It wasn't the silence, no, I couldn't hear that anyway, I had my own little world blaring in my ears, Radiohead or Secret Garden or "Today's Best Music" or something.

And it wasn't the way you stopped cleaning up after yourself, nor the way you started complaining about my mess. Not that, either.

(I'm pretty damn sure you always complained and never cleaned up, only now in the silence and cold it was magnified).

I knew when you started walking more evenly, steadily, hunched into the walls. When you started lurking in our house is when I knew it'd crept on us and crept on us and crept so far there was nothing to do but slink too.

There are ghosts, I believe in them; ghosts of ourselves are skimming the outer edges of our lives and creeping around the evidence.

The "Flawed" Tragic Structure of Ibsen's Ghosts

       Aristotelian logic, which dictates elements of tragedy including tragic mistake, recognition, and reversal, would struggle to categorically define Henrik Ibsen's play Ghosts as tragic, because of its ambiguous ending. After the curtain falls on the final scene, it is unclear exactly what transpires in the lives of the story's protagonists. The question of exactly what Mrs. Alving does with the morphine pills Osvald had asked her to give him should his disease attack his brain, is an open-ended one. There are a few possibilities as to the ultimate outcome for the characters, and clearly Ibsen knew what he was doing when he left his play seemingly unfinished, with one of its more pressing questions unanswered. Were one to examine just what these possibilities might be, one would have to keep in mind the elements of Mrs. Alving's character, and her background, which would invariably influence her ultimate decision concerning whether or not to administer the morphine to her son and end his life as he'd requested.

       One of the more predictable outcomes would be for Mrs. Alving to simply give her son the morphine, as he had asked her. Overcome by the syphilis that had slowly ravaged his mind and body since his childhood, Osvald by the end of the play has degenerated into a vegetative state, and would have no purpose left in life, except possibly to become a burden to his mother. Mrs. Alving could easily give him the pills and painlessly end his suffering at last. In addition, she could in a way, end her own suffering, because Osvald would have been her last ghost ... the last tie to painful memories and sorrowful reminders of a life she would have preferred to have lead differently. With Osvald's death, she could begin again, having severed the hold the past had on her.

       The second possibility is that Mrs. Alving could do just the opposite, that is, withhold the morphine from Osvald. He wouldn't have realized it, because his mind would have ceased to function normally at that point. It's entirely likely that as a mother, Mrs. Alving wouldn't be able to kill her own son, even though he no longer resembled her child.

       But a more dramatically intriguing and perplexing ending would be if Mrs. Alving were to do neither. Rather, it might create interesting drama if she took the pills herself and ended her own life. That way, she wouldn't have to worry about her destitution after losing everything in the orphanage fire, nor would she need concern herself with taking care of her dying son. She would have not only taken care of the ghosts that had haunted her for so long, but she would have empowered herself in one final act of defiance against a society and a life that had tied her down and stifled her for so many years.

       Society is a key factor in defining Mrs. Alving's character and her role in Ghosts. The comparison has been made to Nora in Ibsen's A Doll's House, with one significant difference: Nora left her marriage, whereas Mrs. Alving knew that she should have, but didn't. If she had done so, it's blatantly clear that her life would have turned out much differently, and almost certainly for the better. Although it is clear to the viewer that the entire play centers mainly around the tragic nature of Mrs. Alving's life and how it has been wasted, the actual tragedy of the story comes into play most poignantly at the moment of her tragic realization. This realization, an awareness of the fact that not only did she make a mistake by not leaving her husband all those years ago, but also that it is now too late for her to ever have any chance for true personal happiness, doesn't even occur until the final scene. In the last few moments of the play, Mrs. Alving realizes what poor decisions she has made throughout the years, all leading toward one catastrophic, tragic summation.

       In accordance with Aristotle's dictates, Mrs. Alving does, in fact, experience a tragic reversal. However, unlike many tragedies, it occurs extremely late in the play, and doesn't give a lot of time to sink into the plot. It is only when the sun has finally risen in the last scene, ending the one, long day in which the entire play took place, and Osvald's mind has completely broken down, that Mrs. Alving experiences her reversal. Having realized that the course of her life has led her to this moment, she becomes aware of the fact that there is nothing left for her now. Her finances are all gone, any chance at love is long since gone, the orphanage has burned down, and her son is dying before her, having already experienced mental and spiritual death. This woman simply has nothing left to live for, and no reason to continue her existence. While it follows logic that she might just administer the morphine to Osvald and end his misery, it's more plausible when keeping all these factors in mind that she takes the pills herself and ends her own misery.

