What a journey! We have traveled to so many places such as Ancient Greece and Pre-Industrial London where we have seen how plague affects human society.
In Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts, we see a recurring theme of truth that has emerged in other books we have read, especially in Oedipus. Similar to the Greek tragedy, the major characters in Ghosts do not know each other’s true identities until the latter half of the play. Originally, Regine is thought to be a simple housemaid who is the daughter of Engstrand, but both the reader and the characters later discover that she is actually the product of Mrs. Alving’s dead husband’s illicit affair. Therefore, Oswald and Regine are half-siblings, making their love(?) for each other almost incestual, in comparison to Oedipus and his mother-wife. This relates to one of the central questions of this play: What exactly is truth and how are we supposed to wield it?
We see the word “truth” pop up in the play many times. One of the first times we see it is when Manders is condemning Mrs. Alving for not taking better care of her son, Oswald, since Oswald now holds very liberal views on topics like marriage. He states, “Mrs. Alving, you are in truth a very guilty mother … I see it as my duty to tell you this” (Ibsen 115). Manders appoints himself to be the moral police as the religious leader of the region, yet as we see later on, he has some flaws as well. After this, Mrs. Alving replies with her anecdote on her husband and we see the word “truth” appear again: “But now, Pastor Manders, now I’m going to tell you the truth. I swore to myself that one day you should know” (Ibsen 116). What follows reveals a tragic secret of a vileness hidden by a perfect facade. Truth has the ability to reveal, but is it a force for good?
We can also discern a struggle that comes from this idea of truth in the play. In Act Two, an argument occurs between Manders and Mrs. Alving over whether Mrs. Alving should tell Oswald about the truth concerning his father. Manders is afraid that it will shatter Oswald’s “ideals”, to which Mrs. Alving responds: “but what about the truth?”(Ibsen 124). This conflict between truth and ideals reveals something not only crucial to this play, but also to our common humanity. Was it the right thing for Oedipus to be told his true actions? Does the priest in Pushkin represent a sort of “truth” or rather just a set of ideals? Can an ideal be truth?
Well how does this relate to the class? Do not fear fellow classmates, we did not forget the “contagion” aspect of the play. Again, we think it relates to the morality of truth. In the play, Oswald has two major alone moments with his mother in which we see him struggle whether to tell his mother about his fatal illness or not. The first time they are alone for a significant time together, Oswald beats around the bush about his brain problem, making it more abstract, saying “Mother, it’s my mind that’s given way… destroyed … I’ll never be able to work again!”(Ibsen 137). On the flip side, Mrs. Alving is also hiding truth from her son. The stage directions/movements during this scene indicate anxiety, shock, and fear (“jumps up, pale and trembling”). She knows that his father had the same problem.
The disease that Oswald is suffering from is a hereditary one. At first he did not believe that such a disease could have come from his father. He had a very high regard for his father so he took the blame on himself. He claims the illness he has is mainly because of the way he lived his life, and he only realizes the truth at the very end of the play. However, we know that it is hereditary, and not only had he inherited the disease, but he also inherited his drinking habits and debauchery. For instance, Oswald asks his mother, “You must have some of that cold punch in the house, haven’t you” (Ibsen 139). He also flirts with Regine. Evidently, he is into drinking and is reprobate, other contagions that he inherited from his father.
Mrs Alving was working hard to establish the Orphanage to maintain her husband’s good name, just like she used to preach good things about her husband when he was alive. With the Orphanage, she is trying to hide the truth about her husband. However, the Orphanage gets destroyed by the fire. This is a sign that Mr Alving will no longer hide the truth and eventually, she tells the truth to her son. Later, we also discover that Manders accepts to support Engstrand’s saloon called “Captain Alving’s Home”, which is essentially a brothel and will be a place of debauchery just like the real Captain’s character.
Moreover, the sun is the symbol of truth in the play. Oswald comes back home looking for truth and support. Just like the sun, he does not get to know and see the truth since Mrs Alving hides it from him. She believes that hiding it will do her and Oswald good. As the play progresses she wants to release her secrets, as she feels that she has kept it to herself for too long. But was she correct in telling the truth? Was Manders correct in asking her not to reveal it? However, even though she eventually reveals the truth to her son, it does not help him. Truth, which was thought to be a source of enlightenment, turns out to be the source of madness. Regine leaves Oswald, Mrs Alving does not acquire inner peace and Oswald goes crazy. The play ends with the sun coming up and Oswald says, “The sun…The sun”.(Ibsen 164).
Of course, we only touched on some of the topics that are raised in the play; we’re sure you guys found many more. We hope that what we provided you will raise some significant insights into the play and into the relevance of truth with regards to contagion.
“The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable”
Love, प्रेम, co љубов
Wes, Krishna and Evgenija