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The effect society has on the characters in "Ghosts"

In Ghosts by Henrik Ibsen, the society portrayed enforces stereotypes to such a degree that all individuality is suppressed and characters are forced to conform to stereotypes or be shunned and deemed unacceptable

In Ghosts by Henrik Ibsen, the society portrayed enforces stereotypes to such a degree that all individuality is suppressed and characters are forced to conform to stereotypes or be shunned and deemed unacceptable. In such a society where deceit is encouraged rather than truth and where ones ?duty? is to be adhered to despite all underlying circumstances only such deceit and dishonesty can prevail while those who try to do the right thing struggle to conform to impossible standards. Mrs. Alving, the central character of the play shows the impossible struggle to conform to a narrow set of values whilst remaining true to herself and is forced to subvert her own beliefs to those of society ? finding the need to lie about her husband to keep up the appearance of a happy marriage. On the other end of the scale the corruption of society is shown by characters such as Engstrand who despite being socially marginalized is able to flourish taking advantage of the dishonesty surrounding him.

Mrs. Helena Alving, the central tragic character of Ghosts shows the enduring example of the individual suppressed by society. The narrow nature of the society she exists within crushes individuality while its members are forced to conform to strict stereotypes. Mrs. Alving is made to ?submit, in all obedience? to her ?duty? as wife and mother by Pastor Manders, a character constructed as a representation of the narrow-mindedness and hypocrisy of the structure of the society shown in the drama. Mrs. Alving is forced by Pastor Manders to return to her husband after she ran away from him after one ?utterly miserable? year of marriage. But ?craving for happiness? is the sign of an unruly spirit? and Mrs. Alving is compelled to return to her unhappy marriage and suppress her own unhappiness and to cover up the reason for it: the fact that her husband led a ?dissolute? life and Mrs. Alving concealed the discrepancy between Mr. Alving?s immaculate public image and his decadent private life. Mrs. Alving feels compelled to ?submit? to her duty as she feels that it is the ?right? thing to do. However, it is ironic that to submit to duty to the benefit of society leads to Mrs. Alving also feeling compelled to lie for her husband and to be a part of the corruption and deceit existing within society.

The fact that Mrs. Alving feels bound by her ?duty? to lie to cover up her husbands flaws proves that the nature of the society she lives within promotes deceit and lies whilst inhibiting truths that prove a danger to the illusion of happiness people struggle to uphold and maintain only through a veil of constant lies. Under such circumstances no character can truly be ?privileged?, as either class structure or value systems work against individuals from achieving happiness. Mrs. Alving may be said to be socially privileged by having wealth but this is undermined by her personal unhappiness caused by her constant lies about her life to all those around her and the suppression of her own values and attitudes that have made this possible, giving her a spiritually unsatisfying life. She succeeds ?to refute all the rumours and dispel any doubts? by the building of the orphanage in memorial of Mr. Alving showing that in the society she exists in to deceive all others about an unpleasant truth is preferable to allowing any scandal caused by Mr. Alving?s actions to ever come to the surface.

While some characters in Ghosts are bound by duty and find themselves only in a position to be a pure victim of society, other characters are able to use the flaws of society to their own advantage. Engstrand is such a character, whom is able to use the lies, deceit and dishonesty to prevalent in society to serve his own ends. Despite the fact Engstrand is able to use the lies surrounding Mr. Alving?s life to be able to gain the funds necessary for the establishment of a ?Seaman?s Refuge? he is by no means truly privileged by society as he is constrained by class structures rather than value systems. Engstrand is able to defy the notions of ?duty? and honesty simply by lying to Pastor Manders and keeping up the appearance of a remorseful soul and being truly repentant for past sins. This way he is able to gain Pastor Manders? approval of him in light of his constant stream of lies to him: about his dealings with Regina?s mother and even about the fact that he would ?cover up? for Pastor Manders saying that he had started the fire at the Orphanage. After the burning down of the Orphanage, something he surely orchestrated, he is able to gain possession of the Orphanage funds to suit his own ends in the establishment of a Seaman?s Refuge, in reality a high class brothel: an altogether more fitting memorial for the late Mr. Alving. So despite the fact that he is generally looked down upon for his low social status, drunken ways and bad track record he is able to manipulate the circumstances surrounding him to his own advantage. This illumines the degree of corruptness evident in the society portrayed in Ghosts.

Society in Ghosts acts as an agent to stereotype all characters to such an extent that all individuality is lost. The narrow nature of such a society encourages deceit and lies over truth and honesty, meaning that characters who struggle to do the ?right? thing become slaves to society while those not bound by the chains of ?duty? are able to use the shortcomings of society to their own advantage.

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