       In addition to the simple and recognizable desire to escape a meaningless existence, the argument for Mrs. Alving's suicide is further fueled by the fact that at no point in this play or in the events that occurred before it began did she ever once have complete control over her life. She was in a loveless marriage, and had tried to leave, but Pastor Manders had persuaded her not to give up on her husband, so she stayed. She had also been in love with Manders, but had not pursued that avenue either, at his urging. Religious and moral conventions of a rigidly patriarchal society had kept her from living her life as her own, wresting control of it away from her in nearly every aspect. If she were to kill herself at the end of the play, instead of euthanizing her son, it would be equivalent to one last stab at the world which had controlled her for so long, instead of the other way around. She would be staging one final act of defiance, finally regaining the control she had sought for so many years.

       In light of this unconventional and less-than-obvious possibility, is Ghosts still a tragedy, by Aristotle's measure? The protagonist is dead, and her son is undoubtedly not far behind. The lives of the surviving characters are mostly in ruins, with the possible exception of Engstrand, and it appears that no objectives have been accomplished, no goals have been realized, no satisfactory conclusion has been reached. The main character experienced a tragic mistake, recognition of that mistake, and tragic reversal . . . but if she kills herself, does the play truly succeed as a tragedy? If one considers this ending from the point of view of a triumphant-at-long-last Mrs. Alving, the answer is no, there is no actual tragedy. A tragic figure must be left alive at the end of his or her tragedy, so that he or she can fully realize and be aware of the great misfortune that has befallen him or her. A tragedy leaves its protagonist alive, and often alone, to contemplate life and its newfound miseries. But were Mrs. Alving to die, she would have won her battle with fate. True, certain tragic circumstances would be irrevocable and disturbing, but Mrs. Alving would have in effect cheated tragedy by succumbing to death by her own hand.

       Herein lies the great dramatic irony. Mrs. Alving is dead, but she has escaped the stigma of a tragic figure. The viewer knows, as she does, that she should have avoided the entire situation in the first place by leaving her husband when she had the chance, but her misguided choice ultimately leaves her a martyr. In addition to lashing out against conventional, straitlaced society here, Ibsen is also trying to impart a hard-learned lesson. Much mention is made of trusting in God and providence in this play. But this emphasis is used to specifically undermine the idea that one should trust one's own judgement and instincts. Ibsen is not saying that God should not be trusted, but he is saying that one should trust one's intuition. Because Mrs. Alving fell back on convention and heeded Manders' advice all those years ago, instead of going with her own instincts and trusting what was in her heart, she committed her tragic mistake, which slowly led to the tragic events highlighted by the action of the play.

       Ibsen's own view of tragic realization lies in his answer to Aristotle's and Grecian society's concept of Fate. Ibsen believes that because the past can neither be changed nor amended, it will have retribution on the present and the future. Ibsen is clearly saying that it is very important to live in the present, in the "now," as opposed to either dwelling on the past or looking blindly forward to the future. Every choice that one makes must be made to count, and every moment must be appreciated. The only alternative is to live a life haunted by ghosts.

Node your homework!
When I was young, around six years old, I knew for a fact that there existed in the world a population of ghosts as numerous as we humans.

Ghosts, I believed, are the people of the night, and they resent this. They envy humans' ownership of daylight, and this is the reason they are so frightening. Otherwise they would just be other beings sharing the world with us. Night is their prison, but also their refuge and preserve, so they pose a threat to any humans foolish enough to trespass on their domain. What this threat is I have no idea, but this is the real reason humans are afraid of them. This is also the reason it is so important for humans to be asleep at night, why my parents spent so much time and effort trying to make sure I was asleep; because if ghosts perceive that a human is awake and, even worse, watching them, they will attack.

