Nora and Mrs. Alving are two main characters in Ibsen’s plays. They are similar in some ways, but obviously they are both uniquely diverse. They play many of the same roles in their plays, and are probably the most similar two characters between “Ghosts” and “A Doll’s House.”
Nora is a unique character, a kind not usually seen in most plays. She swings her mood often; she is either very happy or very depressed, comfortable or desperate, wise or naíve. At the beginning of the play, Nora still plays a child in many ways, listening at doors and eating forbidden sweets behind her husband’s back. She has gone straight from her father’s house to her husband’s, bringing along her nursemaid which tells us that she hasn’t really grown up. She also doesn’t have much of an own opinion. She has always accepted her father’s and her husband’s opinions. She’s aware that Torvald would have no use for a wife who was equal to him.
But like many children, Nora knows how to manipulate Torvald by pouting or by performing for him. In the end, it is the truth about her marriage that awakens Nora. Although she may suspect that Torvald is a weak, petty man, she believes that he is strong, that he’ll protect her from the consequences of her actions. Then, at the moment of truth, he abandons her completely. She is shocked into reality and sees how fake their relationship has been. She realizes that her father and her husband have seen her as a doll, a toy to be played with, a figure without opinion or will of her own. She also realizes that she is treating her children the same way. Her whole life has been based on illusion rather than reality.
Mrs. Alving married her late husband, Captain Alving, at her family’ proposal, but she had a horrible marriage. She ran away to Pastor Manders, who she was attracted to, but he made her return to her husband. After enduring her husband’s depravity for a while, she sent away Oswald at the age of seven, with the hope that he would never discover his dead father’s immorality. Mrs. Alving built an orphanage to memorialize his death, and it was scheduled to be dedicated the following day. She didn’t want anyone to know the truth about his person; she wanted everyone to think he was a great, honorable man. Fortunately, she at least had the compellation to tell her son the truth about his father.
The occasions that arose for both characters were similar to some extent. One year into her marriage, Mrs. Alving, like Nora, walks out on her husband, fleeing to the house and into the arms of her friend Pastor Manders, only to be persuaded by him to return to her husband. Another similar occurrence was when Nora had to save her husband, by going into exile and away for a little bit, and Mrs. Alving saved her son by sending him into exile or at least away from their home so that Oswald would never have to grow up with his freelancing father.
There were also some key differences between Nora and Mrs. Alving. In “A Doll’s House”, the reason of the union between Nora and Helmer relied on the husband’s conception of integrity and unyielding devotion to social morality. He was the conventional, ideal husband and devoted father. Not so in Ghosts. Mrs. Alving married Captain Alving only to find that he was a physical and mental wreck, and that life with him would mean utter degradation and be fatal to her possible children.
In her despair, she turned to her friend, Pastor Manders, who needed to be indifferent to necessities. He sent her back to shame and degradation, back to her duties to her husband and home. Happiness, to him, was the “unholy manifestation of a rebellious spirit,” and a wife’s duty was not to judge, but “to bear with humility the cross which a higher power had for your own good laid upon you.”
Mrs. Alving bore the cross for twenty-six long years. Not for the sake of the higher power, but for her little son Oswald, whom she longed to save from the poisonous atmosphere of her husband’s home. Meanwhile, Nora fled her husband for the sake of the higher power, for the opportunity to find her own ideas and opinions, to gain an experience without the controlling factor that her husband had on her.