Ghosts

Ghosts Act One Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
As Regine goes about her duties one morning as a maid in Mrs. Helene Alving’s home, her father, Jacob Engstrand, comes in from the rain to speak with her. Upon seeing him, she tells him to stay outside because he’s wet, and he chastises her for trying to turn away her own father. Still, she insists that the noise of his wood-soled shoes will wake Oswald Alving, who has recently come home for the first time in a long while. Engstrand, for his part, is appalled to hear that Oswald is still sleeping, saying that he himself was out late drinking but still managed to wake up early to work on finishing the nearby orphanage, a memorial to Mrs. Alving’s late husband, Captain Alving. The orphanage will open the following day, so Engstrand—the carpenter—has spent the morning putting the final touches on the structure.
Regine’s unwillingness to welcome her father into Mrs. Alving’s house reveals her desire to transform herself and distance herself from Engstrand. The fact that Mrs. Alving has a maid and has ordered the construction of an orphanage in her husband’s name shows the audience that she is a rich woman—the kind of person Regine likely wants to become. Because of this desire to be like Mrs. Alving, then, Regine doesn’t want to be seen with her father, whose reputation she clearly wants nothing to do with. In this regard, Ibsen spotlights the ways in which people covet wealth and outward appearances, even at the expense of family relationships.
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Regine tries again to send her father away, but he refuses to leave, insisting that he deserves to speak to his own daughter. Going on, he explains that he wants to leave for the nearby town before people arrive for the orphanage’s grand opening. Hoping to catch a boat back to town, Engstrand says that there will be too many temptations for him if he stays for the orphanage’s opening, since people will be drinking and celebrating. As he tries to present himself as a man capable of resisting temptation, Regine scoffs at him, indicating that she doesn’t care what he does as long as he gets out of Mrs. Alving’s house. Throughout their conversation, she uses various French phrases that confuse Engstrand, though she never explains what she has said.
As Regine and Engstrand continue their conversation, it becomes even clearer that Regine is eager to distance herself from her father. This, it seems, might have to do with the fact that Engstrand is a heavy drinker who doesn’t even trust himself to be around alcohol. When Regine ridicules his wish to avoid temptation, she implies that Engstrand has tried and failed many times before to keep his vices at bay. She, on the other hand, is devoted to cultivating a refined image of herself, as evidenced by her haughty use of French even when such phrases add nothing but a sense of superiority to her interaction with her father.  
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Engstrand notes that Pastor Manders will be coming from town to oversee the orphanage’s opening, and Regine picks up on her father’s apparent desire to convince the pastor to do something for him. When she asks him what he’s going to try to persuade Manders to do, though, Engstrand refutes the idea that he wants anything at all. Changing the subject, he tells Regine that he’d like her to come back to town with him that night. Regine rejects this idea, saying she’ll never return to Engstrand’s home and claiming that Mrs. Alving has essentially raised her as one of her own family members. This, she believes, gives her a chance to become a true lady, which is why she would never dream of leaving the Alving household to live with her father.
Once again, Regine is unwilling to associate with her father. In fact, she completely dismisses the mere idea of returning to town with him, since this would interfere with her plans to build a reputation as a distinguished woman in Mrs. Alving’s wealthy circles. In this moment, the audience sees just how committed she is to using her relationship with Mrs. Alving to her own benefit, a practice she seems to have inherited from her father, who she suspects wants to manipulate Pastor Manders into doing something.
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Engstrand calls Regine a “little bitch” and scolds her for disrespecting her own father. In response, Regine points out that Engstrand has often said he doesn’t truly care about her and has called her terrible things. Engstrand, for his part, claims that he would never say such things, though he admits that he may have used careless language when he was drunk. Continuing, he complains about Regine’s mother, saying that she used to constantly bother him. He claims that she was snobby and conceited because Captain Alving was made a chamberlain while she worked for him. Hearing this, Regine suggests that Engstrand drove her mother to death.
