What is the significance of the title of Ibsen's "Ghosts"?

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thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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. 

linda-allen eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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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