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Thread: Why the title 'Ghosts'?

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    the beloved: Gladys's Avatar
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    Why the title 'Ghosts'?

    The belief and prejudice of myopic society has fashioned the lives of each character in the play. Long ago, the dampening effect of this prejudice broke the spirit Captain Alving and Pastor Manders, while still young men. The ghosts of belief and prejudice continue to haunt Mrs Alving, now an enlightened and independent thinker.

    Her own prejudice had helped cripple her husband, dreadfully wound her son, Oswald, and hoodwink her maid, Regine. Following the terminally-ill Oswald's recent return from Paris, these ghosts stalk in the endless rain, in dreary and overcast days. Foremost among Mrs Alving's concerns is being a dutiful and loving mother to her sick son. Despite misgivings, she hopes she hopes to do more than her duty.

    But finally the sun comes out and the ghosts of prejudice vanish (like Hamlet's ghost vanished with the dawn). The truth of Mrs Alving's life now lies naked in the broad sunlight. Horrified, she says, 'No, no, no!−−Yes!−−no, no!'

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    Our wee Olympic swimmer Janine's Avatar
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    Well, I found this online about the title:

    The Significance of the Title in Ibsen's Ghosts
    By Selchie, High School Student

    The title of Ibsen's Ghosts is a signpost for the meaning of the text.
    An essay hosted at LiteratureClassics.com


    TASK: Why is the play called Ghosts? Discuss.

    The title of a text is often a signpost for the meaning of the text. This occurs in Henrik Ibsen’s controversial play, Ghosts. However, the Norwegian title of the play, “Those-Who-Walk-Again”, is more accurate in explaining the meaning of the text. There is no English equivalent, which is unfortunate. The theme of the “ghosts” in society is an image referred to throughout the text, and works on many levels. On one level, the “ghosts” relate only to the characters, and their particular events. However, the text is also a desperate warning to wider society, and one that is still significant to today’s audiences.

    The characters are haunted by “ghosts” that they are unable to control. There are five living characters in Ibsen’s Ghosts. Mrs Alving, a widow, and the play’s protagonist; Osvald, her son; Pastor Manders, her denied love; Regina, the maid and half-sister of Osvald; and Engstrand, Regina’s supposed father. Regina’s true father is Captain Alving. Both Captain Alving and Regina’s mother Johanna are dead, yet both are accountable for the unfolding tragedy. They are an example of the “ghosts”. Many of the characters are reminders of the past, such as Regina and Osvald. The events of the past also return to the characters, and cause them to uncover the truth of the situation, although this does not necessarily set them free. Finally, all are haunted by the ghosts of society’s expectations, which bind them to unhappy lives of “duty and honour”. These three areas must be examined in order to gain a full appreciation of the meaning of the text, and its message to wider society.

    Most of the characters are “ghosts”, and remind other characters of the past. The most celebrated “ghost” is Osvald. The first time he is introduced to the audience, he is seen to be living under the influence of his dead father, a reminder of Captain Alving to the world. Upon seeing Osvald, Pastor Manders describes the meeting as “like seeing his father in the flesh”. He goes further to say that Osvald has “inherited a worthy name from an industrious man”, and that it should be an “inspiration” to him. Already it can be surmised that Osvald is haunted by the “ghost” that is the memory of his father.

    Not only does this “ghost” influence the way Osvald behaves, as he tries to be worthy of the “beautiful illusion” he holds of his father, but it also influences the way people see him. In reality, Captain Alving was a “fallen man,” and led a “dissolute life” of “drinking bouts”, “whining self pity”, and womanising. Mrs Alving tried to keep his “irregularities” secret, to protect Osvald, who she feared would be “poisoned by the unwholesome atmosphere” in the Alving home. The Orphanage is built, not only to “dispel any rumours”, but also make sure that Osvald would not “inherit anything whatever from his father.” This last aim is futile. Although Osvald does not inherit money from his father, he inherits aspects of his personality. Osvald inherits his father’s “joy of living”, which he is able translates into the “joy of working”. He shows signs of drunkenness, as he drinks liquor to “keep the damp out”. He also makes advances to Regina, the maid, similar to the advances made by Captain Alving to Johanna. The women reacted in similar ways; Regina says, “Stop it, Osvald. Don’t be silly. Let me go.” Johanna is far more pious, pleading “Leave go sir, let me be”. Mrs Alving foregrounds the meaning of the title by saying, “Ghosts. The couple in the conservatory, walking again”.

