Ghosts

by

Henrik Ibsen

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Captain Alving Character Analysis

Captain Alving never actually appears in Ghosts because he has been dead for 10 years when the play begins. Nevertheless, his presence hovers over the Alving household, especially when Mrs. Alving reveals that—despite his sterling reputation in the surrounding community—he was actually a fiercely immoral man, the type of person who led a wild life of drinking, infidelity, and reckless sexual behavior. In fact, his son Oswald even learns that he inherited syphilis from Captain Alving—a surprising discovery, since the young man has always thought of his father as the quintessential image of a morally upstanding and respectable man. To the contrary, Captain Alving was debauched for his entire life, though Mrs. Alving worked hard to keep this hidden from the public. She did such a good job doing this that people like Pastor Manders still believe in Captain Alving’s good name. However, even after Mrs. Alving finally tells her son the truth about his father, she finds herself unable to escape Captain Alving’s influence, since she now has to face the fact that her son is doomed to misery because he inherited his father’s syphilis. Furthermore, Oswald himself fights with the memory of his father when he learns that Captain Alving impregnated Johanna (the Alvings’ former maid) and fathered Regine, with whom Oswald has fallen in love.

Captain Alving Quotes in Ghosts

The Ghosts quotes below are all either spoken by Captain Alving or refer to Captain Alving. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Reputation, Judgement, and Morality Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Oxford University Press edition of Ghosts published in 2008.
Act One Quotes

I know quite well the rumours that were going about. And I would be the last person to condone his conduct as a young man, assuming these rumours told the truth. But it is not a wife’s place to sit in judgement on her husband. Your duty should have been to bear with humility that cross which a higher power had judged proper for you. But instead you have the effrontery to cast away the cross, you abandon the man whose stumbling steps you should have guided, you go and risk your own good name, and . . . very nearly jeopardize other people’s reputations into the bargain.

Related Characters: Pastor Manders (speaker), Mrs. Helene Alving, Captain Alving
Page Number: 114
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation long mobile

That was the endless battle I fought, day after day. When we had Oswald, I rather thought Alving improved a little. But it didn’t last long. And then I had to battle twice as hard, fight tooth and nail to prevent anybody from knowing what sort of person my child’s father was. And you know, of course, how charming Alving could be. Nobody could believe anything but good of him. He was one of those people whose reputation is proof against anything they may do.

Page Number: 117
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

MRS. ALVING. Shortly afterwards I heard my husband come in, too. I heard him say something to her in a low voice. And then I heard. . . . [With a short laugh.] Oh, I can still hear it, so devastating and yet at the time so ludicrous…I heard my own maid whisper: ‘Let me go, Mr. Alving! Leave me alone!’

MANDERS. How unseemly! How indiscreet of him!

Related Characters: Mrs. Helene Alving (speaker), Pastor Manders (speaker), Regine, Captain Alving, Johanna
Page Number: 118
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

That was the time Oswald was sent away. He was getting on for seven, and beginning to notice things and ask questions, as children do. That was something I couldn’t bear. I felt the child would somehow be poisoned simply by breathing the foul air of this polluted house. That was why I sent him away. And now you understand why he was never allowed to set foot in this place as long as his father was alive. Nobody knows what that cost me.

Page Number: 118
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Act Two Quotes

MANDERS. Nobody can be held responsible for the way things have turned out. But nevertheless one thing is clear: your marriage was arranged in strict accord with law and order.

MRS. ALVING. Oh, all this law and order! I often think that’s the cause of all the trouble in the world.

Related Characters: Mrs. Helene Alving (speaker), Pastor Manders (speaker), Captain Alving
Page Number: 123
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

Ghosts. When I heard Regine and Oswald in there, it was just like seeing ghosts. But then I’m inclined to think that we are all ghosts, Pastor Manders, every one of us. It’s not just what we inherit from our mothers and fathers that haunts us. It’s all kinds of old defunct theories, all sorts of old defunct beliefs, and things like that. It’s not that they actually live on in us; they are simply lodged there, and we cannot get rid of them. I’ve only to pick up a newspaper and I seem to see ghosts gliding between the lines. Over the whole country there must be ghosts, as numerous as the sands of the sea.

Page Number: 126
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

OSWALD. At last he said: there’s been something worm-eaten about you since birth. He used that very word: ‘vermoulu’.

MRS. ALVING [tense]. What did he mean by that?

OSWALD. I couldn’t understand it either, and I asked him for a more detailed explanation. And then he said, the old cynic…[Clenches his fist.] Oh…!

MRS. ALVING. What did he say?

OSWALD. He said: the sins of the fathers are visited upon the children.

Related Characters: Mrs. Helene Alving (speaker), Oswald Alving (speaker), Captain Alving
Page Number: 138
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

OSWALD [smiling sadly]. Yes, what do you think? Of course, I assured him that was quite out of the question. But do you think he would give way? No, he wouldn’t budge. And it wasn’t until I’d produced your letters and translated for him all those bits about Father. . . .

MRS. ALVING. What then. . . ?

