While reading Ghosts, I was struck with the theme of hiding the truth for the sake of maintaining ideals and reputation. One example of this is of the characters implicitly conversing with each other on topics too taboo to be explicitly articulated (Mrs. Alving saying “Regine belonged here in this house…” instead of explaining how Regine is related to the family).
This concept of evading the truth reminds me of another play, Suddenly Last Summer by Tennessee Williams, which also tackles the ideas of illness and preexisting rigid social structures, although written almost 100 years later. William’s play is about Mrs. Venable and Catherine (her niece), and it focuses on Mrs. Venable’s recently diseased son, Sebastian. Mrs. Venable attempts to have a psychiatrist perform a lobotomy on Catherine, as she claims her niece has gone mad. This is because Catherine, the only person present with Sebastian at the time of his death, reveals that Sebastián used to “procure” young males for sexual exploitation, and that he died being devoured by a mob of starving children – all of which Mrs. Venable refuses to believe.
While the illness that is uncovered in Ghosts is a sexually transmitted disease, Suddenly Last Summer grapples with the idea of Catherine’s reliability as a narrator of Sebastian’s death, hinting that she might be mentally ill. I was reminded of this play, as both illnesses aforementioned are perceived as “invisible” illnesses (up until the stage at which Syphilis becomes debilitating).
Another similarity is that both plays tackle the topic of social structures and the difficult decision of challenging them. In Suddenly Last Summer, Catherine suffers the consequences of choosing to challenge the structures by talking about Sebastian’s troubling reality. In Ghosts, on the other hand, the characters suffer the consequences of choosing not to challenge the structures and hiding the truth in the name of ideals.
A.N. Here’s a short clip of a film adaptation of Suddenly Last Summer