Short summary - Ghosts (Gengangere) - Henrik Johan Ibsen

Scandinavian literature summaries - 2023

Short summary - Ghosts (Gengangere)
Henrik Johan Ibsen

The action takes place in modern Ibsen Norway in the estate of fr Alving on the west coast of the country. It's raining lightly. Clattering with wooden soles, joiner Engstrand enters the house. The maid Regina orders him not to make noise: upstairs, the son of Fru Alving Oswald, who has just arrived from Paris, is sleeping. The carpenter reports that the orphanage he was building is ready for tomorrow's opening. At the same time, a monument to chamberlain Alving, the late husband of the hostess, in whose honor the shelter is named, will be unveiled. Engstrand has earned decently from the construction and is going to open his own institution in the city - a hotel for sailors. This is where a woman would come in handy. Does your daughter want to move in with him? In response, Engstrand hears a snort: what kind of “daughter” is she to him? No, Regina is not going to leave the house, where she is so welcome and everything is so noble - she even learned a little French.

The carpenter leaves. Pastor Manders appears in the living room; he dissuades Mrs. Alving from insuring the shelter she has built - there is no need to openly doubt the strength of a charitable cause. By the way, why doesn't Mrs. Alving want Regina to move to her father in the city?

Oswald joins the mother and pastor. He argues with Manders, who denounces the moral character of Bohemia. Morality among artists and artists is no better and no worse than in any other class. If only the pastor could hear what the highly moral officials who come there to “dine” tell them about in Paris! Frau Alving supports her son: the pastor condemns her in vain for reading free-thinking books - with his obviously unconvincing defense of church dogmas, he only arouses interest in them.

Oswald goes for a walk. The pastor is angry. Hasn't life taught Fra Alving anything? Does she remember how, just a year after the wedding, she ran away from her husband to the Manders house and refused to return? Then the pastor still managed to bring her out of her "exalted state" and return her home, to the path of duty, to the hearth and lawful spouse. Didn't Chamberlain Alving behave like a real man? He multiplied the family fortune and worked very fruitfully for the benefit of society. And didn't he make her, his wife, his worthy business assistant? And further. The current vicious views of Oswald are a direct consequence of his lack of home education - it was Ms. Alfing who insisted that her son study away from home!

Fru Alving is touched by the pastor's words. Good! They can talk seriously! The pastor knows that she did not love her late husband: chamberlain Alving simply bought her from relatives. Handsome and charming, he did not stop drinking and promiscuity after the wedding. No wonder she ran away from him. She loved Manders then, and he seemed to like him. And Manders is mistaken if he thinks that Alving has improved - he died the same bastard he always was. Moreover, he brought vice into his own house: she once found him on the balcony with the maid Johanna. Alving got his way. Does the Manders know that their maid Regina is the illegitimate daughter of a chamberlain? For a round sum, the carpenter Engstrand agreed to cover up Johanna's sin, although he does not know the whole truth about her either - Johanna invented a visiting American especially for him.

As for her son, she was forced to send him away from home. When he was seven years old, he began to ask too many questions. After the story with the maid, Mrs. Alving took the reins of the house into her own hands, and it was she, and not her husband, who did the housework! And she also made incredible efforts to keep her husband's behavior hidden from society, to observe external propriety.

Having finished his confession (or rebuke to the pastor), Mrs. Alving escorts him to the door. And they both hear, passing by the dining room, the exclamation of Regina escaping from the arms of Oswald. "Ghosts!" exclaims Fru Alving. It seems to her that she has again been transported into the past and sees a couple on the balcony - the chamberlain and the maid Johanna.

Fru Alving calls ghosts not only “people from the other world” (this is how this concept is more correctly translated from Norwegian). Ghosts, according to her, are generally “all sorts of old obsolete concepts, beliefs and the like.” It was they who, according to Frau Alving, determined her fate, the character and views of Pastor Manders and, finally, the mysterious illness of Oswald. According to the diagnosis of a Parisian doctor, Oswald's disease is hereditary, but Oswald, who practically did not know his father and always idealized him, did not believe the doctor, he considers his frivolous adventures in Paris at the beginning of his studies to be the cause of the disease. In addition, he is tormented by a constant inexplicable fear. She and her mother are sitting in the living room in the deepening twilight. A lamp is brought into the room, and Frau Alving, wanting to relieve her son of guilt, is going to tell him the whole truth about his father and Regina, to whom he has already frivolously promised a trip to Paris. Suddenly, the conversation is interrupted by the appearance of the pastor in the living room and the cry of Regina. There is a fire near the house! The newly built Shelter named after Chamberlain Alving is on fire.

The time is drawing near. It's the same living room. The lamp on the table is still on. The clever carpenter Engstrand in a veiled form blackmails Manders, claiming that it was he, the pastor, who awkwardly removed the carbon from the candle and caused the fire. However, he should not worry, Engstrand will not tell anyone about this. But let the pastor also help him in a good undertaking - equipping a hotel for sailors in the city. The pastor agrees.

The carpenter and pastor leave, they are relieved in the living room by Mrs. Alving and Oswald, who has just returned from a fire that could not be extinguished. The interrupted conversation resumes. Oswald's mother had time to think of many things in the short night that had passed. She was especially struck by one of her son’s phrases: “In their land, people are taught to look at work as a curse, as a punishment for sins, and life as a vale of sorrow, from which the sooner the better to get rid of.” Now, telling her son the truth about his father, she does not judge her husband so strictly - his gifted and strong nature simply did not find any use in their wilderness and was wasted on sensual pleasures. Oswald understands which ones. Let him know that Regina, who is present at their conversation, is his sister. Hearing this, Regina hurriedly says goodbye and leaves them. She was about to leave when she learned that Oswald was ill. Only now Oswald tells his mother why he had previously asked her if she was ready to do anything for him. And why, among other things, did he need Regina so much. He did not fully tell his mother about the disease - he is doomed to madness, the second attack will turn him into a mindless animal. Regina would have easily given him a bottle of morphine to drink in order to get rid of the patient. Now he passes the bottle to his mother.

Mother consoles Oswald. His seizure has already passed, he is at home, he will recover. It is nice here. Yesterday it was raining all day, but today he will see his homeland in all its real splendor, Mrs. Alving goes to the window and puts out the lamp. Let Oswald look at the rising sun and the sparkling mountain glaciers below!

Oswald looks out the window, silently repeating "the sun, the sun," but he does not see the sun.

The mother looks at her son, clutching a vial of morphine in her hands.