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In Ghosts, is Oswald a sympathetic or flawed character?

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hhhjjjkkk | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted May 19, 2012 at 12:08 PM via web

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In Ghosts, is Oswald a sympathetic or flawed character?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted January 3, 2013 at 8:40 AM (Answer #1)

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It is very hard to watch this play and not feel sympathy for Oswald. He is a character who is sacrificed essentially because of his mother's desire to follow the "ghosts" of duty and public opinion. His life essentially is sacrificed because of his mother's all-consuming need to be faithful to her dead husband's image, no matter what the reality of life with him was like. Yet Oswald too faces a slow, lingering death, and in Act III he describes this to his mother:

But this is so horribly revolting. To be turned into a helpless child again. To have to be fed, to have to be... Oh, it doesn't bear talking about ... For the doctor said it wouldn't necessarily prove fatal immediately. He called it a kind of softening of the brain... or something like that.

The kind of death Oswald faces and the way that he is left, endlessly repeating his desire for the "sun" at the end of the play in monotone, presents him to the audience as a figure deserving of sympathy. The play is somewhat problematic as it suggests that Oswald is automatically following in the footsteps of his father. He looks like him and also tries to make advances on the house maid, just like his father did, and yet the audience is left wondering to what extent free will comes into play in such matters. Is his life, and his actions, including his vices, mapped out for him, or does he have an element of control over his actions? In spite of these questions, the predominant emotion an audience feels towards Oswald is sympathy due to the way he is treated by his mother and the death he faces.

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