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Henrik Ibsen Ghosts Essay Topics

Essay about Symbolism in the play Ghosts by Henrik Ibsen

850 Words4 Pages

In his play “Ghosts';, Ibsen forces the reader to think about his own ideas and believes, as well as those of society and past ages. Symbolism is one technique repeatedly used to portray the author’s ideas through rain, light, fire, the orphanage, Oswald, and through Engstrand himself. The use of religion is also interesting in the way the town people and Pastor Mander uses it.
     There are many symbols present throughout Ibsen’s work. Rain is used as a symbol of the cleansing of evil and impurities. Outside of Mrs. Alving’s home it remains rainy and stormy until she faces the truth about her husband. The rain washes away the disguises so that the truth may be seen.…show more content…

     The orphanage is used as a subtle symbol for the illusion created by Mrs. Alving. The brothel, Captain Alving’s Home, symbolizes the reality of his life. In the end however, the truth is made known about both by the burning of the orphanage (287), and the brothel taking its place. These two actions illustrate the awakening from illusion to reality in the play. Oswald can also be seen as a main symbol. He is ignorant of the truth, giving him a false sense of innocence. He seems to have some power to stand up for his own beliefs, something his mother lacks. Oswald, is used to represent the truth of his situation which is hidden in is past. His illness and his wanting to die illustrate this idea. A final symbol used throughout the play is that of Engstrand. He represents society as a whole. Engstrand has a crippled leg; yet he says about his ethics he has “two good legs to stand on'; (277). Society is very much like this. It seems to be solid and stable but has weak foundations. Society will never completely heal or lose its flaws, nor will Engstrand.
     Religion plays a major role in the everyday lives of the townspeople. The members of this community do not have not have the same direct contact with their God as the members of the ancient Greek world, but reach their God through a divine person (Pastor Manders). In this way, the society

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Ghosts is Henrik Ibsen’s effort to substitute the modern scientific concept of heredity for the Greek idea of fate. More important, it is a mordant attack on society and societal standards. In explicitly stating that these standards are responsible for Mrs. Alving’s tragedy, Ibsen inflamed even the liberal sensibilities of his day. The play can still be read as a study in what has come to be known as the science of semantics—the disruptive effect caused when words or concepts are, in society, divorced from the realities for which they are supposed to stand.

Frequently called the founder of modern drama, Ibsen, like Pablo Picasso in painting and Igor Stravinsky in music, was a dynamic innovator whose far-ranging experiments had a continuing influence on Western theater and culture. Ghosts, Ibsen’s most celebrated, at one time even notorious, play, was the key document in his “social-realistic” period during the 1870’s and 1880’s. To some extent, the play obscured the fact that he was a protean writer whose social-realistic phase occupied only two decades of a career that spanned half a century, from 1849 to 1899, during which he explored many social, psychological, and metaphysical problems in a wide range of theatrical styles.

In the 1880’s, however, Ghosts was a red flag to the conventional theater audience and a defiant banner for the avant-garde. Ibsen’s earlier social play, Et dukkehjem(1879; A Doll’s House, 1880), in which a woman leaves her husband to achieve maturity, found stout defenders but also excited denunciation (in fact, the playwright was forced to produce a happy ending, in which Nora stays home, for German consumption). The controversy was in large part responsible for the play’s commercial success on stage and, even more emphatically, in book form. Ghosts, which deals with a woman who does stay home, was another matter, for this time the public concluded that the play was entirely too shocking, especially for its open treatment of venereal disease and its defense of unmarried cohabitation. Even the sales of Ibsen’s earlier plays dropped off. One newspaper critic summed up the general opinion when he wrote, “The book has no place on the Christmas table of any Christian home.” Eventually, the play became one of the pillars of literature.

One aspect of Ghosts is its attack on conventional morality. Pastor Manders embodies everything Ibsen hated in those conventions—the “ghosts” of the title. Manders is an unconscious hypocrite. Though he sees himself as a moral and ethical leader, he is motivated almost exclusively by fear of what others think of him. When he discusses the question of insuring the new orphanage, he states that he is not opposed to the principle of insurance—he himself is insured, and his parishioners insure themselves and their businesses—but he fears that by insuring the orphanage, his wealthier patrons may insist he is showing less reliance than he should on divine Providence. The decision not to insure the orphanage is based neither on an interpretation of God’s will nor out of concern for the orphans but for fear of public opinion. To Ibsen, the conventional moral code is itself hypocritical, and those who adhere to it are neither morally nor spiritually motivated.

In the closing act, fear of what others may think proves to be Manders’s undoing. After the orphanage burns to the ground, the unscrupulous, consciously hypocritical Engstrand convinces the pastor that he, Manders, caused the fire. Since Manders’s sole concern is his reputation, when Engstrand “accepts” the blame for the fire (and it is...

(The entire section is 1508 words.)

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