Ghosts come in several main sorts. The traditional white Casper from horror movies exists, nothing to be too afraid of. They used to gather in large groups in our back yard. They would have been visible if I had dared to sit up and look out the window, but I wasn't stupid enough to do that. I used to lie awake with my eyes closed, desperately trying not to screw them up in a way that would indicate that I was actually feigning sleep, because if a ghost looked in the window and saw this it might be tempted to stay there, looking in, waiting for me to take a peek and catch sight of the presence. That would be deadly. Like bullies trying to pick a fight, they used to toy with humans in this way. So I lay, breathing shallowly, even sometimes turning over in a casual manner, hoping never to catch a glimpse of something white at the window.

Far worse than this was the black one. The black ghost was so bad that his evil spread out like a miasma that travelled through walls. So I could perceive him as he stood in the paved sideway of our house, leaning against the wall directly beneath the small eastern window of my bedroom. I knew he was there, smiling his big white crescent smile in the dark, a perfect black silhouette of a man, leaning casually against the wall. Secure in the knowledge of his strength and ability to somehow ruin any human who might dare to peer outside. Strange, because as he was black as shadow, he couldn't even be seen.

Possums lived in the old trees around our house. They threatened each other with a hideous croaking snarl that used to freeze my marrow. Even when I was satisfied that it was a harmless mammal and not some crawling terror from the beyond, the sound of a possum hissing at his rivals still makes my heart skip a beat. Later, when I had conquered my fear of ghosts somewhat, and could look out the window with only minor trepidation, I would watch them run and jump amongst the bare winter branches of our liquidambar tree. I used to hoist buckets of chokos up that tree and leave them for the possums to eat, which they did. They also used to suck the seeds out of the prickly balls of the seed pods.

I had a crystal radio, a gift from my grandfather, which I used to listen to late at night, with an earphone in each ear. Later my father gave me a multi use electronics kit, and one of the configurations of that kit was a better kind of crystal radio. It was a beautiful kit, a sheet of clear Perspex with various electrical components mounted on it's surface with small springs as the contacts. It came with plans on paper sheets, and lengths of wire. You put the plan on top of the stack in the box, laid the Perspex unit on top, then wired it up following the lines on the plan. There were dozens of plans, including solar powered radio, several different types of transistor radio, AM and FM, and the crystal radio. I bought a length of plain copper core wire from a boy at school for 60 cents, and strung it from that tree as an aerial. If lightning struck that aerial it would have run straight down, completely ignored the diode in the radio, and fried my brain. And all the time I was scared stiff of ghosts.

Everybody has a ghost
Who sings like you do
Yours is not like mine

--Live, "Ghost"

There are so many ghosts. I saw one once, and by that I mean I saw one taking a vaguely physical form in front of me. It was a curious story involving an old house I used to live in. I died in that house, and apparently so did she. I came back mostly whole. She did not, but she never managed to leave until I asked her to. It was one of the weirder moments of my life.

I had lived in the house for several months prior to taking my own life in that house. My first roommate and I had a number of encounters with something odd. It always involved the staircase leading from the first to the second floor. There would be footsteps. There would be creaking, especially of the banister, and there would be voices. We called it the ghost.

The night of my death I saw the ghost on the staircase. She looked scared out of her wits, wearing a long white nightgown and scowling frightfully at me. I remember being very calm as I told her, "You need to go, this is my house now." She was never heard from again.

I think I was a ghost myself when I told her that, although I'm not sure. It is a long, confusing story I've told before.

I've seen some other ghosts since then, but they've been of a different kind. The night of his death, my good friend Dave appeared beside my bed. He had been sick for a long time, but I didn't receive the call telling me he had passed on until the next day.

There was also the appearance of Christina the day of her funeral. She appeared in a vision to me as I sat in the church during the funeral, running through a field of purple flowers and laughing. Her best friend Erin, who delivered the eulogy, had the same vision just prior to going up to speak on behalf of the woman we both loved. We didn't know about having had the same vision until a few days later when we ran into each other on a day the sky turned to gold.

Most of the ghosts I see, however, come in dreams.

I used to communicate very well with these "spirits" as they appeared to me. They often had valuable information that would propel me further on my journey in life. I used to feel quite at home with them, comfortable as one might be when a good friend comes over to share stories.

