Ghosts

Oswald Alving is a young man in his twenties who has enjoyed success as a painter living in Paris. When the play begins, Oswald comes home to Norway for the first time in a long while, since his mother, Mrs. Alving, sent him away as a child. Oswald has returned because he’s exhausted and unable to paint, though he eventually tells his mother that the real reason he can’t paint is because he’s gravely ill with syphilis. He tells her that his doctor informed him that he must have inherited the disease from his father, Captain Alving, but Oswald thinks that this is impossible because he believes that his father was a morally irreproachable man. This, Mrs. Alving knows, isn’t actually the case, since Captain Alving was actually a debauched and immoral man. While he’s home, Oswald takes a romantic interest in Mrs. Alving’s maid, Regine, not knowing that she is his half-sister (Captain Alving secretly impregnated Regine’s mother, Johanna, when she used to work as the Alvings’ maid). It isn’t until the end of the play that his mother tells both Oswald and Regine the truth about their shared father, at which point Regine leaves the Alving household. When she’s gone, Oswald realizes that he can’t rely on her to euthanize him if his illness overtakes him, so he asks his mother to do it. At first, Mrs. Alving refuses, but she eventually relents, telling herself that it won’t actually be necessary for her to give Oswald the morphine pills he has saved up to put him out of his misery if he succumbs to his disease. However, he soon slips into a catatonic state, and his mother is forced to decide whether or not to kill him—a decision she’s unable to make.

Oswald Alving Quotes in Ghosts

The Ghosts quotes below are all either spoken by Oswald Alving or refer to Oswald 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

OSWALD. […] never have I heard one word that could give offence, let alone seen anything that could be called immoral. No, do you know where and when I have encountered immorality in artistic circles?

MANDERS. No, thank God!

OSWALD. Well then, permit me to tell you. When some of our model husbands and fathers took themselves a trip to Paris to have a look round on the loose…and condescended to drop in on the artists in their modest haunts, that’s when I’ve met it. Then we got to know what was what. These gentlemen were able to tell us about places and things we’d never dreamt of.

Related Characters: Oswald Alving (speaker), Pastor Manders (speaker), Mrs. Helene Alving
Page Number: 112
Explanation and Analysis:
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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:
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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:
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Act Two Quotes

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:
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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:
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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:
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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:
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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:
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Oswald Alving Character Timeline in Ghosts

The timeline below shows where the character Oswald 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
...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,... (full context)
Duty and Self-Sacrifice Theme Icon
The Past, Inheritance, and Moving On Theme Icon
...ride was wet and wretched. They then talk about the orphanage and the fact that Oswald Alving has finally come home. (full context)
Reputation, Judgement, and Morality Theme Icon
The Past, Inheritance, and Moving On Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Reputation, Judgement, and Morality Theme Icon
The Past, Inheritance, and Moving On Theme Icon
...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.  (full context)
Reputation, Judgement, and Morality Theme Icon
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... (full context)
Reputation, Judgement, and Morality Theme Icon
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... (full context)
Reputation, Judgement, and Morality Theme Icon
Oswald marvels for a moment that his father was such a trickster while still managing to... (full context)
Reputation, Judgement, and Morality Theme Icon
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... (full context)
Reputation, Judgement, and Morality Theme Icon
Duty and Self-Sacrifice Theme Icon
After Oswald leaves, Mrs. Alving admits that she agrees with everything her son has said. Consequently, Pastor... (full context)
Reputation, Judgement, and Morality Theme Icon
Duty and Self-Sacrifice Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Reputation, Judgement, and Morality Theme Icon
Duty and Self-Sacrifice Theme Icon
...to hide Captain Alving’s wicked ways. Still, she knew she had to do this for Oswald’s sake. (full context)
Reputation, Judgement, and Morality Theme Icon
The Past, Inheritance, and Moving On Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Reputation, Judgement, and Morality Theme Icon
The Past, Inheritance, and Moving On Theme Icon
Wealth and Manipulation Theme Icon
...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.  (full context)
The Past, Inheritance, and Moving On Theme Icon
When Oswald returns from his walk, Regine enters and asks what he’d like to drink with dinner.... (full context)
Act Two
The Past, Inheritance, and Moving On Theme Icon
Wealth and Manipulation Theme Icon
...that they have to find a way to remove Regine from the house to keep Oswald from pursuing a romantic relationship with his half-sister. However, neither she nor Manders can think... (full context)
Duty and Self-Sacrifice Theme Icon
The Past, Inheritance, and Moving On Theme Icon
...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 a wretched... (full context)
Reputation, Judgement, and Morality Theme Icon
Duty and Self-Sacrifice Theme Icon
The Past, Inheritance, and Moving On Theme Icon
Mrs. Alving reiterates her feeling that hearing Oswald and Regine in the next room was like hearing the ghosts of her past. In... (full context)
The Past, Inheritance, and Moving On Theme Icon
After Pastor Manders and Engstrand go to the orphanage, Mrs. Alving finds Oswald drinking and smoking a cigar. Frowning at the decanter of liquor, Mrs. Alving warns her... (full context)
The Past, Inheritance, and Moving On Theme Icon
Oswald tells Mrs. Alving that he asked his doctor what, exactly, that diagnosis meant. His doctor,... (full context)
The Past, Inheritance, and Moving On Theme Icon
Talking about his illness with Mrs. Alving, Oswald wishes that it were something he had inherited, since at least he wouldn’t have to... (full context)
The Past, Inheritance, and Moving On Theme Icon
Oswald tells Regine to have a drink with him and Mrs. Alving. When she goes to... (full context)
Reputation, Judgement, and Morality Theme Icon
...out at the orphanage. The entire building is in flames. Rushing out of the house, Oswald runs in the direction of the disaster while Pastor Manders tells Mrs. Alving that the... (full context)
Act Three
Wealth and Manipulation Theme Icon
...by the window looking at the orphanage, which has burned down. Mrs. Alving wonders why Oswald is still at the fire, since it’s clear nothing can be done to save the... (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... (full context)
Duty and Self-Sacrifice Theme Icon
The Past, Inheritance, and Moving On Theme Icon
Oswald asks Regine to relax around him, asking why she doesn’t call him by his first... (full context)
Wealth and Manipulation Theme Icon
Mrs. Alving also tells Oswald and Regine that Captain Alving is Regine’s true father. Upon hearing this, Regine immediately decides... (full context)
Duty and Self-Sacrifice Theme Icon
The Past, Inheritance, and Moving On Theme Icon
After Regine leaves, Mrs. Alving asks Oswald if he’s devastated by the news that his father was a wretched man. In response,... (full context)
The Past, Inheritance, and Moving On Theme Icon
Oswald tells his mother that if he’s going to stay at home, she has to learn... (full context)
Duty and Self-Sacrifice Theme Icon
Now that Regine has left, Oswald says, he has to depend upon Mrs. Alving. Producing a small box from his pocket,... (full context)
Duty and Self-Sacrifice Theme Icon
Mrs. Alving tries to run from the house to fetch a doctor, but Oswald keeps her from leaving, telling her that she would give him the morphine if she... (full context)
Duty and Self-Sacrifice Theme Icon
...Alving talks and talks, the sun begins to rise, showing itself through the windows. “Mother,” Oswald says, “give me the sun.” Unnerved, Mrs. Alving asks what he said, and he slowly—catatonically—chants,... (full context)