The Unlikely Tragic Hero - Mrs. Alving in Henrik Ibsen's Ghosts

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The Unlikely Tragic Hero
In his essay on tragedy, Arthur Miller once wrote "the tragic feeling is evoked in us when we are in the presence of a character who is ready to lay down his life, if need be, to secure one thing--his sense of personal dignity." This insightful view of the common man's ability to be a tragic hero is emblematic of the female protagonist, Mrs. Alving, in Henrik Ibsen's controversial drama Ghosts. In her fight to pull her family together and become the archetypal wife Mrs. Alving learns of life's tragedies- she loses everything she loves and all she has built in the name of dignity.

Regardless of the deleterious internal effects on her psyche, Mrs. Alving protects and uphold her values. She respects marriage; she knew her husband was unfaithful, yet Mrs. Alving did not end the relationship as she wanted to uphold her matrimonial vows. She recalls "soon after, I heard Alving come in too. I heard him say something softly to her. And then I heard - oh! it still sounds in my ears, so hateful and yet so ludicrous - I heard my own servant-maid whisper, 'Let me go, Mr. Alving! Let me be!'" (1.405). Though she fights to understand the truth, she has nobly held her tongue to save her boy and let her husband die honorably. Although she believes it is a bad idea to leave the newly built orphanage uninsured, she protects Manders from public indignation by complying with his anti insurance idea; this becomes a regrettable decision when the orphanage burns down. She still respects Manders' ability to function under the laws of society, but when he makes note of the ignominious progressive books she has been reading Mrs. Alving becomes defensive. She explains, "here, in my loneliness, I have come to the same way of thinking, Pastor Manders. But I have never dared to say anything" (1.351). While she has a strong belief in progressive ideas, Mrs. Alving would never shame her family by outwardly expressing them.

Mrs. Alving respects her family enough to realize they will be hurt if she does not hold everything together. She imparts only fond memories of Mr. Alving to her son Oswald and reminds him of the familial ties which they must live by. As Oswald refers to his father saying, "and yet he managed to do so much in the world; so much that was good and useful; although he died so early" the reader realizes how delusional his vision of his father is (1.295). Deeply obliged to both her son and her late husband, Mrs. Alving fights to cover up the truth of her marriage and provide the best for her son, striving to protect his innocence and morality. She believes she can save her son from anything, though as her marital situation worsened she could not bear the thought of keeping her son in such an environment, she explains "I had to bear it for my little boy's sake. But when the last insult was added; when my own servant-maid; then I swore to myself: This shall come to an end!" (1.411). She did not want him to suffer from the actions of his father, thus she sends him abroad.

Continually fighting to protect those around her, Mrs. Alving only hurts herself in the process. She invites Captain Alving's lovechild, Regina, to live and work in their home to ensure she receives a fair education. It is only later that she becomes aware of her son and Regina's relations- an incestual relationship made possible by Mrs. Alving's kindness to the young Regina by letting her live in their home. In behaving under the societal guidelines and ignoring her husband's despicable actions, Mrs. Alving only pushed him further away. The absence of a faithful husband created a perpetual loneliness in Mrs. Alving and though she found peace of mind in sending her son Oswald abroad, his absence devastated her and their relationship would never be repaired.

Plagued by the internal guilt of her husband's unfaithfulness, Mrs. Alving concludes that their environment pushed her to become the societal façade of a wife. By viewing life through...
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