    However, Osvald inherits something far worse, something from which his mother, for all her “sacrifice”, could not protect him. Through Captain Alving’s “dissolute life”, Osvald has inherited congenital syphilis. He has “been riddled from birth”. The audience, along with Osvald, is reminded that “the sins of the father are revisited on the sons.” The “ghosts” of the past cannot be escaped. Like his father, Osvald will die of syphilis. This fear consumes him, and is only abated when his mother promises to give him “a helping hand” to end the torment if he experiences another attack.

    Mrs Alving sent her son away at a young age, after the “final humiliation” from her husband. Captain Alving had “his way” with Johanna, the maid. The result was Regina, who is also influenced by the “ghosts” of her past. Johanna married Engstrand, and they brought Regina up, until Mrs Alving took her in as a maid. Regina was not aware of her true parentage, although she always suspected something of the sort, as Engstrand often reminded her of that she “was none of [his]”. When she is told, she is shocked that her mother “was like that”, even though Mrs Alving describes Johanna as a “fine woman”. Mrs Alving asks Regina not to “throw [herself] away”. Regina replies that “if Osvald takes after his father, I expect I take after my mother.” She does not feel as though she can outrun the “ghosts” of the past.

    Perhaps it is not so much that the characters are victims of the past, as they are victims of the lies they told to cover up the past. Mrs Alving tries to follow a life of “duty and obedience”. She covers up the “truth” with mistaken “ideals”. She tries to make the past disappear, as she builds an Orphanage in Captain Alving’s memory, to “dispel any rumours” of his “dissolute life”. Her goal is to “feel as if [her] late husband had never lived in [the] house”. However, because she was too much of a “coward” to face the “truth”, not only is her own life ruined, the lives of the people around her are also affected. However, she realises, too late, that she must “free” herself, as the “truth will come out”.

    During the play, the “ghosts” of past events takes “cruel revenge” upon the characters, who have to face their greatest fears. Pastor Manders and Mrs Alving must face the “crime” of their denied love. Regina finally understands her true parentage. Osvald faces his “deadly fear” of syphilis. They all come to know of Captain Alving’s “debauchery”, and society’s hypocrisy. However, for most of them, the realisation comes too late. Mrs Alving loses everything. Still there is the unanswered question of whether she will give the “helping hand” to her son. If she does so, will it put the “ghosts” to rest, or will it create yet another case of guilt?

    Ibsen tried to make the audience understand that such issues must be faced, or they would return to exact “cruel revenge” upon their victims. This is foregrounded in the way the Orphanage burns down. The “beautiful illusion” of the memorial to the “industrious” Captain Alving burns “to the ground” with “nothing to save”. The truth is slowly uncovered. Osvald proclaims that “everything will burn, until there is nothing to remind people of my father.” In this way, lies will slowly destroy themselves, as they are a “chainstitch”. If “ a single stitch” is unpicked, “the whole [facade will] unravel.” The final memorial to Captain Alving is perhaps more fitting. Engstrand’s “The Captain Alving Home”, a brothel for “seafaring men”, is far more “worthy of his memory”.

    The “ghosts” of society’s beliefs and values, and their affect on the individual, is central to the text. Mrs Alving is aware that she is trapped by social opinion. She knows that society believes that “it’s not a wife’s place to judge her husband”, and that she holds very little power. She reads “terrible, subversive, free-thinking” books, which help her to “explain…a lot of the things [she has] been thinking.” Pastor Manders is used to represent the hypocrisy and conservativeness of society. He tells Mrs Alving that “craving for happiness…is a sign of an unruly spirit,” and that she has “no right to offend public opinion”. When Pastor Manders is challenged over his “personal opinions” of the “free-thinking books”, he replies that there are times in life “when one must rely upon the opinions of others.”

