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 had sent Oswald away from home at seven years of age so that he would not realize his father’s true nature, he believes he has brought the disease on himself. In addition, he has inherited his father’s joy of life, now left behind with his art and his free-living companions abroad. Faced with mental oblivion, he comes home but finds no solace except in the contemplation of a possible marriage and departure with Regina, a young servant, in whom he recognizes the joy of life they have both inherited from their father. Incapacitated by the knowledge of his destiny, Oswald can no longer paint. He tries...
(The entire section is 843 words.)
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