How do society's expectations victimize Ibsen's characters in Ghosts?

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In Ibsen's Ghosts, Mrs. Alving is presented as a victim of society's expectations through her attempts to whitewash her late husband's reputation. Pastor Manders serves to enforce conformity but his hypocrisy also leads to his victimization through blackmail. The effects of secrecy and deceit are imposed on Oswald, who inherits syphilis, and Regina, who laments having been denied her birthright.

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Henrik Ibsen’s play Ghosts emphasizes the high price that people pay for their attempts at conforming to society’s expectations. While her husband was alive, Mrs. Alving had tried but failed to find a way out of a disastrous marriage. Heeding the counsel of Pastor Manders, she pretended that all was well rather than expose her husband’s infidelity. This cover-up gave her son, Oswald, a false impression that his father was a noble hero, as well as supporting the townspeople’s idea that he was an upstanding member of the community. Alving’s illegitimate daughter, Regina, can also be seen as having been victimized in that she grew up without knowledge of her true identity. The deep penetration of the social decay is epitomized by the thwarted romance between Oswald and Regina, who learn to their horror that they are siblings.

Ibsen conveys that no one—no matter how scrupulous they consider themselves to be—is immune from society’s negative influences. The contradiction between self-perception and actual behavior is exemplified by Pastor Manders. His concern for reputation long ago encouraged him to advise Mrs. Alving to silently bear her husband’s many flaws. In the modern-day period of the play’s action, this emphasis on image over integrity pushes him to succumb to blackmail and theft. He is so worried about what others think of him that he not only betrays his own principles but is willing to bankrupt the orphanage.

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