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Henrik Ibsen’s characters are similar throughout his books. There are pairs of characters with similarities in A Doll’s House and Ghosts. One such pair is Nora and Mrs. Alving. Both characters were unhappily married, but had other significant men in their lives. Manders and Dr. Rank both appeared as good friends to the women. This is a similarity, but with the difference that Nora rejected one and Mrs. Alving was rejected by the other. These men helped the women through their problems however and they would do anything for them.
“To have loved you as much as any one else does? Was that horrid?” (A Doll’s House, Act II, p. 40) Dr. Rank tells Nora. He is expressing that he has loved her the whole time that she thought they were just best friends. Mrs. Alving ran away from her husband in their first year of marriage and went to Manders. She had been in love with him, but he respected the sanctity of marriage so had to turn her away. “That I was able to turn you from your outrageous intention, and that it was vouchsafed to me to succeed in leading you back into the path of duty and back to your lawful husband.” (Ghosts, Act I, p. 89) Nora and Mrs. Alving both have children that they love very much. Nora is talking to Mrs. Linde, an old friend, when she brings up the topic of her children,
“So you are quite alone. How dreadfully sad that must be. I have three lovely children.” (A Doll’s House, Act I, p. 8) Nora often brings up the topic of her children when talking, because she loves them so much and wants to tell the whole world about them. Mrs. Alving loved her son Oswald so much that she sent him away, even though it would be very painful for her, so that he wouldn’t become like his father.
“It was then that Oswald was sent away. He was about seven then, and was beginning to notice things and ask questions as children will… It seemed to me that the child would be poisoned if he breathed the air of this polluted house. That was why I sent him away.” (Ghosts, Act I, p. 93) She rationalizes her decision. Mrs. Alving and Nora prove that they love their children through their actions in the plays, which are often similar. As much as Ibsen deliberately made his characters similar, he also made what happens to them different. At the end of A Doll’s House, Nora ends being the victor. She leaves her husband because it is what she wants and she knows how to get it.
“Oh, Torvald, I don’t believe any longer in wonderful things happening… That our life together would be a real wedlock. Good-bye.” (A Doll’s House, Act III, p. 68) With this, she leaves her house and the man she was in a loveless marriage with. Mrs. Alving does not have the same fortune as Nora. At the end of Ghosts, her beloved son is left in a vegetative state and she is left to despair over it. “Oswald! What is the matter with you! Oswald! Oswald! Look at me! Don’t you know me!… I can’t bear it! Never!” (Ghosts, Act III, p. 128)
A main difference in Mrs. Alving and Nora’s attitudes is that Nora left her husband when she couldn’t take it any more and Mrs. Alving waited for hers to die. “Listen, Torvald. I have heard that when a wife deserts her husband’s house, as I am doing now, he is legally freed from all obligations towards her.” (A Doll’s House, Act III, p. 67) Nora tells him. This shows that she is a stronger character than Mrs. Alving, because she actually stood up to her husband and told him that his behavior was unacceptable.
“I had my little boy, and endured it for his sake… I took the upper hand in the house absolutely – both with him and all the others. I had a weapon to use against him…” (Ghosts, Act I, p. 92-93) Mrs. Alving shows that she took the easy way out. She could have stood up to Mr. Alving and taken her son and left, but instead she chose to go along with it, just standing in his shadow and quietly telling him that she was unhappy.
The similarities that come out in the characters of Mrs. Alving and Nora are always mixed in with other situations that make them different. Ibsen wanted to prove to his audience that it wasn’t always healthy to be in a marriage and by doing this he went against the norms of society. Neither play has a so-called ‘happy ending’, because not all the characters have had their issues resolved by the end. The two plays show the different angles that he wanted the audience to be aware of, but their endings repeat a point for clarity.