In Ibsen’s Ghosts, Mrs. Alving said, “Oh, law and order! I often think it is that that is at the bottom of all the misery in the world.” What’s your understand...

In Ibsen’s Ghosts, Mrs. Alving said, “Oh, law and order! I often think it is that that is at the bottom of all the misery in the world.” What’s your understanding of this sentence according to her life experience? Support yourself with concrete textual evidence.

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teachsuccess eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Mrs. Alving is the wife of Captain Alving. When he was alive, the captain was a womanizing, hard-living, and hard-drinking man. Mrs. Alving was miserable in her marriage with the Captain and once left him. Pastor Manders is not happy with the way Mrs. Alving handled matters, reasoning that if she was that unhappy with her husband, she should have stayed to work things out instead of just running away. Mrs. Alving does not agree. She tells the pastor that the last straw was when Captain Alving had an affair with the maid, Johanna. Regina is the result of that affair, and she has yet to tell her son, Oswald, the truth about Regina.

Pastor Manders is incredulous, to which Mrs. Alving responds:

MRS. ALVING. Unfortunately there is no possibility of a mistake. Johanna confessed everything to me; and Alving could not deny it. So there was nothing to be done but to get the matter hushed up.

Pastor Manders and Mrs. Alving disagree about putting Johanna in the same league of immorality as Captain Alving. The pastor says that Captain Alving's marriage to Mrs. Alving was legitimate and her marriage "was in full accordance with law and order." Mrs. Alving's response:

MRS. ALVING. [At the window.] Oh, that perpetual law and order! I often think that is what does all the mischief in this world of ours.

Mrs. Alving doesn't think much about a lawful marriage which brings so much misery and suffering. She does not regret all the actions she has had to take in order to protect her son, Oswald. She says of her husband:

MRS. ALVING. I had borne a great deal in this house. To keep him at home in the evenings, and at night, I had to make myself his boon companion in his secret orgies up in his room. There I have had to sit alone with him, to clink glasses and drink with him, and to listen to his ribald, silly talk. I have had to fight with him to get him dragged to bed.

MRS. ALVING. The truth is that my husband died just as dissolute as he had lived all his days. It seemed to me the child must be poisoned by merely breathing the air of this polluted home. That was why I sent him away. And now you can see, too, why he was never allowed to set foot inside his home so long as his father lived. No one knows what that cost me.

MANDERS. You have indeed had a life of trial.

To make matters worse for Mrs. Alving, her husband had a way of "winning people's hearts. Nobody seemed able to believe anything but good of him. He was one of those people whose life does not bite upon their reputation." In this way, the "law and order" of a sacred union, combined with Captain Alving's artful personality, cloaked Mrs. Alving's suffering under a veneer of respectability. No one truly realized the extent of her troubles.

Hope this explains things satisfactorily. Thanks for the question.

teachsuccess eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I would also like to add that the setting and time period for this play is Ibsen's 19th century Norway. You can see that Pastor Manders takes a different view of the "fallen" woman (Johanna) as compared to the "fallen" man (Captain Alving). In the 19th century across much of the western world, a woman's virginity was greatly prized. It was the de-facto way men of means such as Captain Alving determined that only their offspring inherited their estates. So, a woman like Johanna would have been considered unfit for any marriage. That is why Pastor Manders is aghast at Johanna's marriage to Engstrand; he is equally disgusted at Engstrand's part in the deceit concerning the whole cover-up of Johanna's affair with Captain Alving.

As for Captain Alving's marriage, Pastor Manders is at first indignant that such a personage could have possibly led such a life. After all, was not his marriage to Mrs. Alving a lawful marriage to all intents and purposes?

Manders. And can you talk of his youthful indiscretions—his irregularities—his excesses, if you like—as a profligate life!

Mrs. Alving. That was what the doctor who attended him called it.

Pastor Manders is very reluctant to believe that a lawful marriage could decisively bring such suffering to Mrs. Alving's life. He appears to be of the belief that only seemingly unscrupulous alliances like that of Johanna and Engstrand would lead to misery and despair. He also seems to pass over the fact that Captain Alving forced himself on Johanna. However, Mrs. Alving's testimony bears out this truth:

And then I heard—(with a short laugh)—oh, it rings in my ears still, with its mixture of what was heartbreaking and what was so ridiculous—I heard my own servant whisper: "Let me go, Mr. Alving! Let me be!"

So, this explains the "law and order" that is at the bottom of all the misery in this world. Mrs. Alving has had to suffer gross indignities and Captain Alving's adultery in her lawful marriage; indeed the bitterness of the suffering is compounded by the fact that her son, Oswald, would soon need to know the truth, for he is attracted to Regina, the product of Johanna's and Captain Alving's sexual liaison. In the end, Oswald and Regina do not marry; the play ends on a note of despair.

Thanks for the question. Hope this helps!