Ibsen’s “Ghosts” is a slap on the face of those critics who questioned the stand of Nora in A Doll’s House. It blends an assortment of themes together. It presents the conflict between social dictums and individual choice, marriage and living-in, euthanasia and venereal disease, and selfless love and selfish love. The play holds a special relevance in the world of today as it relates with the contemporary times.
Mrs. Alving is the so-called Nora who does not bang the door on selfless love and does not shun social dictates and continues in the garb of the “perfect wife”. The consequences that she meets with are ‘Ghosts’ haunting her in the form of the depression of solitude, the immoral stand of her disease-ridden son and the burning of her dreamsin the form of Mr.Alving’s home. It is contrasted with the selfish love of Regina to foreground the former, where the latter hails the “joy of living”, it reigning supreme. An unlearned person like Engstrand has a better perception of morality in that he comprehends that saving a falling woman at the cost of a lie uttered, is in good spirits than adhering to superficial ideals of morality. Pastor Manders’ decision to help Engstrand to begin a Home for Sailors that is a brothel house in disguise highlights the underlying hypocrisy in the pastor’s teachings. Ibsen always asserted how mankind could be redeemed “by exposing the corpse that infects the cargo of modern life.”
Ibsen deals with the taboo topics of venereal disease and euthanasia in a new light. He illustrates how the victim even though totally blameless, can be subject to venereal disease. Oswald in spite of all his modern notions confesses to his mother:”Mother, I have never led a dissipated life. It reverberates the doctor’s saying:”The sins of fathers shall be visited on the children.” It is indeed heart-rending that Mr. Alving’s last ray of hope gets shattered here. The play also questions the ethics of euthanasia, as to its permissibility in an inevitable situation like this.
The term ‘Ghosts’ is presented here to portray the inexorable and incapacitating consequence of the past -that the playwright also underlines in the form of hereditary disease and inescapable conventions. The moral institution of marriage is also brought into conflict with Christian doctrines that negates divorce as an option.
Ibsen theatre is essentially for the society, by the society and of the society. Martin Lamm claims that “the nightmarish experience left by the play in the audience is the result of not only what is said, but also what is not said, yet implied.”
© Rukhaya MK 2010
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