflict between the Old Man and the Colonel begins to come to a head in this section of the play. The Old Man, who Johansson says can slip through locked doors, manages to infiltrate the house and invite himself to the ghost supper that evening. The Old Man, who the servants describe as both a devil and a wizard, is nefarious in spite of his feeble frame and advanced age, able to create unease wherever he goes and concoct vindictive plots against those who have wronged him.