The play “Ghosts” by Henrik Ibsen is a play depicting the immorality that was inherent in the society during his time. Set in a country side home, the play revolves around a dramatic turn of events. It seems the events are in some way interconnected and tied up together by one single and common factor. The title “ghosts” is somewhat symbolic due to the repetitive nature of some attributes of the characters. It is seen from the play that Oswald, takes after his father, Mr. Alving’s behavior.
After having been away from home for a very long time, he comes back and begins smoking his father’s pipe. “Oswald Alving, in a light overcoat, hat in hand, and smoking a large meerschaum, enters by the door on the left; he stops in the doorway.” He goes ahead to admit that he has found his father’s pipe in his room. This is in some way ironical since Mrs. Helen Alving had intentionally sent Oswald away from home so that he would not inherit anything of Mr. Chamberlain Alving (Ibsen 13).
Mrs. Alving came to the decision of sending her son away in order for the son to be away from his father. Mr. Alving who apparently was a promiscuous man decides to go beyond boundaries by sleeping with their own housemaid Johanna right in the house. This is clearly evident form the conversation with pastor Manders with Mrs. Alving Yes; here in our own home. It was there… that I first came to know of it… I heard him say something softly to her…I heard my maidservant whisper, “let me go, Mr. Alving…”
The brief history about Oswald’s family, his father’s promiscuity, his father’s rearing of an illegitimate child with the maid servant just shows the extent to which the family system has been broken. This is why Mrs. Alving decides to send her son away at least to try and save him from the snares of immorality.
This shows that Mrs. Alving loved and cared for her son’s well being. From the conversation between his mother and pastor Manders, it is clear that Mrs. Alving cared for her son. It is not possible at that moment to conclude that Mrs. Alving could have killed her son by giving him morphine.
One thing that must be clear here is that although Mrs. Alving has sent away Oswald to protect his father Mr. Alving, Oswald, unfortunately, contracts or rather inherits syphilis from his parents (Ibsen 22). This means that in one way or another, Oswald must die, from the morphine he gets from the doctor or by the disease itself. Death here is inevitable. The sole question in focus here is what would be termed as the cause of his death.
It is also good to note that Mr. Alving was a highly respected man in the society. This is despite his immoral life which his wife Mrs. Alving has fought so hard to conceal. This shows that Mrs. Alving values integrity. It, therefore, follows that Mrs. Alving actually injects morphine into her son Oswald to protect the family’s integrity in the society (Ibsen 16). The author leaves it open for one to make his or her own conclusion. From the play’s scenes, Mrs. Alving’s values are brought into the light.
It is highly unlikely that she would have left her son to experience a painful and slow death while she could have just euthanized him. On careful analysis of the last scene, this is probably what she did…” I cannot bear it… where has he got them….” This is evidence in a way that Mrs. Alving probably kills her son with morphine out of mercy.
Ibsen, Henrik. Ghosts and Other Plays. London: Penguins Classics, 1881.