Ghosts is a civil war of ideas, with Mrs. Alving as the contested territory. Oswald is fighting for the South (Paris, we mean) – sunshine, individualism, and free will. Pastor Manders is fighting for the North (Norway), which is represented by duty, propriety, conformity. It's clear from the character portrayals that Ibsen is on Oswald's side. While Mrs. Alving and Oswald are tragic characters with whom we sympathize, Pastor Manders is portrayed like a comedic clown. He has a number of lines that seem hypocritical, like when he advises Mrs. Alving to keep quiet about her library:
MANDERS. Besides, I of course do not deny that there may be much that is attractive in such books. Nor can I blame you for wishing to keep up with the intellectual movements that are said to be going on in the great world-where you have let your son pass so much of his life. But –
MRS. ALVING. But?
MANDERS. [Lowering his voice.] But one should not talk about it, Mrs. Alving. (1.179-181)
This advice is just one of the many moments in which Manders advocates keeping up proper appearances, no matter what the reality of the situation may be. He's long on moral pomposity – just take a look at his sermon near the end of Act 1 – but very short on moral strength. It seems like Pastor Manders is one in a long line of cowardly men in Ibsen's body of work. As is the case with Tesman in Hedda Gabler and Torvald Helmer in A Doll's House, the Pastor's reputation is the most important thing to him. This obsession shows up again and again. We see it in his refusal to stay at the Alving estate, his insistence on declining insurance for the Orphanage, his encouragement of Mrs. Alving's deception about her husband, and of course, his final, surrender to Engstrand. Engstrand has intimidated the Pastor into thinking he (Pastor Manders) will be blamed for the Orphanage fire. In the excerpt below, Engstrand offers the solution that will preserve the Pastor's name – funding the Sailors' Home (a brothel) in exchange for Engstrand taking the blame for the fire:
ENGSTRAND. Jacob Engstrand may be likened to a sort of a guardian angel, he may, your Reverence.
MANDERS. No, no; I really cannot accept that.
ENGSTRAND. Oh, that'll be the way of it, all the same. I know a man as has taken others' sins upon himself before now, I do.
MANDERS. Jacob! [Wrings his hand.] Yours is a rare nature. Well, you shall be helped with your Sailors' Home. That you may rely upon. (3.69-72)
It's hard to imagine, but Mrs. Alving once had a crush on Pastor Manders. Maybe she was attracted to his ideals, maybe she wanted to protect him, or maybe she just had a thing for a man in a white collar. Whatever it may be, there are still vestiges of the old feeling between them – at least at the beginning of the play. She teases him for staying at the inn, assuring him that the hormones aren't what they used to be: "[Suppressing a smile.] Are you really not to be persuaded, even now, to pass the night under my roof? […] I really should have thought we two old people – " (1.148-150). He must be fearful either that she'll make a move or that people will say she did. Pastor Manders won't admit his attraction to her, and paints her as the sinner, with himself as the saint:
MANDERS. When you went astray, and came to me crying, "Here I am; take me!" I commanded you, saying, "Woman, go home to your lawful husband." Was that a crime?
MRS. ALVING. Yes, I think so.
MANDERS. We two do not understand each other.
MRS. ALVING. Not now, at any rate.
MANDERS. Never – never in my most secret thoughts have I regarded you otherwise than as another's wife.
MRS. ALVING. Oh – indeed?
MANDERS. Helen – !
MRS. ALVING. People so easily forget their past selves. (2.94-101)
For Mrs. Alving, her escape from Captain Alving and embrace of Pastor Manders was an opportunity for love and mutual respect. With his rule-oriented mind, Manders saw it only as an opportunity to test the strength of his principles. In his opinion, he passed. But Mrs. Alving grows to see his outlook as formulaic, inflexible and unreal. She dismisses him near the beginning of Act 3, with a formal – and final – "Goodbye, Pastor Manders" (3.77).