Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Mrs. Helen Alving
Mrs. Helen Alving, a widow, the mother of an ailing only son. Although she reads liberal books and has extraordinarily liberal views concerning the possible marriage of her son and his illegitimate half sister, whose identity is known only to Mrs. Alving, she is an outwardly severe woman whose life has been governed by duty. As a young wife, she had fled from her profligate husband, whom she had married for his money, to seek refuge with the parish pastor, Mr. Manders, with whom she had fallen in love. Mr. Manders righteously had sent her back to her husband, and they maintained the appearance of a home for the remainder of his life. With her husband’s money, which she now loathes, Mrs. Alving has built an orphanage in memory of her husband. On the advice of Mr. Manders, she decides not to insure the building because to do so would be to show lack of faith. When the building burns, Mrs. Alving is indifferent. Although Mrs. Alving promises her son Oswald that she will administer some fatal pills to him when his mind goes, she is unable to do so at the conclusion of the play. Her revulsion and terror are unrelieved.
Oswald Alving, an art student afflicted with a disease, apparently syphilis, contracted or inherited from his father. He reveals to his mother that his mind is being blotted out by the disease, which doctors have told him was acquired early in his life. Because Mrs. Alving...
(The entire section is 843 words.)
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Mrs. Helena Alving
Mrs. Alving is the widow of Captain Alving, a well-respected man in the community who has been dead for ten years. She is preparing to open an orphanage named after him to serve the nearby town. When Pastor Manders accuses her of failing to provide Oswald with enough moral guidance, he reminds Mrs. Alving that she has left her husband during her first year of marriage, but that he turned out all right after she returned to him. This prompts Mrs. Alving to tell the truth that she had kept hidden. Captain Alving was an awful man who was unfaithful throughout their marriage. The orphanage is to be built with all of the money Captain Alving had when he married her, and she will live on the money that she made from managing their investments after their marriage; in this way, she hopes to free herself of anything to do with him.
In the course of this play, Mrs. Alving loses her connection with conventional morality. She feels that social convention is false, and that she can put pretense behind her when she distances herself from Captain Alving’s memory after naming the orphanage after him. In the last act, though, her view on life is turned around. Instead of seeing herself as a longsilent victim of Captain Alving’s hedonistic ways, she sees that he was a victim of her.
Oswald is Mrs. Alving’s son, who came home the day before the play begins. He has been living in Paris, where his...
(The entire section is 1118 words.)