These days the ghosts mostly leave me unsettled. I'm uncertain of how to communicate with them and they leave me jumpy and shaken. I don't think the ghosts bear me any more ill will than they used to, I've just forgotten how to get back to where I once belonged. I'm struggling so much to keep my head above water in the temporal world that I've lost sight of my old horizons.

Where did I go wrong?
I never needed this before
I need a woman to help me feel...

In the summer of 1995 I was fighting against the tides that had come upon me. I was resisting an overpowering sensation that I was in the wrong place and that I needed to listen to my dreams in order to find the path I was meant to take in life. It was a battle within that would go on for almost two more years, but at the time I finally met someone who made sense within both of the worlds I was living in at the time.

Her name was Chris and she was a suicide. We spent a good amount of time together during a period where I was trying to date as many women as possible, since I was at the time convinced this would cure what ailed me. Since I blamed my failed relationships and problems with women for my suicide, there was a weird logic in dating every woman I met to make up for it.

Chris would convince me that I had nothing to make up for and that I had to stop thinking I needed to avenge myself. She would do many things, and being the beautiful person she was, she could not help but do the things she did for me. And although she would go on endlessly about how she had no romantic interest in me, her eyes usually told a different story, and when she disappeared, she sent me a letter. One of the things she said in the letter was, "And now I will become a ghost. Then you will love me forever."

And she did disappear. Her apartment was empty when I drove out to see her and the landlord said she had no forwarding address. The strange old woman she rented from also managed to tell me, "I think she was a witch, anyway." If she was, she was a good one.

She dared me to listen to the ghosts. My personal accountants know she was the first of the Christines. She was more right about becoming a ghost than she knew.

There have been many ghosts in the years since Chris became a spirit that lives on in my imagination, and I do not doubt I also live on in hers. She convinced me I was not alone. One night she rolled up her sleeves and showed me the deep scars on her wrists. She asked me to tell her "my story" without my having spoken of anything having to do with suicide before that night. She opened the floodgates and for a period of time that exists now only in eternity, two crazy people became completely sane by existing for that time only in each other's worlds.

Angels fall like rain.

The majority is always sane. It is the only way to measure sanity; it is the only way to define sanity. When two people with the same insanity are together without anyone else to intervene and judge they become sane. This is the foundation of love.

Inside you
The time moves
And she don't fade
The ghost in you
She don't fade
Inside you
The time moves
And she don't fade

A race is on, I'm on your side and
Here in you my engines die I'm
In a mood for you
Or running away

The Psychedelic Furs,
"The Ghost in You"

These days the ghosts seem darker and more in pain, or maybe it is my own perception being tainted by my life's recent events. It is hard to tell.

My latest ghost "lives" in a subway tunnel. He seems quite certain it is a good idea to sit on the subway tracks, sort of in the fetal position wearing a dark trench coat and hiding his face from me. And yet he seems to want me to protect him from the oncoming train.

Dude, this is a lot to ask. I'm just saying.

He has confirmed he is already dead, which makes needing me to protect him from the oncoming subway train somewhat ridiculous, but spirits work on a strange plane that we would be hard pressed to understand. They deal mostly in the symbolism of acts rather than the actual physical definition of them, since, well, they aren't physical really.

The train comes. I try to wave it off. This is also ridiculous. The train is on tracks. It cannot turn away from those tracks. It can only stop, if it can even do that, and I never try to stop it until right before it hits me, which is usually when I wake up.

He wants me to look after someone. A woman. A living woman he has a strong attachment to. It upsets him to ask this of me, but he keeps asking me, night after night to do just this. He usually breaks down while asking me.

He is a restless spirit but he is not an angry ghost. He has too much self-loathing to be angry with anyone or anything other than himself. And he shakes me to my foundations and robs me of my sleep when he repeats the same statement he has several times in asking me to look after this woman for him...

"You're the only one I can trust not to try to fuck her, but you will."

He will not be ignored. The ghosts are hungry and I am called to their service. I will accept his request and I will honor it as best I can.

Where did I go wrong?
I never needed this before
I need a woman to help me feel...

For you, who knows who you are.

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