Throughout Ghosts, the audience sees the toxic effects that Pastor Manders’s personal characteristics and professional failings have on the other characters. As a man of the cloth, Manders should be caring and compassionate to those around him, but he routinely fails to show empathy for those in difficult straits. His disappointing behavior toward Helen Alving extends back years before the play’s action begins. As Ghosts develops, the long-term effects of his behavior are revealed. He not only harms Helen and other members of her family, but is ultimately responsible for destroying the orphanage to which she devoted her energies.
One catalyst for these events is Helen sharing with him the secret of Regina’s identity, which includes her husband’s infidelity. Helen is also shown as conforming to social pressures to cover up the existence of an illegitimate daughter and the sham of her marriage to the captain. The façade of “bourgeois rigor” that she struggled to maintain seemed imperative to preserving her social position in the community—perhaps even more than protecting their son, Oswald. Upon learning this secret, however, Manders believes she should continue to live a lie and not tell Oswald or Regina the truth.
Manders’s irresponsibility compounds his hypocrisy through his behavior toward the orphanage. While supposedly Mrs. Alving’s trusted partner in establishing a memorial to her husband, he has been negligent in not insuring the building. Intent on protecting his own reputation, when the building burns, he succumbs to Engstrand’s blackmail and uses the Alving family money to pay for his silence—thereby ensuring that Helen will not be able to rebuild.