Engstrand’s sudden anger unearths his belief that children have no right to go against their parents. When he calls Regine a “little bitch” for disrespecting him, he implies that she is obligated to do whatever he wants. Nevertheless, Regine is too focused on gaining upward mobility to care what Engstrand expects of her, though she can’t help but become angry when he disparages her mother. After all, by calling Regine’s mother a snob, Engstrand simultaneously criticizes Regine herself, who clearly shares her mother’s desire to benefit from her associations with rich people like the Alvings.
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Regine asks Engstrand why he wants her to come back to town, and he says, “How can you ask what a father wants with his only child? I’m a lonely, deserted widower, aren’t I?” Going on, he tells her that he’s decided to open a hotel for sailors, but she quickly writes this idea off as yet another one of his unsuccessful schemes.
It’s worth paying attention to what Engstrand says to Regine in this moment, since it’s clear that he’s trying to manipulate her into feeling sorry for him. First, he suggests that a father has a right to be with his child, implying that children are more or less obligated to do what their parents want. Moving on, he reminds her that he’s a lonely widower, quite obviously trying to make her feel bad for him. By saying this, he hopes to capitalize on her sympathy, prefacing what he’s about to tell her about his new idea with this emotionally calculated attempt to control her.
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Engstrand insists that he has saved money to open a hotel for sailors, claiming that it would be an establishment with great class. He says that it would be exclusively for captains and other high-ranking officials, and when Regine asks what she would do at this hotel, he says that she would simply help run the place. He also says that her responsibilities wouldn’t be all that difficult and that she’d practically be able to do whatever she wants. The main thing is that he wants to have a woman at the hotel. “Because we’d want a bit of fun in the evenings,” he says.
It's clear that Engstrand knows what Regine wants to hear, as he tries to appeal to her desire to associate with well-respected society members. To convince her to do what he wants, he frames his hotel for sailors as a classy establishment that would only accommodate respectable people. And though this might seem like an attractive option to Regine, it quickly becomes clear that the hotel Engstrand really has in mind will be little more than a brothel, as made evident when he says that he and the patrons will want to have “a bit of fun in the evenings,” something he says in relation to the prospect of having a woman work at the hotel. In this way, he tries to convince his daughter to do what he wants by manipulatively preying on her aspirations while simultaneously having no intention of actually fulfilling his promises.
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Engstrand tries to convince Regine to come with him by saying that she’s gaining nothing from her time with the Alvings. Pointing out that she’ll be overworked if she stays and spends her time toiling in the orphanage, he says the education she has received from Mrs. Alving won’t do her any good. In response, Regine claims that she has plans to rise above her station, but she also asks how much money her father has saved for the hotel. When he tells her, she asks if he ever thought about giving the money to her, and he says that he’d never do such a thing. Still, he promises to buy her whatever she wants if she comes to work in the hotel. He also suggests that she would probably meet a sailor to marry, but she says that she’s uninterested in sailors.
As Engstrand tries to persuade Regine to help him found his hotel for sailors, he disparages her efforts to become a civilized and refined young woman. To do this, he underlines just how futile it is for her to stay with Mrs. Alving, since her time working for the woman has resulted in nothing tangible. Although she has gained an education from her time with the Alvings, she is still destined to do little more than work in an orphanage as a maid. And though Regine remains steadfast in her decision to stay, it’s worth noting that she seems to soften a bit to the idea of leaving when Engstrand intimates that coming with him will actually help her climb the social ladder—a fact that once again proves her determination to rise through society. 
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Seeing Pastor Manders approaching the house, Regine sends Engstrand away. As he goes, Engstrand tells her to ask Manders about what children owe to their fathers, going out of his way to add that he is her father and that he can prove it by showing her the Parish Register. When he leaves, Pastor Manders enters through another door and talks to Regine about his voyage from town, saying that the boat ride was wet and wretched. They then talk about the orphanage and the fact that Oswald Alving has finally come home.