    This spiral of conformity, which almost suffocates Mrs Alving’s individuality, is broken for a moment by her passionate outburst when she realises that she “is haunted by ghosts.” She declares that she “is inclined to think that we are all ghosts”, that all people are both the victims and the supporters of the constraints of society. Mrs Alving comes to believe that all people are loaded with “all sorts of old dead ideas and old dead beliefs”. They can’t “rid [themselves] of them”. She also realises how “pitifully afraid [people are] of the light” or the truth. People want to be free of the debilitating constraints of society, but are afraid to cast off the shadows, and step into the “light” of “truth”, where they may have to face issues long buried. Mrs Alving becomes aware that people believe that life is “a vale of tears…and [that people] do [their] best to make it one.” She wants to find the “joy of living” which Osvald describes, but instead she “struggles with ghosts, both inside and out.”

    Ibsen’s Ghosts is not just a tragedy for the characters involved, it is a warning for the world at large. The play was one of Ibsen’s most controversial works, described by one critic as “an open sewer”. It was controversial because it forced audiences to face issues they would prefer to ignore. Venereal disease, euthanasia, incest, the role of women, the fallibility of the Church, the corruption of the society and its affect upon the individual, were all discussed in the play. It was a warning to people everywhere, people who were “afraid of the light”. It is still a warning, and one that should not be taken lightly. Society still robs the individual of power. People are still “struggling with ghosts”. Many issues, such as homosexuality, child abuse, mental illnesses, Indigenous Reconcilliation, and those mentioned above, are still ignored by society at large. The question that Ibsen poses to his audiences is; can we outrun the “ghosts” of the past forever, or will they return and threaten to destroy the very society that fosters them?

    Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts was one of the most controversial plays ever written, and helped to immortalise him as the “father of modern theatre”. The English title is a poor substitute for the literal translation “Those-Who-Walk-Again”, in terms of meaning. However, the title is a signpost for the true meaning of the text. Not only is it the story of the tragic undoing of a courageous “coward” of a woman, the play serves as a warning to the world at large. We must address the “ghosts” haunting society, and not be “so pitifully afraid of the light”. If such issues are not addressed, “the sins of the father [will be] revisited on the sons” and the consequences may destroy those that have unsuccessfully sought to avoid them.


    BIBLIOGRAPHY
    Carter, W. and Bowen, J. (1996). Home Guide to Health and Medicine. Australia: The Macquarie Library.

    Haydn, H. and Fuller, E. (1978). Thesaurus of Book Digests. New York: Avenel Books.

    Ibsen, H. translated by Watts, P. (1964). Ghosts and Other Plays. England: Clays Ltd.

    Magnusson, M. (1990). Chambers Biographical Dictionary. New York: W & R Chambers.
    "It's so mysterious, the land of tears."

    Chapter 7, The Little Prince ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

  3. #3
    the beloved: Gladys's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Janine View Post
    Well, I found this online about the title
    A well written essay that seems to duck the hard issues.

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    Our wee Olympic swimmer Janine's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gladys View Post
    A well written essay that seems to duck the hard issues.
    True; but did you notice the title and what it was originally translated as - “Those-Who-Walk-Again”? I also read another commentary in which Ibsen himself preferred this translation to the title "Ghosts". I can't seem to find that commentary though. I will hunt further for it, but it did quote Ibsen as actually stating it. So the title "Ghosts" is somewhat inacurate.
    Last edited by Janine; 02-25-2009 at 09:08 PM.
    "It's so mysterious, the land of tears."

    Chapter 7, The Little Prince ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

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    the beloved: Gladys's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Janine View Post
    True; but did you notice the title and what it was originally translated as - “Those-Who-Walk-Again”?
    Is “Those-Who-Walk-Again” equivalent to "Our past that haunts us"?

