On one level, Ghosts is an entirely appropriate title for the play, as the spirits of the departed continue to exercise a malign influence from beyond the grave.
A prime example is Captain Alving. Though long-dead, his reckless and irresponsible behavior while alive still has serious consequences. For instance, the very presence of his illegitimate offspring Regina acts as a constant reminder to his daughter Helen of her father's infidelity. Indeed, one could say that Regina's presence haunts her.
Captain Alving's baneful influence also extends to his son Osvald. Osvald regards his late father as something of a hero, blissfully unaware of what he was really like. Osvald sets out to be just like Captain Alving; according to Pastor Manders, he even looks like him. But as the real-life Captain Alving was a dissolute drunk and philanderer, Osvald has unwittingly dedicated himself to living a lie. In that sense, one could say that he's pursuing a chimera—a spirit, if you will—in trying to live up to the standards that his father never actually set.
But in any case, Osvald is unable to live up to these standards, not least because the ghost of his late father continues to haunt him in another way: through the transmission of hereditary syphilis. Once Osvald is in the grip of this terrible disease, he will become a shadow of his former self, more a living ghost than a man.
The story "Ghosts" by Henrik Ibsen deals greatly with death, which is part of the significance of the title. More prominently, however, are the metaphorical ghosts of the past. Many characters have secrets of dark pasts that "haunt" them even to the present or are haunted by the pasts of their families.
Mr. Alving is riddled with syphilis because he had engaged in many affairs in his younger life, and he passed the disease to his son, who is dying from it. This is one of the ghosts of Mr. Alving's past that haunts him and his son. Additionally, Oswald's secret love is the maid, Regina. Unbeknownst to him, because of his father's affairs, Regina is his sister, corrupting their love. The family past acts as a ghost and haunts Oswald as it destroys his life.
The significance of the title lies in the way the characters of the play are affected by the deeds of the father, Mr. Alving. The actual Danish title is "Gengangere," a word that means both "ghost" and "events that repeat themselves."
Both senses of the word are apt, as in the play, Mr. Alving's sexual promiscuity continues to destroy the lives of his wife and son even after he is dead. Not only does the son suffer from a sexually transmitted disease passed to him by his father, but the woman he loves, Regina, is his father's illegitimate daughter and hence his half-sister.
The "Ghosts" title is significant also in its supernatural or horrific connotations in that Mr. Alving's serial adultery is something to be feared. The fact that social norms pressure Mrs. Alving to stay with her husband, rather than leave him, suggests that another "ghost" Ibsen has in mind is social conformity and bourgeois morality.
The main significance of the title of Ibsen's play Ghosts has to do with the "ghosts" of the past that return to haunt the living. Behind this lies the idea that the past and the dead are never entirely gone but instead, even after death, continue to affect the lives of those they leave behind. This sense is not a supernatural one, in that Ibsen is not portraying ghosts on stage in the manner in which Shakespeare has us encounter the ghost of Hamlet's father; Ibsen does not embody his ghosts and make them talk. Instead, every aspect of the lives of the people in the play is dominated by Mr. Alving, even though he has died before the start of the play's action.
First, Mr. Alving had contracted syphilis from one of his many infidelities and passed it on to his son Oswald, who is now dying of it. Second, the maid Regina whom Oswald loves is actually an illegitimate child of Mr. Alving and thus Oswald's half sister. Thus Oswald's life is essentially destroyed by the "ghost" of his father.
The title has two different meanings in this play. The first meaning relates to the expression "skeletons in the closet." Everyone in the play has a closet filled with skeletons, ghosts of things that they did or were done to them in the past and that haunt them now. Mrs. Alving is haunted by her husband's infidelities. Oswald, too, is haunted by his father's past and by the "legacy" his father left him. Regina, unknown to her at first, is the third victim of Captain Alving's haunting. All three must cope with what being related to that man has done to them.
Another meaning for the title is that, like Oswald, we are ourselves ghosts, just waiting for our deaths. He knows he is going to die, and waiting for death nearly makes him commit suicide.
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