Engstrand’s parting words once again suggest that children are somehow indebted to their parents. Furthermore, his strange insistence that he is her father (and his willingness to prove this) indicates that he’s worried for some reason that she’ll doubt his parental authority. Given that Ghosts is a play about family history and what family members owe one another, this is an important moment, since Engstrand is apparently unsure if Regine will respect the terms of their father-daughter relationship. 
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Before Regine goes to get Mrs. Alving, Pastor Manders talks to her about Engstrand, saying that he’s the kind of person who needs guidance. All the same, Manders believes Engstrand has good intentions. As he says this, he hints at the idea of Regine going to live with and work for Engstrand, something Engstrand has clearly discussed with him already. However, Regine once again rejects the idea, saying that Mrs. Alving wouldn’t want her to go. In response, Manders admits that Regine would need Mrs. Alving’s permission, but adds that it’s a daughter’s duty to look after her father. Still, Regine remains unwilling to help Engstrand, though she says she would leave Mrs. Alving’s house if she were to find a suitable husband who could provide for her. To that end, she asks Manders to keep her in mind if he meets any good suitors.
Right away, Pastor Manders makes it clear that he believes in the notion of familial duty, saying that daughters have to meet certain expectations and fulfill various responsibilities when it comes to their relationships with their fathers. Unsurprisingly, Regine doesn’t like the sound of this, but she admits that she would leave Mrs. Alving’s employment if she were to find a good husband—yet another indication that she is interested first and foremost in securing upward mobility. How exactly this happens doesn’t matter to her, as long as she manages to rise through the ranks of society; it seems that her relationships with both Engstrand and Mrs. Alving pale in comparison to this goal.
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Regine fetches Mrs. Alving, who enters and greets Pastor Manders. When Regine leaves, Mrs. Alving insists that Manders should stay in her house while he’s visiting from town, but he declines. Turning their attention to Oswald’s return, Mrs. Alving delightedly informs the pastor that her son has agreed to stay for the entire winter. They then get down to business, discussing the orphanage’s various finances, since Manders is in charge of managing the institution’s money. Just as they begin to talk about money, though, Manders notices a stack of books that catches him off guard. Apparently, what Mrs. Alving has been reading offends the pastor, who disapproves of such books. Beside himself, he asks how Mrs. Alving could possibly find any truth in what she’s been reading, but she points out that—since he’s never read these books himself—he has no idea what he’s even denouncing.
Although Ibsen doesn’t specify what Mrs. Alving has been reading, what’s important is that Pastor Manders disapproves of her books because they espouse ideas that apparently go against his beliefs. Considering that he’s a pastor, it’s likely that the books are actively against religion or, at the very least, set forth worldviews that have nothing to do with God or piety. When Manders criticizes Mrs. Alving for reading this material, his commitment to traditional belief systems comes to the forefront of the play. However, Mrs. Alving stands up for herself by pointing out that Manders has no experience outside of his own narrow perspective, ultimately suggesting that it’s foolish to write something off simply because it doesn’t perfectly align with one’s own way of seeing the world. By saying this, she reveals her desire to explore new viewpoints that don’t necessarily fit into her surrounding community.
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Pastor Manders says he doesn’t blame Mrs. Alving for wanting to understand new ideas that have recently surfaced in society, but he urges her to hide this curiosity, insisting that these are matters that people shouldn’t discuss. He also implies that Mrs. Alving has exposed Oswald to these unsavory ideas simply by sending him away from home for so many years. 
Pastor Manders has a very sheltered view of the world, believing that new ways of thinking do nothing but threaten the previously established structures of thought to which he has already committed himself. As a pastor, he dislikes anything that might contradict the life he’s built in the church. Here he also reveals his dedication to keeping up appearances, since it’s not really Mrs. Irving’s reading that upsets him; it’s the fact that she doesn’t do a better job of hiding it.