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    Bibliophile JBI's Avatar
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    It's the ghost of the past, notably the father that haunt the play - the very premise of making a monument for him is a way to erase the ghosts, which come back to haunt in the form of syphilis and an illegitimate child, eventually culminating in the catastrophic ending.

    It's been a while, so I don't remember the names, but I think I got the details right?
    Last edited by JBI; 03-19-2009 at 12:21 AM.

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    the beloved: Gladys's Avatar
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    'Absent thee from felicity awhile'

    Quote Originally Posted by JBI View Post
    It's the ghost of the [past], notably the father that haunt the play - the very premise of making a monument for him is a way to erase the ghosts, which come back to haunt in the form of syphilis and an illegitimate child, eventually culminating in the catastrophic ending.
    I see better now, if imperfectly.

    Since returning to Mrs Alving's house on a large fjord in Western Norway, Oswald has experienced months of incessant bad weather. With dawn sunlight now streaming through the conservatory windows, a fragile Oswald seated with his back to the sun, sees and relives his father's adultery with the maid, Johanna, in that very room two decades earlier. 'In speechless terror', Mrs Alving realises that the Captain's debauched ghost has shattered her ailing son: "Now you will be able to see your home properly".

    Is Oswald's 'Mother, give me the sun' a 7-yr-old child's pathetic request for the joy of life in a Norwegian den of iniquity, or the death-wish of an invalid seeking that 'felicity', which Hamlet denied to good Horatio?

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    Our wee Olympic swimmer Janine's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gladys View Post
    I see better now, if imperfectly.

    Since returning to Mrs Alving's house on a large fjord in Western Norway, Oswald has experienced months of incessant bad weather. With dawn sunlight now streaming through the conservatory windows, a fragile Oswald seated with his back to the sun, sees and relives his father's adultery with the maid, Johanna, in that very room two decades earlier. 'In speechless terror', Mrs Alving realises that the Captain's debauched ghost has shattered her ailing son: "Now you will be able to see your home properly".

    Is Oswald's 'Mother, give me the sun' a 7-yr-old child's pathetic request for the joy of life in a Norwegian den of iniquity, or the death-wish of an invalid seeking that 'felicity', which Hamlet denied to good Horatio?
    Gladys, Glad to see you post again. I like what you wrote here and agree for the most part. The "Hamlet" parallels are of interest to me. I can see many more but his is a good point you bring up about the sun and 'felicity'.

    Did you hear about the actress Natashia Richardson's sudden and tragic death today? She is in the production I have been watching of "Ghosts". She plays Regina. I am devasted. I liked and admired her so much as an actress and feel so badly she is gone; a great talent has been lost. Worst of all she leaves behind her loving husband and two young sons. She was too young to die; it shows that life can turn on a split second. How fragile life is. Now when I watch the production again, it will have even more poignancy/sadness for me.

    I wanted to read "Brand" but found my own book does not contain that particular play. I could watch it on the DVD version but my player was on the blink and I ordered a new one and have not yet gotten it connected. I will let you know when I do. I should also make it to my library Friday and see if they have the play in their one book they own of Ibsen plays.
    "It's so mysterious, the land of tears."

    Chapter 7, The Little Prince ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

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    the beloved: Gladys's Avatar
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    Death, Janine, is always a sadness. Incidentally, did not the heroic Nora Helmer walk out on 'two young sons'?

    Brand may prove as hard to borrow as 'Emperor and Galilean', although I will finally acquire the latter this evening via a university library. To whet your appetite, you may wish to read the opening of Brand - Henrik Ibsen. Its introduction contains the following:

    Brand was written in the summer of 1865, at Anccia, near Rome. Fifteen months before, Ibsen had left Christiania, a voluntary exile, eager to escape from the narrow Scandinavian world, and burning with the sense of national disgrace Denmark was in the throes of the heroic but hopeless struggle to which her northern kinsmen had sent only a handful of volunteers...

    On arriving at Rome he turned resolutely away from these rankling memories, broke all the bonds that tied him to his country, plunged into the study of the ancient world, and made preparation for that colossal drama on the Emperor Julian which eight years later saw the light.

