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Class can Cause or Complicate the Levels of Deceit.

Year 12 Lit essay. Question: Class is a category of social organisation that often reflects a time and place. Often this issue gives a play it’s meaning. In Ghosts, by Ibsen, the levels of deceit are complicated or indeed initiated by this category.

In the 1880s, Norway had a firmly established class system. Norwegian society was rife with inequalities, which in part stemmed from assumptions made about people based on their class. The play Ghosts, by Henrik Ibsen, displays the struggle between two classes. It criticises the bourgeoisie in its opposition to the lower class, or proletariat. This struggle is epitomised in the treatment of Engstrand by the other characters; and the self-deceit of Mrs Alving brought on by the constraints of the social structure of the day. The class system in itself is a form of deceit, as it stems not from actual differences in a person?s ability, but is based on birth, influence and wealth ? all categories of social organisation, with no moral basis.

In the first lines of Act One we are introduced to the class struggle between Engstrand and Regina. The class struggle is accentuated by the fact that Engstrand?s own daughter feels she is above him. Engstrand is introduced with the stage directions,
?His left leg is rather deformed, and the sole of his boot is built up with wood. Regina ... is barring his way in.?
Regina says, ?Stay where you are, you?re dripping wet!? and when Engstrand says he was drinking the night before she says, ?I can well believe it?.
The fact that Engstrand is partly disabled contributed even more to the social exclusion he must have experienced. Regina, as she is the maid in a respected household, stops him from entering. Even though he is her father who is working for the housemistress, she will not allow him in. She has made a choice for the mores of social organisation against the morals of family and respect for another human being.
She believes he is of too low a standard to enter. Class assumptions are displayed when Regina says ?I can well believe it? of Engstrand?s drinking. Regina is speaking from previous experiences with her father, but also from the general assumption that the lower class is all a drunken rabble.

Engstrand never enters the house; he is on the outside looking longingly in, which is a metaphor for the lower class longing for the financial and social security of the middle class. Everything is against him: he isn?t educated, he?s an alcoholic, a widower, a gardener, and his daughter doesn?t want him. Engstrand is the perfect example of the disadvantaged and oppressed lower class man. However, he lowers himself by his dialogue. He suggests his daughter become a prostitute, and calls her ?a little slut?. The middle class would never lower themselves to such talk, and so he puts a nail in his own coffin to a degree by confirming the middle classes assumptions about the lower class.

When Johanna had Mr Alving?s child, she went to Engstrand in the hope he would marry her. So why did he lie about Regina?s true father when he was already at the bottom of society? He didn?t need to cover up anything (as did Mrs Alving) because he was already marginalised ? scandal didn?t matter. Engstrand lied to gain power. The status of marriage meant that he was less of an outcast than previously. In doing so, he deceived himself by pretending Regina was his daughter, he deceived Regina as to the true identity of her father, and he deceived Pastor Manders, who married him and Johanna.

We also see that Pastor Manders believes Engstrand?s pious claims that he is a reformed man in need of guidance.
?He needs somebody he can cling to ? someone whose judgement he can rely on. The last time he was at my house he admitted that quite frankly.?
Engstrand deceives Pastor Manders, as it is one of the few chances he would have to be afforded equal status in the community.

Ibsen shows the situations of both Engstrand and Mrs Alving in this quote,
?Oh, life would be tolerable enough, even so, if we could only get rid of these infernal duns who come to us poor people?s doors with their claim of the ideal.?
Engstrand is constantly being done-in by debt collectors who take his money. Not only do they take his money, but they also try to force their own social constructs and ideals on him. Everyone duns him for real problems ? alcoholism, poverty and the like. However, they demand of him something unreasonable considering his situation. They demand that he become a moral man. The middle class felt he owed a debt to society, and this is where that quote gains meaning. How can you ask a man forced by your own people to the bottom of the social pile to become like you in every way ? except in social standing and wealth. How can you expect someone to maintain your ideals for your sake, when you will not afford him equal status? This brings into question the whole foundation of society at the time. The bourgeoisie believe that all people should maintain the same moral high ground as them; however, they will not allow equal status for people of less respected jobs, who may do the same amount or more work than them. Engstrand was suffering from his own problems; the duns who take from him because of actual issues then demand he change himself to fit in with their idea of right behaviour.

Mrs Alving is one of the middle class who is living her life by ideals. These ideals force her to deceive those around her, and, most importantly, force her to deceive herself. She could not leave her husband when he was having affairs, and she kept up the fa?ade of the saintly Captain Alving for the supposed benefit of her son.

Mrs Alving is affected by the class system in a different way from Engstrand. Deceit for her is sprung not from the ambition of social climbing, but for the purpose of preserving the good - though undeserved - reputation of the Alving family.

Reputation for the upper and middle classes was a serious business. Unlike today, when a divorce would be socially accepted, people involved in such scandals were often shunned by their peers. Pastor Manders himself agrees with the cover-up of Captain Alving?s affair. For a religious man to condone such a colossal and complicated lie to the rest of the world shows how large the issue of reputation was.

Oswald himself didn?t know of the true character of his father until late in the play. When the Parisian doctor says,
?The sins of the father are visited on the children.?
Oswald then tells the doctor how this is impossible considering his father?s character.

The ruse concerning Captain Alving?s contrived goodness continues until the end of the play. Mrs Alving funds the orphanage to seal the Captain?s good reputation in stone. When the orphanage burns down, Engstrand petitions the Pastor to fund his Seamen?s Lodge with Captain Alving?s remaining funds,
?And if I can run the house in my own way, I think I can promise that it?ll be worthy of his memory.?
In saying this, the true spirit of Captain Alving is finally recognised.

The issues of deceit in the play help give meaning to the title, Ghosts. The spectres from the past featured in this play ? affairs, syphilis and questionable parentage ? all cause the characters to deceive others and lie about the truth. In the bible, a man owed the king 1000 talents and then put someone in prison for a penny. In the Our Father, ?forgive us our trespasses? means that we have real moral debt in God?s eyes, and those who trespass against us have often just offended our moral sensibilities. In Ghosts, criticism is made of the bourgeoisie for putting down the lower class. The ideals that the middle class rested upon became meaningless when they ignored one of the most important teachings of the God they proclaimed to follow. Ibsen made clear his thoughts about the lower class in the comment, ?The strongest man on earth is he who stands most alone.? Through the firmly set up class system, many illusions were created. Characters were forced to do things they knew were wrong and cover-up things they would rather have in the open. This is caused by society?s ideals and unforgiving nature and is forced to occur in the characters hope for self-preservation.

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