In Henrik Ibsen's play, Ghosts, what are the characteristics of the relationship between mother and son?
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In Henrik Ibsen's play, Ghosts, the audience is presented with the "ghost" of Mrs. Alving's husband—Captain Avling. Although he is a man who is remembered by the community (ten years after his passing) as a good and decent person, Mrs. Alving sets the record straight in discussion with Pastor Manders. The pastor has told Mrs. Avling that she has a responsibility to take better care of her son in that while she left her husband for the first year of their marriage, she returned (at the pastor's counsel) and found him to be a good husband. Mrs. Avling reveals that Captain Avling was not a good man, but a philanderer. Mrs. Avling sees, upon her son's return home, that he is much the same as his father was, though she tried hard to keep Captain Avling's influences as far from her son as possible.
For instance, Mrs. Avling sent her son away to school at a young age, believing she could protect him so he would not turn out like his father. However, despite his mother's efforts, Oswald seems to be much the same as his father: smoking, drinking and having affairs "with women outside of marriage." The ghost of Captain Avling still affects those he left in his wake during life and death: the woman Oswald wants to marry is actually is sister, by an affair his father had. Oswald is dying of a disease (the allusion is to syphilis) which he contracted while still in his mother's womb.
For all that Mrs. Avling has tried to do to put the past right (such as building an orphanage in her husband's memory), she finds that she has failed. In the end, she takes the blame for her husband's life of immorality, just another thing she has not be able to control or fix in light of Captain Avling's behavior. Above all, though she has tried to use space to separate father and son by sending her son away, Oswald has not been able to avoid the same immoral behaviors as his father, and is even now punished by his father's behavior ("sins of the father"), dying from a disease the young man's sire passed on to him. By the story's end, the woman Oswald had hoped would nurse him through the final days of his life, Regina Engstrand (also Oswald's sister) has left, without any true feelings for Oswald. It is Mrs. Avling who promises her son that she will act as his nurse, supporting him as his life comes to an end. As Oswald wishes for nothing other than the sight of the sun, with pills in hand (which Oswald has brought to end his life before he loses his mind), Mrs. Avling approaches her son, which the ghost of Captain Avling even now makes ready to take from her, as the curtain closes on the scene.
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