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Hedvig is perhaps the play's most pathetic figure: its innocent, martyred child. She is of uncertain parentage, belonging either to Hialmar or Werle and potentially passed from the former to the latter in a marriage designed to circumvent public scandal. Hedvig's beloved father dispossesses her at the moment when her future is assured through Werle's beneficence. She comes to double the wild duck in being the wayward daughter. Like the duck, she is no longer certain of her origins and has been adopted into a second home.
Hedvig's doubling with the wild duck particularly distinguishes itself from that of the rest of the cast in taking metaphoric substitution 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 in a chaste and bloodless suicide. She dies for her father's love. The irony is that throughout the play Hedvig intuits the lunacy of Gregers's gospel and nearly awakes from it before committing suicide.
Hedvig is also marked by an incipient blindness, a degenerative eye-disease that she has inherited from either Werle or Hialmar's line. Her inherited disease is the legacy of crimes past, crimes of which she is again innocent. Her blindness also symbolizes the predominance "life-illusion" in the Ekdal household.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Wild Duck!