The Wild Duck is littered with weighty and heavy-handed symbolism. Certainly the play's chief symbol is the wild duck. The duck serves as a "quilting point" for the characters' fantasies of themselves and those around them. Thus Ekdal figures as the wild duck in having been betrayed and shot down by his old partner Werle. He has sunk into his reveries never to return. Gregers imagines Hialmar as the wild duck in his entrapment in the "poisonous marshes" of his household, the tangle of deceit that makes his marriage possible. In contrast, he imagines himself in the figure of the clever dog that would rescue the wounded bird. He also considers himself the wild duck in becoming the Ekdals' adopted tenant. Finally, Hedvig figures as the wild duck in that she loses her family and place of origin. She is in some sense her father's adopted child.
Hedvig's doubling with the wild duck particularly distinguishes itself from that of the rest of the cast in that it takes the substitution of metaphor to a lethal conclusion. This shift occurs when the two figures both become the object of sacrifice. When Hialmar abandons Hedvig, Gregers will exhort her to sacrifice the duck, her most precious possession, to prove her love for her father. Hedvig will enter the garret to kill the duck but end by killing herself.