This week we read Ibsen’s ‘Ghosts’. This play has several underlying messages and forces that try to compete to get the viewers and readers attention. For me, the one character that stood out the most was Mrs. Alving. I always found my sympathies shifting in her favor.
She is a strong-willed woman, who knows right and wrong. However, due to social restrictions, she is unable to use her voice. She is a strong female character who takes over her husband’s household after his death. Mrs. Alving’s most outstanding trait is her motherly love and instinct.
All through the play, she makes several decisions out of love and concern for Oswald. She displays strength as a mother. She returns to her husband’s house where he committed adulterous deeds for the sake of her son. She sends him away to protect him. Which mother can bear to be parted from her child? But she does everything to ensure that her son is safe from the vices of his father.
Mrs. Alving has several overlapping identities in this play. She has to play the different roles in relation to herself, her husband, her son, and society.
Only a mother’s heart will know the pain of a child’s illness. She is distraught and in disbelief when Oswald reveals that he is ill. At the end of the play, he asks her to assist him with suicide to end his torture and pain. What should a mother do? Should she help her son kill himself? or should she help ease his pain?
Here is the dialogue exchange between mother and offspring as performed by the Almeida theatre.
When reading about Mrs. Alvings choices of sending her child away to protect him, I thought of mother Gothel from Rapunzel. She tries to hide Rapunzel from the dangers of the outside world by locking her up in a tower. In a way, Mrs. Alving was hiding Oswald from the reality of his father’s sins by sending him away. Both are maternal figures to the children they care for. Yet they both have varying intentions within the context of their respective stories. Maternal instinct, it seems, can be displayed by masking reality.
For your viewing pleasure , Mother knows best