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Returning to the topic of the orphanage’s finances, Pastor Manders shows Mrs. Alving the various documents he’s brought along with him and explains that he has decided to list the orphanage as the Captain Alving Memorial Home. He also advises Mrs. Alving to not purchase insurance, since the orphanage is tied to the church. Although he admits that this is a risk, he says she shouldn’t have to worry because of the institution’s affiliation with a religious organization. After all, God should protect against disaster. What’s more, Manders worries what people would think about his own faith if they heard that he and Mrs. Alving hadn’t trusted God to protect the orphanage. Mrs. Alving, for her part, agrees that they shouldn’t insure the building.
During this exchange, audience members see just how concerned Pastor Manders is about his reputation. As a pastor, he thinks people will judge him if he advises Mrs. Alving to purchase insurance. What’s interesting, though, is that he seems aware of the fact that it’s a risky decision to leave the building uninsured—the thing that convinces him to go forth with this plan isn’t his belief that God will protect the orphanage (though he does mention this), but rather his fear that people will think poorly of him if he doesn’t appear to have this belief. By spotlighting this dynamic, Ibsen shows the audience that Manders is a man who cares primarily about how he appears to others. 
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Although Mrs. Alving decides not to insure the orphanage, Pastor Manders asks if she would be able to cover the expenses if something were to happen to the building. She tells him that she wouldn’t be able to, and though this concerns him, they both conclude that they still can’t risk ruining their reputations by purchasing insurance. Just as they decide this, Mrs. Alving says it’s a funny coincidence that Manders brought the matter up, since there was a small fire in the orphanage just the day before. This deeply alarms Manders, but Mrs. Alving explains that it was quickly resolved, saying that a pile of wood shavings caught fire in Engstrand’s workshop.
When Pastor Manders asks Mrs. Alving if she would be able to pay for damages should something happen to the orphanage, he once again reveals that he’s aware of how unwise it is to leave the building uninsured. Although he wants to maintain his public image as a man who unconditionally trusts God to protect charitable institutions, he can’t help but worry that he’s steering Mrs. Alving in the wrong direction. He clearly hopes that she will ease his worries by saying that she has plenty of money to put toward the orphanage in the event of an accident. However, she’s unable to put his mind at ease in this regard. In fact, she makes him even more worried by telling him that Engstrand accidentally started a fire in the orphanage just one day earlier. The fact that Manders still sticks to his original plan despite all this worry illustrates just how much he cares about maintaining his reputation.
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Pastor Manders tells Mrs. Alving that Engstrand wants Regine to come live with him, but she refuses to let the young woman go. In turn, Manders reminds her that Engstrand is Regine’s father, though this does nothing to persuade Mrs. Alving, who notes that she has cared for Regine for quite a long time now and intends to continue doing so.
Pastor Manders’s attempt to convince Mrs. Alving to release Regine from her duties once again underlines his belief that children have a duty to care for their parents. According to him, Mrs. Alving is interfering in Engstrand and Regine’s relationship.
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Interrupting Pastor Manders and Mrs. Alving’s conversation, Oswald finally enters the room. Manders hardly recognizes the young man, whom he hasn’t seen for many years, and though Manders is overjoyed to see him, Oswald is somewhat bitter toward the pastor. This is because Manders didn’t approve of the fact that Oswald left home to become an artist. Nevertheless, Manders assures Oswald that he doesn’t disapprove of all artists, only those who lead immoral lives. He then praises Oswald for having found so much success as a painter, though he also remarks that he hasn’t seen anything in the newspaper about Oswald’s work for quite some time. This, Oswald explains, is because he hasn’t been painting recently, and his mother quickly adds that even artists need to rest sometimes.
The fact that Oswald thinks that Pastor Manders disapproves of his lifestyle is further evidence that Manders is a judgmental person. A man devoted to the traditional ways of the church, he sees young artists as a representation of all the ways that the world is changing. And though Manders insists that he doesn’t condemn Oswald in particular, it seems likely that he does have reservations about the way Oswald leads his life.
