Act 1, Part 4 of 5
Oswald leaves, and the Pastor begins to sermonize to Mrs. Alving. He reminds her of the time that she fled from her husband and refused to return, attempting to take refuge with him instead. She asks the Pastor to remember how miserable she was, but he denounces her rebellious spirit and emphasizes that it is a not a woman's place to judge the husband she has chosen. He chastises her for endangering his own reputation by coming to him when she fled. He then compares this earlier failure of hers to her decision to send her son abroad while he was still so young. He sears her with guilt.
She responds with measured, deliberate speech. She tells him that, contrary to public belief, her husband did not turn over a new leaf after she returned to him. She reminds the Pastor that he never once visited her after she returned to her husband and they moved to the country to the house she presently lives in. She says that her husband did not reform; rather, she simply learned to accept his faults and hide them from the world. When she bore him a son, he only became worse. She spent nights coaxing him to drink himself to sleep so that he would not go carousing. She only survived because of the public works that she coordinated the same works that gained Captain Alvin his reputation.
Just before the Pastor begins to lecture Mrs. Alving, he says that he must speak to her not as her friend but as her priest. Yet his language is full of the same stock phrases as usual. He refers to the wife's duty to her husband just as he referred to the sanctity of marriage to Oswald, or as he spoke to Regina about her duties to Engstrand Also as usual, he is always concerned about public opinion. It angers him that Mrs. Alving endangered his reputation by fleeing to him when she was in need. (Of course, to his credit, one must remember that Mrs. Alving was attracted to him sexually, and, thus, her approach toward him could have been seen as improper). The Pastor also invoked public opinion when discussing insurance for the orphan asylum, when condemning Mrs. Alving's reading selections, and when wondering how to avoid scandal with his speech at the opening of the memorial asylum.
Mrs. Alving's speech is a watershed. She has apparently never told anyone else about her husband's failings. Like the Pastor, she inflates her speech with repetitionthe rhetorical pretensions of the educated. Her attitude toward the Pastor here is complex. First, she is angered that he accused her of betraying a worthy husband and of treating her son just as badly. But she also thinks of him as a friend, or at least as someone for whom she previously had romantic feelings. Also, she is probably concerned to give her speech an air of importance; after all, her mission for more than ten years has been to maintain her husband's good reputation. Now she is destroying that reputation, at least in the Pastor's mind. In a sense, she is making a confession, even though the aim of her speech is to absolve herself of guilt.
To understand the rest of the play, it is important to consider how Mrs. Alving must have felt after returning to her husband. The couple moved out of town and she lost contact with the Pastor, who she was fond of then, despite how she feels about him now. She suppressed her "rebellious spirit" and put up with a husband who was unfaithful and lazy. Her need to busy herself with projects is indicative of her psychological state. She began to think of her husband as an object to be hidden. In the final parts of the first act, we will see how this pressurized situation led her to deal with her son in the ways she did.
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