Ghosts is a play that created an uproar when it was first published in 1881. The subject matter it discusses (specifically sexually-transmitted diseases and incest) was considered indecent by many, but Ibsen felt strongly that he had to write this play, saying so to the King of Norway when criticized....
Ghosts is a play that created an uproar when it was first published in 1881. The subject matter it discusses (specifically sexually-transmitted diseases and incest) was considered indecent by many, but Ibsen felt strongly that he had to write this play, saying so to the King of Norway when criticized. Ibsen's play describes society as he saw it, filled with vice which those who wished to remain "respectable" tried to pretend did not exist.
The female protagonist, Helen Alving, is an excellent example of somebody who has struggled for years to maintain a facade of social responsibility and has suffered for it. In this, she has been helped by Pastor Manders, ostensibly a person responsible for her spiritual health, who advised her to stay with her husband despite the fact that her husband repeatedly had affairs. The result of Helen having stayed with her husband for appearance's sake is that her life today is now crumbling before her eyes. She herself has done nothing wrong, but Captain Alving's philandering has caused their son, Oswald, to develop syphilis which might one day kill him. The sins of the father have been passed on to the son. Furthermore, because his philandering was able to continue unchecked, Oswald finds himself in the terrible situation of having fallen in love with his own half-sibling, Regina, who is Helen's maid.
The orphanage Helen Alving is building is an example of very performative social responsibility. It appears that Helen is trying to help children and doing so in the memory of her husband, but in reality, the orphanage is simply another attempt to fix what Captain Alving has broken, though Helen does not admit this to anyone else. She is building the orphanage in order to use up Alving's money, and Ibsen makes clear in the play that this performative social responsibility is folly when he has the orphanage burn down at the end. The orphanage was not insured because of a fear that this would suggest a lack of faith in God—again, performative morality. But as the symbol of Helen's social responsibility is destroyed, so too is the facade as a whole, and Helen is left with her syphilitic child, who asks his mother to kill him if necessary.