The play Ghosts by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, written in 1881 and first staged in 1882, sparked a lot of scrutiny from critics and the public. As it openly talked about venereal diseases, incest, religion and more. Thus, it brought in a new perspective on tragedy as a genre, since instead of discussing consequences of breaking moral code, it talks about the consequences of not breaking it (Wikipedia, 2021). And these consequences become ghosts for characters of the play. As Mrs. Alving says herself:
“Ghosts… I’m inclined to think that we are all ghosts….. It’s not just what we inherit from our mothers and father that haunts us. It’s all kinds of old defunct theories … and things like that. It’s not that they actually live on in us; they are simply lodged there, and we cannot get rid of them.”
Although Mrs. Alving doesn’t want her son to inherit anything from his father and Oswald has no good memories of his father, they are unable to stop the genetic inheritance that Oswald receives. Despite having no connections to his father, he inherits illness in the form of Neurosyphilis from him which questions the concept of nature vs nurture. Did growing up as an artist in Paris affect him enough to shape a different person or, like Oedipus, is he bound by fate after all? Manders does point out “When Oswald was standing there…. He looked the very spit and image of his father.” But Oswald also inherits much of his personality from his mother.
Both the mother and the son are drawn to new and contagious ideas about the world. Early in the play, Pastor Manders confronts Mrs. Alving over books she is reading; although we don’t know their contents, we can imagine by his reaction that they challenge established ways of thinking.
MRS. ALVING: What is it in fact you’ve got against these books?
MANDERS: Got against them? You don’t think I waste my time examining publications of that kind, surely
Note here Manders’ confidence to be entitled to judge things he had not read to begin with. This is a recurring theme within some texts for this semester – Bob, without much merit, quickly determined that nostalgia caused Alice to be fevered in Severance. He is similarly shocked later on when Oswald describes his friends in “illicit relationships.” Despite the pastor’s horror, Oswald challenges his reaction and insists that his friends are moral people, and Mrs. Alving later agrees. Ibsen emphasizes the book’s discussion of taboos by including this parallel thread contrasting the pastor’s 19th century morality with Mrs. Alving and Oswald’s new ways of imagining the world.
It is interesting how when a group is exposed to a new form of contagion, a new value (moral solidarity in this case) is created to distinguish allies and enemies: if you agree you’re a friend, if you digress you’re the outsider. An interesting question then arises: where did this set of morals originate from? Is Manders, posing as a servant to God’s will, the de facto creator for the group moral? Or is he merely a guardian conforming to a collective will of the group?
Ludien, Taman, Mohammed, Sofia