(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Helene Alving, the widow of Captain and Chamberlain Alving, lives on a country estate in Western Norway. A sum of money, inherited from her late husband, has enabled her to construct an orphanage in his memory. the memorial is undeserved, however, for Captain Alving was a carnal lecher and a drunkard who transmitted his own syphillis to his newborn son, Oswald. Captain Alving also fathered a daughter, Regine, by the family maid.

Alving’s behavior, when discovered by his wife, led her to want to seek a divorce. Dissuaded by the family’s spiritual adviser, Pastor Manders, she consented to remain in her degrading marriage out of a sense of Christian duty, imposed on her by the Pastor.

The play begins on the eve of the dedication of the orphanage. Mrs. Alving, Pastor Manders, and Oswald are all present in the house. So is Regine, who is employed as the family’s maid. Mrs. Alving first reveals the shocking truth of Regine’s parentage to the Pastor; she then explains that she has begun to question her received faith and has become a reader of “freethinking” literature.

While the two are debating this issue, they overhear a flirtatious scene between Oswald and Regine. Oswald, who suffers from severe headaches, believes that his condition would be improved if Regine were his wife. At the end of the play, the orphanage burns and Oswald’s inherited syphilis turns to insanity. First, however, he has given his mother some...

(The entire section is 533 words.)