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Nov 5, 2011

Ibsen's Ghosts


First of all, it is necessary for us to know the condition of realism dramas before trying to comment or criticize them. Basically, realism dramas are not different in many ways compared to dramas today. We can even say that realism dramas are the pioneer of modern drama.

By the mid-nineteenth century, the Romantic outlook had been modified considerably, for the belief in man’s idealistic nature had received many setbacks. For example, after the downfall of Napoleon around 1815, most European countries had reinstated political conditions more oppressive than those of the eighteenth century. The deals of liberty, equality, and fraternity now seemed doomed. Furthermore, the general misery of a large part of humanity was being emphasized by the industrial Revolution, as a result of which workers were pouring into urban centers where living conditions were daily more inadequate. Crime and poverty were prevalent (Brockett, 19- : 287).

In the face of such political and economic conditions the Romanticist’s emphasis upon the ideal seemed both too vague and too impractical. Many came to argue that dreams must be abandoned for a systematic inquiry into actual condition and for solutions based upon discoverable facts. Observation, prediction, and control of society became the new goals (Brockett, 19- : 287).

Among the major influences on the new though was Auguste Comte (1798-1857), whose philosophy came to be called positivism. Comte argued that sociology is the highest form of science and that all knowledge should ultimately be used for the improvement of society. He states that the key to knowledge lies in precise observation and experimentation, since all events must be understood in terms of natural cause and effect (Brockett, 19- : 287).

Positivism attracted a large following and was soon reenforced by Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species (1859). Darwin’s doctrines may be divided into two main theses: (1) all forms of life have developed gradually from a common ancestry; and (2) the evolution of species is explained by the “survival of the fittest” (Brockett, 19- : 288).

Darwin’s theories have several significant implications. First, heredity and environment are made the determinants of existence. Second, heredity and environment become explanations for all character traits and actions. Furthermore, since behavior is determined by factors beyond the individual’s control, he cannot be blamed for it. Third, Darwin’s theses cast considerable doubt upon the existence of God as traditionally conceived. Fourth, Darwin’s theories strengthened the idea of progress. Fifth, man is reduced to the status of a natural object (Brockett, 19- : 288).

Ibsen is supposed to be much influenced by Darwin’s theories. The first and second impacts as mentioned above, implicitly, drawn in his works during the second period of his career. These impacts are represented in many ways. The characters of Ghosts, which was first performed in 1881, is a good example of how characters who create a social reality at the age of Ibsen, put in practice.

Ghosts tells a story about a young man named Osvald Alving. He was a son of The Alvings. He just came from his long life abroad, in France. His father, Mr. Alving, was just died. He wanted to follow the ceremony was taken place by his mother, Mrs. Helena Alving, in order to give the least honor for his husband. In his coming, Osvald decided not to live abroad in France for longer. He wanted to stay with his mother and their servant.

Osvald’s willing scorned Mrs. Alving. She was the only one who encouraged Osvald to go abroad. Her reason was unique. She trusted that it was not good for young Osvald kept staying at his own home. This is due to her husband, Mr. Alving who was a heartbreaker, was suffered from syphilis. She didn’t want young Osvald inherited her husband’s illness. So that she encouraged young Osvald to go abroad and lived in France. Young Osvald didn’t know his mother’s really reason in encouraging him to go abroad since he was about seven years old. He just followed what her wanted him to do.

Osvald even had not been so long staying at home when finally he felt in love with their servant, Regine Engstrad. Mrs. Alving was shocked knowing this. Both Osvald and Regine didn’t know a secret. Indeed, Regine was Osvald’s stepsister. Mr. Alving had an affair with Regine’s mother who was their servant as well. Mrs. Alving worried the same thing occurred to his husband would be repeated to her son. Like father like son.

Mrs. Alving’s worry was increased at the time she knew that Osvald, who wasn’t a heartbreaker as his father was, suffered from syphilis as well. It was supposed to be inherited-sin. Firstly, Osvald blamed himself, he was angry to himself, and thought that it was all due to his carelessness. But finally, he made up his mind that it was an inherited-sin as well.

