Study Guide

Ghosts Society and Class

By Henrik Ibsen

Society and Class

REGINA. Yes, you may be sure we'll see about it! Me, that have been brought up by a lady like Mrs Alving! Me, that am treated almost as a daughter here! (1.33)

Throughout the play, we see Regina actively strive to better her position. Whether by way of Oswald or Pastor Manders, she is on her way up. The last thing she wants to do is return to Engstrand (which is exactly what ends up happening).

ENGSTRAND. And besides, it was when your mother was that aggravating – I had to find something to twit her with, my child. She was always setting up for a fine lady. [Mimics.] "Let me go, Engstrand; let me be. Remember I was three years in Chamberlain Alving's family at Rosenvold." [Laughs.] Mercy on us! She could never forget that the Captain was made a Chamberlain while she was in service here. (1.42)

So Johanna had similar pretensions to be in a higher class, just like Regina. And Johanna was similarly thwarted. Engstrand's depiction of Johanna's obsession with Chamberlain Alving also makes us wonder if he knows who Regina's real father is.

ENGSTRAND. Ay, ay; you've picked up some learning out here; and that may come in useful now, Regina. (1.50)

Like Regina, Engstrand sees education as a way to pull yourself up in life. He has a different means in mind, however, imagining that her learning may attract a more sophisticated – and better paying – sort of man to the brothel.

ENGSTRAND. Yes, but this time you shall see, Regina! Devil take me –
REGINA. [Stamps.] Stop your swearing! (1.56-57)

In scolding Engstrand for swearing, Regina apes the middle-class proprieties she sees around her. She is making herself fit to be a bourgeois wife.

MANDERS. Well, I mean people in such independent and influential positions that one cannot help attaching some weight to their opinions. (1.209)

By "influential," we can assume that Manders means people of a certain class – well-off, respectable, church-going people who might judge the Pastor for insuring the orphanage. It seems like a very unwise decision to go without insurance, but maybe the community around them is just that judgmental.

MANDERS. In the leading circles of the town, people take a lively interest in this Orphanage. It is, of course, founded partly for the benefit of the town, as well; and it is to be hoped it will, to a considerable extent, result in lightening our Poor Rates. (1.215)

By "Poor Rates," Manders means taxes. He isn't explicit here, but we take him to mean that the "leading circles" seem to be happy about the orphanage because it will take up some of the social services formerly provided by the state. The rich won't have to pay as much in taxes.

MANDERS. But I thought few of those young fellows could afford to set up house and support a family.
OSWALD. There are many who cannot afford to marry, sir. (1.315-316)

Money pops up all over this play as an entity that makes people's decisions for them. For the artists, the money is irrelevant. They live they way they live, married or not.

OSWALD. I have met with it when one or other of our pattern husbands and fathers has come to Paris to have a look round on his own account, and has done the artists the honour of visiting their humble haunts. (1.337)

Oswald resents the visits of these middle and upper-class men who invade the artists' community. Perhaps in the same way that Captain Alving took advantage of Johanna's position, these men take advantage of theirs.

MRS. ALVING. Yes, that is true. Those three cast up the account for me. Oh, it's marvellous how clearly they made out that it would be downright madness to refuse such an offer. If mother could only see me now, and know what all that grandeur has come to! (2.40)

Mrs. Alving acknowledges marriage as a transaction, and bitterly blames her family for sealing the deal. Captain Alving promised financial security and upward mobility – he became a Chamberlain during their marriage – and that was good enough for Mrs. Alving's mother and aunts.

ENGSTRAND. Yes, every now and then just a little edification, in a manner of speaking. But I'm a poor, common man, and have little enough gift, God help me! – and so I thought, as the Reverend Mr. Manders happened to be here, I'd – (2.125)

Time and time again, Engstrand masterfully casts himself as an uneducated and unworthy man in order to flatter the Pastor. Engstrand is so intent on convincing the Pastor to lead a prayer service, making us wonder just how much of the orphanage fire is preconceived.