Ghosts by Henrik Ibsen BA English Notes Semester 6 BBMKU Univeristy.

Ghosts by Henrik Summary

“Ghosts” is a play written by Henrik Ibsen, a Norwegian playwright, and was first performed in 1881. The play explores themes of social conventions, family dynamics, and the consequences of past actions.

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The story is set in a Norwegian coastal town and revolves around the Alvings, a wealthy family. The main character, Mrs. Helen Alving, is a widow preparing to dedicate an orphanage in memory of her late husband, Captain Alving. Her son, Oswald, has returned home after living abroad for many years. Throughout the play, the dark secrets of the family are gradually revealed.

The central conflict arises from Captain Alving being an unfaithful husband who lived a reckless and immoral life. His actions led to the deterioration of his wife’s mental and emotional well-being. Mrs. Alving hoped to redeem her husband’s reputation by preserving his memory and creating the orphanage. However, as the truth unfolds, it becomes evident that the Captain’s immoral behaviour has had lasting consequences.

Oswald, Mrs Alving’s son, becomes the embodiment of these consequences. He inherited a hereditary disease from his father, slowly driving him to madness. Oswald’s illness symbolizes the inherited moral decay and guilt that plagues the family.

As the play progresses, Mrs Alving’s confidant, Pastor Manders, attempts to maintain societal appearances and suppress the truth. However, he ultimately fails to confront the reality of the situation. Meanwhile, Regina, Mrs Alving’s maid, is revealed to be an illegitimate daughter of Captain Alving. She represents the consequences of his immoral actions.

In the play’s climax, Oswald confesses his love for Regina, not knowing they are half-siblings. Mrs. Alving realizes the gravity of the situation and reveals the truth to Oswald. The revelation pushes Oswald further into despair, and he asks his mother for assistance in ending his suffering. Mrs Alving is faced with a difficult decision but ultimately chooses to give Oswald a fatal dose of morphine, ending his life to spare him from the torment of his disease.

The play concludes with Mrs Alving accepting the reality of her situation and deciding to confront the hypocrisy of society. She plans to demolish the orphanage, which she now sees as a façade to hide the truth, and encourages others to face the ghosts of their past.

In summary, “Ghosts” is a play that delves into the consequences of past actions and the destructive nature of societal expectations. It explores themes of inherited guilt, the struggle for individual freedom, and the clash between personal morality and societal norms.

Ghosts by Henrik Critical appreciation

“Ghosts” by Henrik Ibsen is a play that continues to be widely acclaimed and analyzed for its bold exploration of controversial themes and its profound critique of societal norms. It is considered a significant work in Ibsen’s repertoire and the realm of realistic drama.

One of the play’s most notable aspects is its unflinching examination of taboo subjects, such as venereal disease, illegitimate children, and the hypocrisy of social conventions. Ibsen fearlessly exposes the dark underbelly of society, challenging the audience to confront uncomfortable truths and question prevailing moral values. By doing so, he pushed the boundaries of what was considered acceptable in theatre during his time, contributing to the evolution of dramatic realism.

The characterization in “Ghosts” is particularly well-crafted. Each character represents a different facet of society, and their interactions provide a multi-dimensional portrayal of human nature. Mrs Alving is a complex and tragic figure, torn between her desire for personal freedom and the constraints imposed by societal expectations. Oswald embodies the consequences of inherited guilt, reflecting the debilitating effects of past actions on future generations. The supporting characters, such as Pastor Manders and Regina, serve as foils to the main characters, highlighting the conflicts between individual desires and social conformity.

Ibsen’s skilful use of symbolism adds depth and layers of meaning to the play. The title, “Ghosts,” alludes to the haunting presence of the past and the lingering effects of hidden secrets. Initially intended as a noble gesture, the orphanage becomes a symbol of deceit and an attempt to whitewash the truth. The hereditary disease afflicting Oswald becomes a metaphor for the moral decay passed down through generations.

Moreover, the play’s structure and pacing contribute to its impact. The gradual unravelling of secrets and the building tension keep the audience engaged and invested in the characters’ fates. The climactic revelation and its devastating consequences are a powerful culmination of the themes explored throughout the play.

“Ghosts” is also notable for its social commentary. Ibsen boldly criticizes society’s hypocrisy and double standards, particularly regarding gender roles and sexual morality. He challenges traditional notions of morality and exposes the damaging effects of societal pressures on individuals and families.

In conclusion, “Ghosts” is a remarkable play that continues to captivate audiences and provoke thought. Ibsen’s daring exploration of taboo subjects, complex characters, rich symbolism, and incisive social commentary contribute to its enduring relevance and critical acclaim. It remains a powerful work of dramatic literature that challenges and stimulates audiences to question societal norms and face the ghosts of their past.


Q: When was “Ghosts” written?
A: “Ghosts” was written by Henrik Ibsen in 1881.

Q: What is the setting of the play?
A: The play is set in a coastal Norwegian town.

Q: What are the main themes explored in “Ghosts”?
A: “Ghosts” explores themes such as social conventions, family dynamics, the consequences of past actions, inherited guilt, and the clash between personal morality and societal norms.

Q: Who are the main characters in the play?
A: The main characters include Mrs. Helen Alving, Captain Alving (mentioned but absent), Oswald Alving, Pastor Manders, and Regina Engstrand.

Q: What is the central conflict of the play?
A: The central conflict arises from the immoral actions of Captain Alving and their repercussions on the Alving family, particularly Mrs. Alving and Oswald.

Q: What is the significance of the title “Ghosts”?
A: The title “Ghosts” alludes to the haunting presence of the past, hidden secrets, and the lingering effects of past actions.

Q: How do “Ghosts” challenge societal norms?
A: The play boldly critiques societal norms by exposing hypocrisy and double standards, particularly regarding gender roles and sexual morality.

Q: What is the overall message or takeaway of “Ghosts”?
A: “Ghosts” encourages the audience to confront uncomfortable truths, question prevailing moral values, and face the consequences of past actions. It prompts reflection on the damaging effects of societal expectations and the importance of individual freedom.

Q: Has “Ghosts” received critical acclaim?
A: “Ghosts” is highly regarded in theater and literature. It is considered a significant work in Ibsen’s repertoire and a seminal piece of realistic drama.