Osvald finally found that he didn’t have any hope to live for longer. Knowing Regine, who was supposed to be his joy of life, indeed, was his stepsister, and despair of syphilis, Osvald wanted to end his own life. He asked his mother to injure him Morphine tablets in over-doses. It wasn’t clear his mother realized his willing to suicide or not. That’s the end.

From the summary above, it is now become clear that Ibsen was much influenced by Darwin’s theories. He was strongly agreed that heredity and environment are made the determinants of existence. Heredity and environment, then, become explanations for all character traits and actions. Furthermore, since behavior is determined by factors beyond the individual’s control, he cannot be blamed for it.

This, then, become the concept of modern drama that is however a man survive against the heredity and environment, it doesn’t change anything. Everything is determined by social reality. This is completely different from the concept of previous works, of course. As it has told above that characterization of Ghosts obviously described the society at the age of Ibsen. The question then may arise: what kind of characters who create such social reality at the age of Ibsen so he came to that concept? To analyze it, let’s see each of the character.

1. Osvald Alving
It is not necessary to explain, twice, that Ibsen is a playwright who often shows that free will, at the end story, finally must have defeated by the social reality. Or, according to Taine, Ibsen is a playwright who put his character in inferior position against the milieu. Osvald is such the character. Osvald is described as a brave, dynamic youth. This is shown when Osvald saw his mother was talking with Pastor Meanders. Osvald didn’t like Pastor Meanders. Osvald didn’t agree at all with Pastor Meanders’ view. Moreover, he bravely against him. His particular reason in against the man in such manner is his stereotype to him. That he lived in France, Osvald truly knew the man didn’t like it at all. Given this, the man called him ‘a prodigal son’

Osvald adored beauty, loved glory, and particularly freedom. He stayed in France for so long and became a part of France artists’ enlightenment. This is shown by his choice of work which he fond of in France: painting.

Osvald is typically a youth who is brought up by modernity. He is a rational man. Simply this is drawn when he was sick, he went to the doctor. Osvald even couldn’t understand why a doctor who is known as a rational creature suspected that his illness, syphilis, was an inherit-sin.
At that time, Osvald’s belief in rationalism was tested. Osvald’s, who was first didn’t know –even it could be- didn’t care about his father’s past, at the time he knew it, he questioned himself about the truth of inherit-sin. He almost assured himself that it’s true: his illness was an inherit sin.

Unfortunately, at the end of the story, Osvald finally was defeated by the social reality. What a rational he was, he couldn’t avoid the fate that he was suffered from syphilis.
Thus, according to Ibsen, Osvald spirit to keep alive was killed, murdered by a fact that he must have been defeated by his fate. By syphilis which he inherited of his father.

2. Mrs. Helene Alving
Mrs. Alving is completely different from Osvald. Mrs. Alving didn’t live in spirit of beauty and freedom. On the contrary, Mrs. Alving was totally conscious what a putrid environment around her and her family.

But among the putrid environment, she chose to avoid it rather than against it. Owe to Freud’s words, she has a good self-defense-mechanism. She married, according to Pastor Manders indirect satire, a ‘loose man’, but she didn’t give up. She kept survive and she had never said anything to show it off. Her purpose was only to bring Osvald up without any bad influences of his father and not let Osvald touch a penny of his father’s wealth.

Unluckily, behind her consciousness of the environment, basically, Mrs. Alving is a defeated woman. Although she didn’t fond of her husband behavior, she even could do nothing when at last Regine, her stepdaughter, must stay with her. She even protected her from Pastor Manders when she though that a danger was threatening Regene.

The other evidence of Mrs. Alving’s defeat can also be seen at the end of the story. She had tried to separate Osvald from his father’s bad influences. But finally she failed. Osvald was suffered from syphilis, even he wanted to suicide. She even could take a decision when her son was dealing with the agony.