OSWALD. Well, then he naturally had to admit that he’d been on the wrong track. Then I learnt the truth. The incredible truth! This blissfully happy life I’d been living with my friends, I should never have indulged in it. It had been too much for my strength. So it was my own fault, you see!

Related Characters: Mrs. Helene Alving (speaker), Oswald Alving (speaker), Captain Alving
Page Number: 138
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Act Three Quotes

MRS. ALVING. Your father could never find any outlet for this tremendous exuberance of his. And I didn’t exactly bring very much gaiety into his home, either.

OSWALD. Didn’t you?

MRS. ALVING. They’d taught me various things about duty and such like, and I’d simply gone on believing them. Everything seemed to come down to duty in the end—my duty and his duty and . . . I’m afraid I must have made the house unbearable for your poor father, Oswald.

Related Characters: Mrs. Helene Alving (speaker), Oswald Alving (speaker), Captain Alving
Page Number: 155
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

MRS. ALVING. What a terrible thought! Surely a child ought to love its father in spite of all?

OSWALD. What if a child has nothing to thank its father for? Never knew him? You don’t really believe in this old superstition still, do you? And you so enlightened in other ways?

MRS. ALVING. You call that mere superstition. . . !

OSWALD. Yes, surely you realize that, Mother. It’s simply one of those ideas that get around and . . .

MRS. ALVING [shaken]. Ghosts!

Related Characters: Mrs. Helene Alving (speaker), Oswald Alving (speaker), Pastor Manders, Captain Alving
Page Number: 158
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Get the entire Ghosts LitChart as a printable PDF.
Ghosts.pdf.medium

Captain Alving Character Timeline in Ghosts

The timeline below shows where the character Captain Alving appears in Ghosts. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act One
Reputation, Judgement, and Morality Theme Icon
Wealth and Manipulation Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Reputation, Judgement, and Morality Theme Icon
Duty and Self-Sacrifice Theme Icon
The Past, Inheritance, and Moving On Theme Icon
Wealth and Manipulation Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Reputation, Judgement, and Morality Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Reputation, Judgement, and Morality Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Reputation, Judgement, and Morality Theme Icon
Duty and Self-Sacrifice Theme Icon
...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,... (full context)
Reputation, Judgement, and Morality Theme Icon
Duty and Self-Sacrifice Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Reputation, Judgement, and Morality Theme Icon
Duty and Self-Sacrifice Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Reputation, Judgement, and Morality Theme Icon
Duty and Self-Sacrifice Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Reputation, Judgement, and Morality Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Reputation, Judgement, and Morality Theme Icon
The Past, Inheritance, and Moving On Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Reputation, Judgement, and Morality Theme Icon
The Past, Inheritance, and Moving On Theme Icon
Wealth and Manipulation Theme Icon
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... (full context)
The Past, Inheritance, and Moving On Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Act Two
The Past, Inheritance, and Moving On Theme Icon
Wealth and Manipulation Theme Icon
...really her father. Mrs. Alving explains that Johanna left after learning she was pregnant, though Captain Alving gave her a large sum of money to keep quiet about the entire ordeal. When... (full context)
Duty and Self-Sacrifice Theme Icon
The Past, Inheritance, and Moving On Theme Icon
...rules. In alignment with this, she says she should never have kept the truth about Captain Alving from Oswald, calling herself a coward for refusing to tell him that his father was... (full context)
Reputation, Judgement, and Morality Theme Icon
Wealth and Manipulation Theme Icon
...thing, it becomes clear that Engstrand still has no idea that Regine’s real father is Captain Alving , rather than an anonymous foreign sailor. He also suggests that he was especially willing... (full context)
The Past, Inheritance, and Moving On Theme Icon
...doctor of this, Oswald showed him a slew of letters from Mrs. Alving that praised Captain Alving and spoke about his good deeds. Seeing this, the doctor agreed that Oswald’s sickness couldn’t... (full context)
Act Three
Reputation, Judgement, and Morality Theme Icon
The Past, Inheritance, and Moving On Theme Icon
Wealth and Manipulation Theme Icon
...but Regine refuses once again. Engstrand then declares that the hotel will be called the Captain Alving Home. With this, he and Pastor Manders take their leave. (full context)
The Past, Inheritance, and Moving On Theme Icon
When Engstrand and Pastor Manders leave, Oswald enters and suggests that the Captain Alving Home will inevitably burn down, pessimistically stating that there will never be anything to commemorate... (full context)
Duty and Self-Sacrifice Theme Icon
The Past, Inheritance, and Moving On Theme Icon
...household because she’d been taught to uphold various standards regarding her duty—notions that only drove Captain Alving further from her. Getting to her point, she tells Oswald that his father was a... (full context)
Wealth and Manipulation Theme Icon
...knows the truth, she explains, she’s going to leave the Alvings in search of a husband, believing that she has to find a suitable partner before her good looks fade. Before... (full context)
Duty and Self-Sacrifice Theme Icon
The Past, Inheritance, and Moving On Theme Icon
...that he has absolutely nothing to be thankful for when it comes to his relationship Captain Alving . He says that his mother’s idea that children should love their parents unconditionally is... (full context)