    But the genius of the North held him in too strong a grip. "Never have I seen the Home and its life so fully, so clearly, so near by," he told the Christiania students in 1873, "as precisely from a distance and in absence."
    Last edited by Gladys; 03-19-2009 at 06:03 PM. Reason: whet not wet!

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    the beloved: Gladys's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JBI View Post
    It's the ghost of the past, notably the father that haunt the play - the very premise of making a monument for him is a way to erase the ghosts, which come back to haunt in the form of syphilis and an illegitimate child, eventually culminating in the catastrophic ending.
    Perhaps there is a further ghost. We know nothing of the last days of Chamberlain Alving who, almost certainly, died of syphilis a decade earlier. Had Helene Alving also administered a morphine overdose to her syphilitic husband? Does she see herself as a double murderer?

    Ibsen had fled his Norway for Rome seventeen years earlier. In tarrying too long in a bleak and sterile Norwegian town, deep in the Western fjords, Mrs Alving may feel she has condemned both her husband and son to joyless death. If so, her 'speechless horror' is more understandable.

  11. #11
    There's definitely a Hamlet parallel- the way Oswald idolises his dead father, and the relationship between him and his mother.

    And definitely elements of Greek tragedy.

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    the beloved: Gladys's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kelby_lake View Post
    There's definitely a Hamlet parallel- the way Oswald idolises his dead father
    And yet, towards the end, Oswald seems to deny the enduring importance of his father's memory and legacy. The parallel with Gertrude fails in that Mrs Alving appeared to be sexually beyond reproach and ever faithful to her dead husband's memory. At least, so Oswald always believed.
    "Love does not alter the beloved, it alters itself"

  13. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by Gladys View Post
    The parallel with Gertrude fails in that Mrs Alving appeared to be sexually beyond reproach and ever faithful to her dead husband's memory. At least, so Oswald always believed.
    I mean the Oedipal aspects- and no, I don't mean that he fancies his mother, I'm talking about it in its most basic principle. Oswald is unable to form proper relationships with women because Mrs Alving's mothering has suffocated him, and I think he resents her for it. Hamlet is unable to form proper relationships with women because of his mother's betrayal (presumably he saw them when they were having an affair, otherwise why would he assume that there would be a sexual aspect to the relationship?).

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    the beloved: Gladys's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kelby_lake View Post
    Oswald is unable to form proper relationships with women because Mrs Alving's mothering has suffocated him, and I think he resents her for it.
    What's the evidence that Oswald is unable to form proper relationships with women or that Mrs Alving's mothering has suffocated him?

    My reading of the play suggests the young artist Oswald is enjoying life with close friends in sunny Paris until the death sentence of syphilis is pronounced by his doctor. The main problem for Oswald is prospect of awful isolation in the catatonic vacuum that often precedes death. More awful because Oswald has already experienced unspeakable isolation and loneliness as a child. In fear and desperation he returns to live in rainy Norway, for the first time since childhood.

    Returning he is again confronted with the cold austerity of Norwegian society and, much worse, with the caring but joyless mother who chose to send him away as a seven-year-old. His hopes rest on a liaison with her carefree servant girl, Regine, who might be prepared to ease the pain and loneliness of a syphilitics' last months on earth. But the disenchanted Regine flees!

    Facing chronic immobilisation in the final phase of tertiary syphilis, Oswald is starkly reminded of his joyless childhood in Norway, and the terror and desolation of being abandoned: left utterly helpless and hopeless for the second time by his mother, and once again entombed with her in a dark Nordic world without joy. The first sunrise in months shows Oswald the terrible home of his childhood!

    The thrust of the play seems to be that upright Mrs Alving learns, too late, that 'the good life' in a dissolute and corrupt Norway needs to be more than stoic adherence to probity and duty.
    "Love does not alter the beloved, it alters itself"

  15. #15
    Mrs Alving is very protective of her son- bizarre how she'd allow him to marry his half-sister. Perhaps because that might offer him escape.

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