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While talking to Pastor Manders and Mrs. Alving, Oswald smokes his father’s pipe, which he found in a room upstairs. Seeing him with the pipe, Manders is convinced that Oswald looks just like Captain Alving, though Mrs. Alving disagrees, saying that her son looks more like a clergyman. This conversation inspires Oswald to relate one of the only memories he has of his father, which took place when he was a little boy. He remembers entering his father’s room and sitting in his lap, at which point Captain Alving gave him the tobacco pipe and told him to smoke. Oswald sucked in so much smoke that he immediately felt ill, causing his father to erupt in laughter. Mrs. Alving, for her part, insists that this memory is inaccurate, but Manders affectionately points out that Captain Alving was indeed “full of the joys of living” in those days.
Mrs. Alving’s insistence that Oswald looks like a clergyman indicates that she shares some of Manders’s views regarding respectability and reputation. Wanting her son to seem like a distinguished and well-regarded member of society, she tries to frame him as a pious man of God. This is worth noting, since so far everyone seems to respect the memory of Captain Alving, making it rather odd that Mrs. Alving wouldn’t take delight in the idea of her son looking like her husband. In this way, Ibsen prepares the audience to examine the true nature of Mrs. Alving’s relationship with her late husband.
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Oswald marvels for a moment that his father was such a trickster while still managing to accomplish so much in life. At this point, Pastor Manders comments that Oswald left home at a very young age, and when Mrs. Alving suggests that it’s good for children to leave, the pastor disagrees, saying that children belong in their parents’ house. He even suggests that Oswald has never learned what it’s like to live in a real home, but Oswald takes issue with this idea, saying that he has lived with other artists and established a sense of belonging and domesticity with them. Manders is surprised to hear this, saying that he was under the impression that most artists couldn’t afford to buy houses and start families, and Oswald says that this is true, noting that many artists can’t even afford to marry.
Again, Pastor Manders’s strong and traditional beliefs come to the forefront of the play, as he underhandedly criticizes Mrs. Alving for letting Oswald leave home as a child. Ibsen has already shown the audience that Manders has strong feelings about familial relationships, as evidenced by his insistence that Regine should return home to live with her father. Now, though, Oswald challenges the pastor’s conventional views, suggesting that it’s possible to have a good upbringing without living in a standard domestic setting. 
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Although most artists can’t afford to get married, Oswald tells Pastor Manders, many still decide to live together, setting up a home regardless of whether or not they are husband and wife. Manders finds this inexcusable, saying that such relationships lead to nothing but immorality. Disagreeing, Oswald says that the only kind of immorality he’s ever seen in such situations has come from well-respected men who visit artist colonies, where they behave terribly and do the exact things they later condemn in conversations with people like Pastor Manders. Having said this, Oswald excuses himself before dinner, apologizing for upsetting Manders but insisting that he had to say what he said.
During this exchange, Oswald tries to help Pastor Manders see the hypocrisy that runs rampant throughout society. Although Manders judges young artists for living unconventional lives, Oswald insists that breaking from tradition doesn’t necessarily mean leaving behind morality. In fact, he upholds that the most unethical people he’s met are men who subscribe to the very same values as Pastor Manders. In turn, he maintains that people aren’t always what they seem, urging Manders to refrain from judging others based on surface-level appearances.
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After Oswald leaves, Mrs. Alving admits that she agrees with everything her son has said. Consequently, Pastor Manders sees this as a good time to tell her something that has been on his mind for a long time, which is that he still disapproves of the fact that she tried to run away from her husband in the early years of their marriage. She reminds him that she was extremely unhappy, but he scoffs at her need to be happy in the first place, bemoaning the fact that people think they have a right to be happy. Instead, he thinks people should focus on their duties, saying that Mrs. Alving’s responsibility was to stick with her husband, since they were “bound by sacred ties.”
