Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Pastor Manders calls on Mrs. Helen Alving on the eve of the tenth anniversary of her husband’s death to discuss certain details concerning the opening of an orphanage in memory of her late husband. The pastor finds Mrs. Alving in the best of spirits, for her son Oswald, an artist, has returned from Paris to attend the dedication of the memorial to his father. Oswald, now twenty-six, has lived away from his parents since he was seven, and Mrs. Alving is delighted at the prospect of having her son spend the entire winter with her.
Oswald idealizes his father, for in her letters his mother portrays Captain Alving as a sort of hero. The boy’s own memories of his father are confined to one incident in his childhood when his father took him on his knee and encouraged him to smoke a large meerschaum pipe. Upon his return home, Oswald takes a certain pride in lighting up his father’s old pipe and parading in front of his mother and Pastor Manders.
Pastor Manders does not approve of smoking; in fact, he does not approve of anything that can even loosely be interpreted as sin. He does not approve of Oswald’s bohemian way of life in Paris and blames Mrs. Alving for her son’s ideas. He reminds Mrs. Alving that she came to him scarcely one year after having married, wanting to leave her husband, and that he sent her back to her duty. Pastor Manders considers this act the greatest moral victory of his life.
Mrs. Alving thinks it high time that the pastor knows the truth about her late husband. Years before, when he advised her to return to Captain Alving, the minister was aware of her husband’s profligacy, but he did not know that the profligacy continued after his wife’s return. Her relationship with her husband consisted principally of helping him into bed when he came home from one of his drinking bouts; on one occasion she came across him making love to her own maidservant. The most abominable aspect of her situation, and what she discovered soon after her marriage, was that her husband had contracted syphilis and that her son might have inherited the disease. Pastor Manders’s religious influence and her own cowardice led Mrs. Alving to keep silent.
While Mrs. Alving...
(The entire section is 908 words.)
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