As in most of Ibsen's problem plays, Ghosts begins at the collective climax in the lives of its characters. The play deals only with the consequences of these past lives and does not need to take place in more than one twenty-four hour vigil. Although the relationships among the characters are close and lifelong, only the crowding of emotions and events within these three acts forces each one to face the truth about himself and about his society.
Unlike A Doll's House, where there are servants and a sub-plot between Krogstad and Mrs. Linde, only five characters appear in Ghosts. No one is included who has not a place in the main action itself. In this way, an atmosphere of austere grandeur is given to the whole drama providing it with an intensity suggestive of classical plays. Professor Koht describes the play's further relationship to ancient drama for Greek tragedy, often called the fate, or family drama, shows a tragic flaw inherited through the generations. Ghosts is also a "family tragedy," he writes, "but it is also a social drama — the ancient tragedy resurrected on modern soil."
Captain Alving's character bears this out. The source of the hereditary flaw which destroys his children, his presence pervades each scene of Ghosts. As each living character illuminates the nature of the diseased profligate, he finally stands as clearly and as well-drawn to the audience as if he were constantly active on stage. Almost as a "secondary" protagonist, Alving undergoes a change of character until he is presented to the spectator as an individual whom society has wronged. Finally, when Mrs. Alving recognizes how she destroyed his "joy of life," the dead husband is no longer a ghost, but a humanized victim of the social conventions.