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Wild Duck

Henrik Ibsen

Act I: Part Two

Act one: Part Two

Act II: Part I

Summary

Old Ekdal exits apologetically, and the party resumes. A dejected Hialmar excuses himself quietly. When Gregers mentions that he may visit him later, Hialmar forbids him from coming to his melancholic abode.

The guests return to the music room. Gregers remains at the fireplace while Werle searches his desk, wishing his son would go. Gregers insists that his father have a word with him. He asks how the Ekdals have come to ruin, wondering if Old Ekdal was to blame for the forestry scandal. Werle retorts that Ekdal was found guilty and asks what he could have done for his partner. Ekdal emerged from prison a broken man beyond all help. "There are people in the world who dive to the bottom the moment they get a couple of slugs in their body, and never come to the surface again" he remarks.

When Werle adds that he even overpays Ekdal for his work, Gregers presses him further, and asks about the payments he leaves unaccounted. Gregers also asks to explain his sudden interest in Ekdal's son and Gina. Gregers is certain that this interest lies in Werle's liaison with their former housemaid; his mother revealed his betrayal to him on her deathbed.

Werle rebukes him, accusing Gregers of being under the sway of a morbid, overstrained mother who prejudiced him against him from the first. It is time he took things more practically and joined him as a partner in their firm. Werle is lonely and his eyes have begun failing in his old age. Being so lonely, he has plans to marry Mrs. Sorby and hopes his son will lend his approval. Gregers is confirmed in his suspicion that his father wants to make use of him. The son of the dead, wronged mother will finally return home to help form a "tableau of filial affection." Werle notes coldly that Gregers sees him with his mother's eyes and speaks with her words.

Gregers moves to leave the house. He announces that he finally sees his mission in life, but thinks that his father would only laugh if he revealed it. Gregers observes that the guests are playing "blind man's bluff" and departs.

Analysis

The conclusion of Act I consists almost entirely of the dialogue between Gregers and Werle. Here Gregers confronts his father on his long-buried betrayal of Ekdal and his affair with Gina. In Gregers's imaginary, Werle has come to function as a tyrannical and perverse patriarch, a "primal father" who insists on his mastery and claims access to all households, including those of rival clans. He ruins his partner, Ekdal, the father Hialmar takes as his ideal to assure his continued dominance and incestuously sleeps with Hialmar's wife. Indeed Werle has perhaps even fathered Hialmar's child. Note in this respect the importance of undocumented expenses and secret debts in the play. Werle replaces Hialmar within his own household as father and provider. For Gregers, Werle's affair betrays his own familial constellation as well, replacing his ailing mother with a house servant.

Werle hardly appears as the tyrant of his son's imaginary any longer. In his old age, Werle is tired, lonely, and going blind, numbering among the play's other broken men. His fiancée will later insist that he has undergone a certain conversion and they begin their marriage honestly. Regardless of whether we take her thoughts in earnest, the disjuncture between Gregers's fantasmic father and Werle as he lives now is clear.

Pitting himself against his father, Gregers discovers his mission: to expose the truth of Hialmar's marriage, believing that this revelation will enable him to find what is noble within himself and begin his marriage anew on a foundation of truth. It is all too unnecessary to note how this missionary's more aggressive or vengeful intentions are not immediately accessible to him. Here Gregers primarily articulates his mission through the all-important metaphors of blindness and sight. He leaves his father to play blind man's bluff with his guests; he intends to bring illumination to the Ekdals. Blindness will function as the father's legacy. It serves as the mark that identifies Hedvig as "his." This exchange makes clear that while Gregers may accuse others of sightlessness, he is ignorant of his own. As Werle notes, Gregers sees through his mother's "clouded eyes."

As Ibsen's more history-centered critics have noted, the motif of blindness indicates the play's interest in contemporary discourses of pathology. Note in this respect Werle's repeated references to his first wife's sickly mental condition as well. The motif of blindness refers to a number of other salient tropes. As we will see in increasing detail, the trope of blindness also opens onto the dominant metaphoric economy of light/dark, ideal/vulgar, truth/lie that structures the play. Gregers would leave the gloom and blindness of his house to bring light, truth, and ideality to the Ekdals. The trope of an inherited blindness also recalls the notion of a mythic revenge discussed above: blindness does not only figure as a hereditary disease but the work of providence. Finally, blindness also serves as metaphor for certain psychological state as well. Note, for example, how Werle warns his son against the blindness of his Salvationist delusions.

Also of note in the father-son dialogue is the motif of the "tableau of filial affection." Paranoically, Gregers refuses to participate in any outward reconciliation with his father and assure his reputation. The motif of tableau prefigures our transition to the Ekdals' photographic studio, where the Ekdals form a tableau of happy family life that Gregers sets himself at unmasking.

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