Despite Oswald’s suggestion that Pastor Manders stop judging others, Manders criticizes Mrs. Alving for shirking what he sees as her duty. Reaching back to before Oswald was born, he chastises her for prioritizing her own happiness over her marriage. In doing so, he once again demonstrates his belief that there is nothing more important than rising to meet expectations, even if this means sacrificing one’s own wellbeing. Of course, it’s worth noting that Manders only talks about duty and responsibility in the context of convincing women to submit to men, whether this means urging Regine to serve her father or persuading Mrs. Alving to stay in an unhappy marriage for the sake of her husband.
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Mrs. Alving reminds Pastor Manders that Captain Alving was an immoral man in the early years of their marriage, but this does nothing to keep Manders’s reproach at bay. He says he’s well aware of the rumors that surrounded Captain Alving in those days, but he also says that a wife has no right to judge her husband. “Your duty should have been to bear with humility that cross which a higher power had judged proper for you,” he says. He also says that Mrs. Alving was lucky that he—Manders himself—was able to lead her back to her husband by reminding her of her duty. This, he claims, was the smart thing to do, since Captain Alving eventually matured and stopped living the life of an adulterous alcoholic.
When Pastor Manders says that Mrs. Alving should have respected her duty to her husband, he claims that this responsibility was set upon her by God. In making this claim, he subjects her to both societal and religious pressures to submit to Captain Alving, framing her role as a wife as something bigger than herself—something that renders her own needs and feelings superfluous. In turn, he makes it nearly impossible for her to advocate for herself, implying that it’s a woman’s job to sacrifice her needs in order to fit into the role of a submissive wife.
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Continuing his criticism of Mrs. Alving, Pastor Manders says that she has also shirked her responsibilities as a mother. This, he says, is made obvious by the fact that Mrs. Alving sent Oswald away from home at such a young age because she felt overburdened by the duties of motherhood. He then accuses Mrs. Alving of being aware of her wrongdoings, saying that her decision to build an orphanage in her husband’s memory proves that she feels guilty for all of the wrongs she has done to her own family.
By this point in Ghosts, it’s clear that Pastor Manders has no qualms passing judgment on other people. In this moment, he attacks Mrs. Alving’s life from seemingly all angles, claiming that she was not only a bad wife, but also a bad mother. To make these claims, he invests himself in the idea that people—and especially women—have certain duties and obligations that they must fulfill in their relationships with their loved ones. It is this framework of familial dependence and womanly responsibility that enables him to so mercilessly critique Mrs. Alving.  
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Having listened patiently to Pastor Manders, Mrs. Alving finally tells him that he’s passing judgment on matters about which he knows very little. She reminds him that he stopped visiting her after he urged her to return to Captain Alving, meaning that he’s basing his opinions on nothing but what he has surmised from afar. Going on, she tells him that Captain Alving never actually improved his ways. This stuns Manders, who can’t believe that Mrs. Alving’s entire married life was a “nothing but a façade.” When he asks how she could possibly have kept this hidden from the public, she says that it was a constant struggle to hide Captain Alving’s wicked ways. Still, she knew she had to do this for Oswald’s sake.
In this moment, the audience sees how unfair it was for Pastor Manders to suggest that Mrs. Alving is a bad mother, considering that she suffered for many years to keep her family together despite Captain Alving’s wretched behavior. After all, she endured her husband’s unsavory lifestyle simply for Oswald’s sake. In turn, it becomes clear that Pastor Manders’s audacity in judging her from afar is especially unjust. Overall, the truth about Captain Alving proves that even people with fantastic reputations can be quite immoral.
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The worst part of this entire story, Mrs. Alving tells Pastor Manders, is that one day she heard Captain Alving make a sexually inappropriate advance on their maid, Johanna. Mrs. Alving was in the next room, and she heard Johanna say, “Let me go, Mr. Alving! Leave me alone!” When she tells this story to Manders, the pastor is beside himself. “How unseemly!” he says. “How indiscreet of him!” He then suggests that this instance must have been a minor accident, but Mrs. Alving refutes this by telling him that Captain Alving impregnated Johanna.
