Ghosts by Henrik Ibsen

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No individual has the perfect life and while some people have long given up trying to lead the perfect life, others such as Regina Engstrom and Helen Alving in Ghosts by Henrik Ibsen, stay in pursuit of the perfect life and have their own individual visions of what they believe to be the ideal life based on their personal experiences and desires. Helen Alving uses the return of her son as well as worldly, unconventional forms of literature in order to form beliefs of what she views to be the perfect life full of happiness after her husband’s death. She uses the literature and the hope of a better life for her son in order to cope with the trials that she went through while she was with her husband. Meanwhile, Regina relies on her hope for a better future through her employment under the kind and generous Mrs. Alving in order to idealize what she wants her future to be like in a perfect world where she isn’t tied to her demeaning social class. Especially during the Victorian era where romantic love increasingly became viewed as one requirement for marriage in comparison to the flawed, more serious traditions of a loveless marriage in past generations, it is not surprising that Regina and Helen, two prominent and strong-willed female characters in Ghosts who have not experienced true love or happiness, stand strongly behind their personal beliefs and ideals for the perfect life amidst their internal and external hardships.

Regina Engstrom is one example of the lower class in Ghosts. All her life she has had very little to no solid promise of upward mobility or security while working as the Alving’s family maid; however, as Regina develops and grows older she realizes that she wants happiness and she is unable to find happiness doing housework. Regina’s desire to stay with the Alvings, but use them in order to get ahead in her life and eventually get married is one struggle that Regina deals with and it is through this difficult time in her life that she believes in a hope for a perfect life for herself in the distant future. During the Victorian era of traditional conservatism and strict social classes in the late 1800’s, it is clear that she feels as though she has received the short end of the stick. Regina feels that has to work twice as hard as the upper class gentry in order to gain any kind of status increase which was the only way that one could move forward positively in life, but with no absolute guarantee of a comfortable life. In fact, it is almost unheard of at the time for someone of Regina’s social status to have even the smallest chance for upward mobility because it would be a disgrace to the wealthier family. Regina’s view of a fantasized, perfect life consists of her being able to move upwards in life through her social class in order to gain some level of recognition and attain happiness while still in her youth. Regina mentions in the text that “a poor girl must make some use of her youth, otherwise she may easily find herself out in the cold before she knows where she is” (Ibsen 54). Regina also hopes to get married someday to the man of her dreams who will whisk her away from her dull, repetitive life and help her attain the goal of having the “joy of life” in her (Ibsen 54). As a single young woman, Regina is like many women who seek the perfect spouse and the perfect life with her future husband which is even relevant and widespread in today’s society. Regina desires opportunities and ultimate happiness that an increase in social status can certainly provide; however, generations of continuous reinforcement and history tell us that the likelihood of her dreams coming true is slim. According to one source that discusses Women’s place in 19th century Victorian society, a woman who prepares for courtship and marriage is “groomed like a racehorse” due to the exceptionally high standards that are put in place by society. The general belief is that “married or single all Victorian women were expected to...
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