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Ghost, a Study of Plot in Practice

Written by eastern writer on Friday, March 14, 2008


We might not very familiar to Ghosts. They who are interested in drama may know the playwright more, Henrik Ibsen. This is due to Ghosts is not Ibsen's masterpiece. Ibsen himself is much more well know for his other works, those are A Doll's House or A Wild Duck.

Ibsen as a famous playwright is hardly forgotten in every single study of realism in drama. Realism itself as a school of literary has its own long history. An idea of realism came at the triumph of romanticism, namely at the beginning of 18th century. The social condition at that time was getting worse since Napoleon Bonaparte fell in 1815. People lost the spirit of liberty, equality and fraternity (Brockett, 19- : 287).

The condition is much worse at the time of Industrial Revolution as the milestone of the many discoveries that change people life in the further. Machines changed the labor. The labor lost their jobs. Furthermore, jobless lead to poverty; and poverty rose the criminal.

Then, an idea came that is such condition was only able to be solved by observation, prediction, and control of society (Brockett, 19- : 287). This is stated by August Comte. The philosophy a la Comte, in the further, is known as positivism. Comte argued that sociology is the highest knowledge to repair the social condition. Observation and experiment are the best trial (Sumardjo, 1993 : 79). Comte, then, is known as the father-founder of Sociology.

Charles Darwin is a man who is much influenced by Comte. Two main idea of Darwin are all forms of life have developed gradually from a common ancestry; and the evolution of species is explained by the "survival of the fittest" (Brockett, 19- : 288). Darwin wrote his idea in The Origin of Species which was published in 1859. Darwin, then, is known as Father of Evolution Theory.

The Origin of Species brought a new perspective to people. First, the genetic and the surrounding are the two main factors that determine the human existence. Both can explain either the behavior or nature of human. Thus, a criminal cannot be supposed to be wrong, but his surrounding can. Rehabilitate someone's behavior means recovery of his surrounding.

Secondly, the evolution theory and survival of fittest attack the religion and God's existence. Thirdly, human is supposed to be equal to the things because they are bound to the natural law. Human can be the object of study (Sumardjo, 1993 : 79-80).
It seemed that Ibsen is not an exception as the part of society who is influenced by Darwin. It is vividly drawn in his works of the second period of his career as a playwright Ibsen might agree to the concept of genetically heredity and blame the society. Grounded on this explanation, Ghosts (1881) is a good instance.


Ghosts is interesting either to be followed or to be learned. The aspects of Ghosts are much more vivid than the other Ibsen's drama. Plot is one aspect which clearly drawn.

Ibsen wrote Ghosts as a well-made play. Eugene Scribe (1791-1861) is a famous playwright who much influences Ibsen. Ibsen directed more than twenty Scribe plays in Norway before he launched his own powerfully influential dramas (Holman, 1983: 464). One effect that Ibsen got from Scribe is well-made play pattern. Ghosts is one sample of Ibsen's well-made play.

A plot based on a withheld secret that, being revealed at the climax, produces a favorable reversal for the hero is the first requirement of drama to be categorized as a well-made play (Holman, 1983: 464). There's nothing too important which reveals in the first scene of Ghosts. A part of introduction of the story belongs to this scene.

The drama, which consists of three scenes, is opened with a chat of Regine and her stepfather, Jacob Engstrand. There's nothing too important of their chat. Both are introduced as the minor characters. Engstrand leaves Regine at the time Pastor Manders comes. Regine does not reveal for longer when she has to tell her hostess that there's a guess for her.

Mrs. Alving meets her guess. They talk about many things. At least, there are three main important things of their talk. First, there are some clue that there are any mistaken in the orphanage construction which is held by Pastor Manders. Second, the real feeling between Pastor Manders and Mrs. Alving is retold. Third, hoe actually Mrs. Alving lived during her husband still alive is retold as well.

The clue that there's a secret will be told at the climax reveals at the end of the scene. Here, the suspense is started. At once the second requirement as a well-made play, a steadily mounting suspense depending on rising action, exactly timed entrances, mistaken identity, witholding of information from characters, misplaced letters and documents, and a battle of wits between hero and villain (Holman, 1983: 464), is fulfilled.

Witholding of information from characters is pattern which Ibsen used. It is not too difficult to know, actually who is the key speaker who knows everything. Mrs. Alving mention ghosts and Pastor Manders does not continue his utterance, as if he is afraid of the truth of his own guess. Thus, it is clear that the key speaker must be Mrs. Alving.

