In this play, one of the most present themes throughout the novel is how the mistakes and beliefs of the parents are passed on to the children. In other words, as the Biblical saying says, “the sins of the father will be visited among the children”. Moreover, besides these abstract inheritances, Oswald’s syphilis is assumed by the context of the text to be congenital, meaning actually genetically inherited from his parents. That is why the doctor in Paris says that “the sins of the father visit the son” when providing a diagnosis to Oswald, as he believes the father’s mistakes came upon the son represented through syphilis, which ironically can also be genetically passed down. When I first read this line, the first thing that came to mind was how similar this story was to a novel I read in high school called Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. In the book, the two main characters and tragic lovers, Heathcliff and Catherine, pass on their mistakes and misfortunes to their descendants. Specifically, Heathcliff’s despicable nature after losing Catherine leads him to raise a son, though not his biologically, in terrible conditions, making him suffer what he had gone through at the hands of this boy’s biological father. In other words, paying for the sins of his father, who made Heathcliff’s life miserable. Moreover, Heathcliff’s own biological son died young from an undisclosed disease, which shares a lot of similarities with Oswald’s situation. Even though not explicitly mentioned, Heathcliff’s son probably died of a disease given to him by God due to the mistakes of his father. In reality, this was probably not the case, but considering the circumstances and the main theme that the descendants had to pay for their ancestors, this could have been included as part of it. Thus, similar to Ibsen’s idea of Ghosts (ideas, mistakes, beliefs) being transferred to the children, Bronte’s idea of misfortunes transferring and “history repeating itself in an endless cycle” lead to that same theme of the sins of the father visited among the children. Nonetheless, while Bronte’s book ended on a good note with the children having a happy ending, in Ibsen’s play, the child didn’t have that luck.
The idea of the younger generation paying for the mistakes of their fathers is a philosophically interesting one. I’m thinking could it be just God’s punishment which could be viewed from a religious/philosophical angle or is it mere genetic inheritance viewing it from a scientific/biological angle? Also, we talked in class about power and possession, who gets to make the decision or who decides one’s status? The question/comment I raise in regards to this topic is that every generation has the power to decide what the next generation could have. For example, Mrs Alving, although slightly bound to tradition and the past, she wants to give Oswald a different life from the one his father had, so she has the agency and power here to shape Oswald’s future to a certain extent/until Oswald reaches a certain age. There is some space given to the older generation to grow in the younger one the ideas they want and raise them in a way that will decide how much freedom perhaps they will have when making decisions when they grow up.