Power and Sexuality in Ibsen's Ghost

Topics: Human sexuality, Human sexual behavior, Sexual intercourse Pages: 15 (7939 words) Published: November 1, 2014

January 2014


Power and Sexuality in Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts
Md. Amir Hossain, Amir
1. Introduction
Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts continues to remain one of the most criticized plays. The main motto of the modern playwright is to uphold the sexual issues of his contemporary age. In the play, Ghosts Henrik Ibsen, with his subtle knowledge and intelligence, has focused on the universal gender discrimination through depicting the dramatic male and female characters based on the 19th century Norwegian Bourgeois customs and values, and the contradictory attitude towards power and sexuality. The playwright as a selfconscious critic cum social reformer of his contemporary age, has unveiled the grim and mysterious images of the then filthy atmosphere. The play embodies of the hollowness and falsity of conventional morality, particularly the hollowness of conventional Bourgeois marriage and family life. His only motto is to deal with the contemporary social issues – the role of religion in modern life, the hypocrisies of family life, the subordinate and subservient status of women and corruption in the familial, social, cultural, and communal affairs are considered unorthodox of his own time. The main antagonists who are faced with conventions, hypocrisy, sexual passion, power, marriages of expedience, corrupt press, vested interest, and hardest of all, the past, both of society or of oneself may involve guilt and hamper autonomy. In the play, Ghosts, Ibsen has dealt with the Scandinavian middle class familial contradictory dilemma and pang of inner agonies between the patriarchy and the matriarchy. The modern playwright has demonstrated the spiritual and moral challenges of the society as it became increasingly urban and modern, and the influence of Christianity began to wane. Ibsen laid a great stress upon the norms of hereditary guilt based on power and sexuality. He studied the disordered human psychology and analyzed relentlessly the common relationship between the two siblings and husband and wife. There is much relationship based on sentimentalism, or a desire to dominate due to hypocrisy, sexual oppression, bondage, drug abuse and falsehood. This paper also discusses the Foucauldian and Belseyian concepts of patriarchal power and female sexuality and emancipation, Freudian theory of sex, Mackinnonian concepts of gender and sexuality, Northam’s viewpoint on Mrs. Alving, and Francis Ferguson’s comment on the personality of Pastor Manders and Engstrand and so on. 2. Foucauldian and Belseyian comment on Power and Sexuality

We can investigate power and sexuality in Ghosts by applying Michel Foucauldian concept of ‘discourse’ and the clash of various discourses in society. Foucault’s theory establishes the system of producing knowledge which is bound by psychological constraints where rules and norms have to be perceived. Catherine Belsey (1985) in The Subject of Tragedy analyzes the Foucauldian concept of discourse and emphasizes that female sexuality is not autonomous, being regulated severely by patriarchal discourse. Belsey’s theorization of the relationship between patriarchal power and the controlling of female sexuality may be applied to Ghosts with a view to


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fostering power and sexuality among Ibsen’s dramatic personae. This paper highlights how the patriarchal discourse controls female sexuality as reflected in this discussion, where consolidation of power has a direct relation with the issues of sexuality.

Foucault, in his theorization of the relationship between power and knowledge, has constantly reiterated the fact that power uses knowledge for its own benefit. He reflects on the ubiquity of power and also sees every relation as a relationship of power. The concept of discourse is connected with the issue of power relation and Foucault shows how different discourses in society contend for power by using knowledge. Foucault also theorizes the...

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