Thus, this is the irony. Although Mrs. Alving didn’t live in a “freedom of illusion” as the way Osvald did, she could do nothing. That she knew what a putrid the social reality around her is, it didn’t help her to win. She was defeated –and she must have been the most tragic character in this Ibsen’s Ghosts, it wasn’t Osvald.

3. Pastor Manders
As the way Ibsen used to do with his religious character, he located him as hypocrite man. In one side, Pastor Manders is described as a pastor who kept the orthodoxy and moral values. Almost each of his words described what a moralist that he is. He talked about the papers of deeds, his Sunday activity that was denied by Osvald impolitely, the behavior should be done, etc.

But, on the contrary, he loved Regine and tried to blur the fact that Regine is Osvald’s stepsister. This fact is never shown in the plays. But it is not difficult to be concluded since it is known that Pastor Manders is Jacob Engstrad’s ally.

Being Jacob Engstrad’s Ally, Pastor Manders was also involved in settling Regine in The Alving’s house. In this case, his purpose is quite different from Engstrad’s. He, indeed, loved Regine. This is only illustrated implicitly when he supported Jabob to get Regine home.

Pastor Manders is a materialistic man, as well. This fact is only shown implicitly. He strongly encouraged Mrs. Alving to have insurance for The Orphanage. It can’t be denied that he was disappointed when fire decayed The Orphanage. As much as possible he argued when Engstrad attacked him for his despair not getting insurance from the blamed Orphanage.

Given this, simply it can be said that Manders is a hypocrite. He is one part of putrid society, who finally defeated people like Osvald and his mother.

4. Jacob Engstrad
Jacob Engstrad is Manders’ ally. It means that he is the other man who created a putrid society who around Osvald. Engstrad was described as a poor carpenter, a wretch, who finally saw a probability of having money. He asked Regine to be adopted as the exchange for Mr. Alving’s debt to him.

Settling Regine in The Osvalds’ home, he also got money from Regine’s salary. It can be concluded that Engstrad is a character who is fond of profit from other people misery, nonetheless, he still loved her stepdaughter.

5. Regine Engstrad
Regine Engstrad is a “neutral” character. She is described as an innocent girl and doesn’t know anything about so many mysteries around her. She lived in her own world, separated, without she knew that there were many people organized her life.

In the other words, she is a victim, like Osvald and his mother were. The distinction is that, Regine is neither a girl like Osvald, who is very enthusiastic in running her life, nor his mother, who is very conscious of her environment. She is an ordinary, innocent girl and damn right to be a reality victim.

From the discussion above, we can see such characters who create the social reality at the age of Ibsen. A man’s struggle against his environment is supposed to be nothing. For whatever reason, he must have defeated. The owner of the authority that deserves to determine the result of a man’s struggle is social reality. So Ibsen came to the concept that however a man survives against the heredity and environment, it doesn’t change anything. Everything is determined by social reality.

Ibsen has also made his character complex personalities by showing both good and bad aspects of each. None is perfect, but none is villainous. This complexity makes each role challenging to actors, and requires subtlety in playing (Brockett, 19- : 294).

Furthermore, the supporters of realism suggested, if audiences did not like the pictures of contemporary life being shown on the stage, they should strive to change the society which had fur-fearless in his treatment of what he saw around him (Brockett, 19- : 289).

For the realist, then, change was the watchdog. Realism sought to strip away the fa├žade of sentimental escapism pervading the theatre and to objectively examine and present man as he is. Understanding replaced moralizing; science replacing metaphysics. These were plays of ideas, not action; of criticizing tradition instead of perpetuating it. Realism propounded “art for truth’s sake,” not “art for the art’s sake” (Small, Norman M., 19- : 333).

Brockett, Oscar G.,The Theatre: An Introduction, 2nd edition ( )
Small, Norman M., The Making of Drama, (Boston: Holbrook Press, 19- )

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