The orphanage Helen Alving plans to open in honor of her late husband represents Helen’s adherence to social conventions. Tasked with protecting her husband’s legacy by religious figures like Pastor Manders, Helen works tirelessly to construct the orphanage on the 10-year anniversary of her husband’s death as a means of quieting any gossip about him. The orphanage symbolizes Helen’s efforts to shield her son Oswald from the truth of his father’s indiscretions and to distance herself from her marriage without outwardly deviating from the path outlined for her by society. She uses her dowry to pay for the orphanage to separate her dowry from the money she has earned over the course of her marriage, planning to leave her son an inheritance only comprised of the money she has earned.
The orphanage also represents Helen’s efforts to subdue the shame that forced her to stay in her unhappy marriage and resulted in the birth of Regina, the daughter of Captain Alving and the family’s maid Johanna. The destruction of the orphanage occurs in Act II soon after Helen learns of her son’s plans to woo Regina, his half-sister. No longer able to conceal the truth of the past, Helen now strives to expose the truth to Oswald before it is too late.