Mrs Alving is the widow of Captain Alving, an wayward alchoholic who impregnated the family maid. At the time, Mrs Alving covered up her husband’s excesses, even sending her son, Oswald, away, so that he would not be influenced by his father. In this speech, years have passed and Oswald has returned home. Oswald has suffered from headaches since he was a child, which are actually the result of syphilis inherited from his father. However, since Mrs Alving lied to her son about Captain Alving’s character, he assumes that he has brought the disease on himself..
It was directly after I had been home last time, and had got back to Paris again. I began to feel the most violent pains in my head — chiefly in the back of my head, they seemed to come. It was as though a tight iron ring was being screwed round my neck and upwards.[…]At first I thought it was nothing but the ordinary headache I had been so plagued with while I was growing up […] But it wasn’t that. I soon found that out. I couldn’t work any more. I wanted to begin upon a big new picture, but my powers seemed to fail me; all my strength was crippled; I could form no definite images; everything swam before me — whirling round and round. Oh, it was an awful state! At last I sent for a doctor — and from him I learned the truth.[…]. He was one of the first doctors in Paris. I told him my symptoms; and then he set to work asking me a string of questions which I thought had nothing to do with the matter. I couldn’t imagine what the man was after […]. At last he said: “There has been something worm-eaten in you from your birth.” He used that very word — vermoulu.[…] I didn’t understand […] and begged him to explain himself more clearly. And then the old cynic said — (Clenching his fist) Oh — ! […]. He said, “The sins of the fathers are visited upon the children.” […] I very nearly struck him in the face …] (Smiles sadly.) Yes; what do you think of that? Of course I assured him that such a thing was out of the question. But do you think he gave in? No, he stuck to it; and it was only when I produced your letters and translated the passages relating to father […]. Then of course he had to admit that he was on the wrong track; and so I learned the truth — the incomprehensible truth! I ought not to have taken part with my comrades in that lighthearted, glorious life of theirs. It had been too much for my strength. So I had brought it upon myself! […]. No other explanation was possible, he said. That’s the awful part of it. Incurably ruined for life — by my own heedlessness! All that I meant to have done in the world — I never dare think of it again — I’m not able to think of it. Oh! if I could only live over again, and undo all I have done! (He buries his face in the sofa.) […] (After a while, looks up and remains resting upon his elbow.) If it had only been something inherited — something one wasn’t responsible for! But this! To have thrown away so shamefully, thoughtlessly, recklessly, one’s own happiness, one’s own health, everything in the world — one’s future, one’s very life!