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by Henrik Ibsen

Tools of Characterization

Character Analysis


It's difficult to understand the symbolic resonance of names when the original language is Norwegian, but there is one name we recognize: Helene or Helen. Mrs. Alving's first name links her to the Greeks – not only to the strong heroines of Greek tragedy but to a particular "Hellenic" idea of spiritual and intellectual freedom that she is eventually able to enact.


In Ghosts, each character's occupation says something about how he or she relates to the greater social structure depicted in the play, and the particular demands they must fulfill within that structure. Mrs. Alving is a housewife, widow, and mother. These are the only parts of herself she allows to be seen publicly. She keeps her reading under wraps, unless someone comes to visit, and attributes her improvements on the estate to her husband.

Pastor Manders' position gives him a place to settle his rule-abiding personality and turn his moral weakness into power.

As an artist, Oswald is immersed in color, light, and movement – three things not to be found at Rosenvold. His occupation brings him in contact with interesting people and new ideas, with the possibility of disease.

Regina's presence as maid in the house creates a daily reminder of Captain Alving. It also prompts her anger at the end of the play, when she discovers that she is half a "lady."

Engstrand's carpentry establishes him as a working man, but it also gives him a certain power. He builds, but he can take away. He assigns guilt to Pastor Manders, then absolves it by taking the blame for the fire on himself.


Where these characters live has a huge impact on them. Ibsen sets up a great war of North and South – Norway vs. Paris – and each character takes a side. Pastor Manders is the General for the North, advocating conformity and propriety, even if it causes suffering. His pal Engstrand is also for the North. Engstrand is moving to town because miserable men desire an outlet – his Sailor's Home (a.k.a. his brothel). He wants Regina on their team but she's all about Paris. A lively, vibrant girl, Regina is an unhappy slave in this dreary, rule-oriented house. She's hoping to hitch a ride on the horse of the Southern General, Oswald, whose impassioned arguments for sunshine, holidays, free love, and champagne sound pretty good to her. Where is Mrs. Alving? Somewhere in the middle. Caught in between the ideas of "duty" and the "joy of life," she's uncomfortable where she is, but also seems to be unwilling to leave.