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Wild Duck

Henrik Ibsen

Study Questions and Essay Topics

Key Facts

Quiz

A number of critics have noted how Relling and Gregers compete over Hialmar's fate. What does Relling think of Gregers's appeals to the ideal? How does he change the terms of the discussion of Hialmar's situation?

Dr. Relling opposes Gregers's Salvationist gospel with a psychological discourse. This turn to psychology is one of the defining aspects of Ibsen's drama. He does not only deploy this discourse as a competing ideology but uses it to diagnose Gregers's "quackery" as well. Thus Gregers suffers from an "integrity-fever" and a "delirium of hero-worship." His "claim of the ideal" becomes a disorder rather than a moral or spiritual imperative. Rather than lead one to the truth, the ideal is like the lie in the fact that they are both diseases of the mind. What is imperative for Relling then is not the soul's attainment to truth but the treatment of these mental disorders. This treatment is an inoculation with the "life-illusion" that makes existence possible.

Relling also criticizes the heady Gregers by replacing his appeals to the ideal with an economic metaphor. Relling Gregers's "claim of the ideal" is not moral/spiritual but pecuniary. Gregers has come to cash in at the Ekdals only to discover that residents are insolvent. As we have seen, the appeal to economics, as in oikos or management of the household, has functioned to deflate the characters' grander claims.

Many critics have noted that Ibsen's plays stage the demystification of the romantic stage hero. How does this demystification take place in The Wild Duck?

Ibsen is renown for staging the destruction of the romantic hero and his appeals to the claim of the ideal. In The Wild Duck, the romantic hero finds a comic double in the fickle, melodramatic Hialmar. This failed hero is most explicitly demystified in the exchange between Relling and Gregers in Act V. Hialmar's handsomeness, "superficially emotional temperament," "sympathetic voice," and talent for declaiming the verses and thoughts of others have always made him appear the "great light of the future" within his personal circles despite his mediocrity. The play makes this mediocrity clear from his humiliation at the banquet onward.

Ibsen also unmasks the romantic hero in underling the everyday affairs of his household. For example, ever-practical Gina, who runs the household affairs, will methodically tabulate the day's expenses; Gina and Ekdal will fret about the rental of the spare room; and much of the action will revolve around domestic comforts, such as the serving of food. Ibsen will deploy these petty comforts to satire the lofty, romantic figure Hialmar would cut. For example, a sighing Hialmar will refuse a crust of bread only to take it with a show of reluctance.

Consider the use of space in The Wild Duck. What is the significance, for example, of the structure of the Ekdal home?

Act II brings us to the play's central playing space, Hialmar's studio. As noted in the stage directions, it appears littered with photographic tools and apparatuses; at a number of moments in the play, various characters will refer to their processing work, and appear retouching photographs. The playing space is literally a "darkroom" of sorts for the production and revision of the household's fantasies. In turn, the studio opens onto a more enigmatic fantasy space at the rear—the wild duck's garret. In some sense the apartment provides metaphor for psychic topography, evoking a vague distinction between the conscious and unconscious spaces of the mind.

Suggested Essay Topics

Why does the action of the play take place in a photography studio? How do photographs function in the play?

Consider the difference symbols of temporality in the play. What is the significance, for example, of the garret's stopped clock? Hedvig's history book? The image of the woman, Death, and the hourglass?

How does lighting function in the play? Consider the change in lighting between acts, the use of artificial light (lamps), and the lighting in different playing spaces (the studio as opposed to the garret).

Consider the trope of revenge in The Wild Duck. Who is out for revenge? On what terms? In whose name? For what injuries? How might one read Ekdal's refrain that the woods avenge themselves?

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