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Ghosts

Henrik Ibsen

Act 1, Part 2 of 5

Act 1, Part 1 of 5

Act 1, Part 3 of 5

Summary

As Regina goes to get Mrs. Alving, Pastor Manders examines the books on the table. Mrs. Alvin enters, and they discuss Oswald's return—he has been gone for two years. They sit down to discuss the paperwork surrounding the orphanage. The Pastor interrupts and asks Mrs. Alvin if she enjoys the books she owns. She says they give her confidence, and the ideas she finds in them confirm her opinions. He does not approve of the books, even though he has not read them, but he has read much literature that condemns them. He begs her to keep her opinions to herself, especially in regard to the founding of the orphan asylum. Mrs. Alvin looks over the deeds and contracts for a long time. She is satisfied. The Pastor also convinces her that she should not purchase insurance for the orphanage. He thinks that many influential people might not approve because buying insurance would be a sign of not having enough faith in God. The lady agrees eventually.

Their conversation turns to Jakob Engstrand. The Pastor insists that he is trying to lead a good life, by daily visiting his daughter Regina, so that she can keep him on the right path. Mrs. Alvin objects because she knows that Engstrand does not visit all that often. The Pastor goes on to suggest that she should release Regina from her servant's position so she can work with her father, but Mrs. Alvin objects violently, swearing that she has taken Regina into her house and will not let her leave. At that moment, she hears Oswald coming and says there is no need to discuss the matter further.

Commentary

Mrs. Alvin's anxiety over letting Regina go back to her father hints at the existence of deeper secrets. These will be revealed later in the play. Throughout Ibsen's play, many events at the beginning of the play are only understood fully at the play's end. For this reason, the play merits at least one rereading. The discussion over insuring the orphanage is such an event: the audience cannot yet know its significance. However, the amount of time Ibsen dedicates to the discussion hints to the audience that the matter will become important later on. Thus, the conversation serves as a kind of foreshadowing: the audience wonders why insurance will be significant and what will happen to the orphanage.

Through these dialogues, the audience also gains insight into the Pastor's methods of persuasion. We see him easily convince Mrs. Alvin not to insure her orphanage. His argument, that public opinion would not approve, is a flimsy one, but because he puts it intelligently, he is able to convince Mrs. Alvin. His ulterior motive will be revealed later in the play.

At the same time, the Pastor's own gullibility is glaringly obvious. He is convinced that Engstrand is a good but needy man, whereas we know from Engstrand's conversation with Regina that the opposite is, in fact, true. It is important to note here how Ibsen uses irony and suspense to keep the audience interested in his play. By making the audience privy to various conversations, the audience knows more than any one character. Thus, the audience wonders when a given character will reveal information to another or find out a secret that the audience knows. The simultaneous presence of gullibility and craftiness in the character of the Pastor results in a strong sense of irony.

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