It’s worth paying attention to the way Pastor Manders reacts to the story Mrs. Manders tells him about Captain Alving’s infidelity. Instead of focusing on Captain Alving’s actual behavior, the pastor fixates on the fact that Mrs. Alving’s husband failed to hide his wicked ways from his wife. Indeed, he calls Captain Alving’s actions “unseemly” and, most importantly, “indiscreet,” as if the man’s primary transgression was his inability to keep his sexual deviance a secret. In this way, he once again obsesses over outward appearances, ultimately failing to think about the actual moral implications of Captain Alving’s infidelity (and, it seems, his nonconsensual sexual aggression). 
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Mrs. Alving tells Pastor Manders that she had to put up with Captain Alving’s misbehavior for Oswald’s sake. However, when her husband impregnated Johanna, Mrs. Alving finally decided to do something. It was at this point that she sent Oswald away from the home. The boy was only seven at the time, but Mrs. Alving was afraid that he would be “poisoned” by Captain Alving if he stayed in the house. This, she explains, is why she never let Oswald come home until after his father died. When Pastor Manders takes pity on her, Mrs. Alving admits that she wouldn’t have been able to endure such misery if it hadn’t been for her work, saying that she had quite a lot to distract her because she was the one who was responsible for all of Captain Alving’s accomplishments. 
Mrs. Alving’s use of the word “poison” is interesting, since it suggests that she believes immorality and depravity can be passed along through exposure. This makes sense, considering that Oswald would have seen and absorbed his father’s bad behavior if he had spent the entirety of his childhood and adolescence around the man. However, this word also foreshadows her later ideas about how people can inherit shameful pasts from their forebears. On another note, the fact that Mrs. Alving is responsible for Captain Alving’s accomplishments suggests that although she may not be quite as obsessed with reputation as Pastor Manders, she still cares enough about her family’s public image to help maintain her husband’s persona as a successful and beneficent man.
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Pastor Manders marvels at the fact that Mrs. Alving is constructing a memorial to Captain Alving even after the terrible way he treated her, but she says she’s only doing so to ensure that people will continue to think favorably of him. She wants this, she indicates, because she thinks it’s necessary to preserve the family’s image. In addition, she wanted to use all of Captain Alving’s money to start the orphanage—this way, she explains, Oswald will not inherit anything from his father. 
This exchange confirms the idea that Mrs. Alving is worried about what Oswald inherits from his father, both in a literal sense and a figurative one. Not wanting him to become like Captain Alving, she makes sure that he won’t receive any of the man’s money, since it would be a real-life representation of how his existence continues to influence Oswald’s life.
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When Oswald returns from his walk, Regine enters and asks what he’d like to drink with dinner. Saying he’d like both red and white wine, he decides to go help her open the bottles. When he leaves the room, Pastor Manders and Mrs. Alving resume their conversation, but they’re interrupted by Regine’s voice, which reaches them from the adjacent room, saying, “Oswald! Are you mad? Let me go!” In the ensuing silence, Mrs. Alving stares at the door. When Manders asks what just happened, Mrs. Alving suggests that they heard the ghosts of her past, and Pastor Manders realizes that Regine is the child that Captain Alving had with Johanna. Before he can say anything else, Mrs. Alving takes his arm and pulls him to the dining room, telling him to say nothing more.
The sexual advance Oswald makes on Regine is a representation of the ways in which the past repeats itself. In this moment, it seems as if Oswald has inherited something from his father after all: his inappropriate sexual behavior. In fact, he also appears to have inherited the man’s craving for alcohol, since he wants to drink both red and white wine with dinner. When Mrs. Alving says that she has just heard the ghosts of her past, Ibsen suggests that certain painful histories don’t simply go away. Rather, they can haunt a person for the rest of her life.
Themes
The Past, Inheritance, and Moving On Theme Icon