Oswald’s stash of morphine pills represents the burden people place on their loved ones when they make requests that require intense emotional sacrifices. Knowing that he will someday slip into a catatonic state because of his advanced illness, Oswald has saved up 12 morphine pills, which he hopes his mother will give to him when the time comes so that he can die peacefully. On the one hand, Mrs. Alving wants to do whatever she can to make her son happy and comfortable, not wanting him to feel pain or misery. On the other hand, he is the only thing in life that truly makes her happy anymore, so killing him would mean plunging herself into misery. This dynamic mirrors the way that Mrs. Alving ceaselessly sacrificed her own happiness while Captain Alving was alive, devoting herself completely to bearing the burden of hiding his debauchery. Because of the high stakes of Oswald’s advanced illness, the pills themselves take on a grave significance, embodying the turmoil Mrs. Alving feels as she tries to deal with the unprecedented burden Oswald has put on her. As she clutches the pills at the end of the play, the audience sees that she has been put in an impossible position, one that illustrates just how torturous it is to have so much responsibility over another person’s life.
The timeline below shows where the symbol Oswald’s Morphine appears in Ghosts. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
...only intones his mindless incantation, saying, “The sun…The sun.” Frantic, Mrs. Alving searches for the morphine pills, but when she finds them, she can only scream, saying, “No, no, no!...Yes!...No, no!”... (full context)