[The noise of a chair being overturned is heard from the dining room - at the same time REGINE's voice.]
REG.'S VOICE. [In a sharp whisper] Osvald! - Are you mad? - Let me go!

MRS. ALV. [Hoarsely] Ghosts - Those two in the conversatory - Ghosts - They've come to mylife again
MAN. What do you mean? Regine -- ? Is she --?

Thus, the first scene has an endless ending.

The explanation of Ghosts which Mrs. Alving mention reveals at the beginning of the following scene. In the other room that Mr. Alving supposed to be much more save, she told pastor Manders the past of her family. Mr. Alving, during his live has an affair with their maid, Johanna. Regine was born as the result of the affair.

It is impossible for Mr. Alving to marry Johanna. The society will see them badly. Thus, to give a father for Regine, Johanna married Jacob Engstrand. Johanna, then, died. Mrs. Alving herself cannot refuse Regine in her turn to be her maid as her mother did.

They who supposed this act to be the climax will get despair. This is only an explanation to the following acts. In other words, the telling of this big secret is only a part of Ibsen's trial in rising the suspense.

The climax is in the talk between Mrs. Alving and her son as Pastor Manders leaves. There are some important things which Osvald tells his mother. Firstly, Osvald told her that, actually, he is suffered from syphilis. Neither Mrs. Alving nor Osvald can deals this truth. Even more, there is such a confession that syphilis which is Osvald suffered from is just inherited. Mrs. Alving must received that her trial to avoid Osvald from his father's bad influences is useless.

Osvald, in his despair, still has a little hope to recover himself. Somebody whom he wishes would help him is his joy of life, Regine (Mother! The one thing that could save me is Regine!). Mrs. Alving is surprised for the second time. Although she herself does not wish it, but finally she tells Osvald everything. It is impossible for Osvald and Regine to get married because they are half-brothers.

The climax, as the third requirement of a well-made play, is strongly bounded to the two previous requirements. A climax culminating in an obligatory scene (scene a faire) in which the withheld secret is revealed and the reversal of the hero's fortunes achieved (Holman, 1983: 464).

The secret that is hidden since at the beginning is known. This, surely, become a favorable reversal for Osvald. At least, Osvald confesses that the syphilis he is suffered from is inherited from his father (You see - my illness is heredity - it - [touches his forehead and speaks very quietly] It is centered - here). Then, Osvald does not think the origin of his illness too much. Osvald tries thinking how to recover himself from his illness.

Osvald's wish of getting married with Regine, which cannot be realized, is not a catastrophe. In the other hand, it saves Osvald from being despair for the second times due to marry his own stepsister.

Finally, a logical denouement as the last requirement of a well-made play is fulfilled in the third scene. For instance, the construction of the orphanage which grounded on a "false money" and held by a "false man" is fired. It is not too surprising if the false management of the construction is finally known. More over, it is supposed to be something too usual when two people who firstly allied for a bad purpose then blame each other -even attack- for the mistaken.

MAN. [Standing still] That's what you claim - but I could swear I never went near the lights!
ENG. But I saw you with my own eyes, Sir - I saw you snuff one of the candles and throw the bit of wick right into a pile of shavings!

Osvald, being despair due to, first, he must confess that his illness is inherited from his father; and second, his wish to live with his joy of life cannot be realized, at the end, chooses his own way. Osvald wants to end his life with his mother's help -a willing of euthanasia- is only something too common.

How Ibsen works arranging Ghosts as a well-made play cannot be supposed to be an easy work due to some reason. Firstly, Ibsen takes controversial issues -up to now- those are inherited sin and euthanasia. Secondly, Ibsen must fulfill the requirement of well-made play in a three-act structure of drama. And Ibsen can keep it tightly. Ghosts, then, is a play which is interesting either to be followed or studied, however.


Brockett, Oscar G.,The Theatre: An Introduction, 2nd edition ( )
Holman, C. Hugh, A Handbook to Literature (Indiana: Bobbs-Merrill Educational Publishing, 1980)
Sumardjo, Jakob, Ikhtisar Teater Barat, (Bandung: Penerbit Angkasa, 1993)

*This paper arranged by Leny Nuzuliyanti for the subject "English Drama". The author formerly was student of English Department, Diponegoro University, graduated at 2006. The copy right of this paper are on the writer.

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