(Pronounced "Grayghers Verle") The impassioned, idealistic son of Hakon Werle. He has returned from self-imposed exile to avenge his father's crimes against the Ekdal family. In this sense, his appearance in the Ekdal household figures as a "returned of the repressed." Vengeance consists of the unmasking of Hialmar's family life, a mission demanded by the "claim of the ideal." In preaching this claim, Gregers subscribes to an inexorable Christian logic: he speaks in a language of forgiveness, exaltation, redemption, martyrdom, confession, absolution, and sacrifice. When he finally realizes that he has failed to redeem his friends, he will make a melancholic exit from a world in which he in a sense has no place.
(Pronounced "Yalmar Aykdal") The comic double of the romantic hero Ibsen so famously unmasks in his theater. Hialmar is fiery and melodramatic. 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" among his intimates. Hialmar would imagine himself as a great father and provider. Convinced he is on the brink of a great invention, Hialmar dreams of restoring his family name to honor. His dismissal of the petty concerns in life and dawdling in the garret while he awaits the necessary inspiration is a parody of romantic notions of creation and creativity.
The Ekdals' fourteen-year-old daughter. She is the play's most pathetic figure: its innocent and victimized 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. Like the duck, she is no longer certain of her origins and has been adopted into a second home. 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.
Hialmar's longtime antagonist from the Hoidal. The cynical Dr. Relling works and his rival over the fate of Hialmar. Clearly appearing as a figure of knowledge, he incarnates Ibsen's famous turn to the psychological. Relling pits himself against Gregers's appeals to the ideal as all so much "quakery." Rather than engage with Gregers on his own terms—that of "spiritual tumults" and a Christian logic of forgiveness and redemption—Relling recasts their discussion in a quasi-medical discourse of pathology. Man does not require redemption but treatment, an inoculation he terms the "life-illusion" or "life- lie."
Read an in-depth analysis of Relling.
A wealthy industrialist who is responsible for the ruin of his former partner, Old Ekdal, and his family. Werle has attempted to make amends by becoming the Ekdals' provider. He also hides a liaison with Hialmar's wife Gina, a liaison that drove him to facilitate their marriage to avoid public scandal. By the time the play opens, Ekdal does not appear the tyrannical and perverse father. He is man who would tidy up his affairs and maintain the suppression of the past at all costs.
The victim of Werle's betrayal, he suffered public disgrace years ago. He is a socially tabooed figure. Note how his intrusion into Werle's house brings the dinner party to a halt. Ekdal's ruin has left him a wounded duck, so to speak, a drunken man who spends his hours dreaming of his hunting days in the "forest" he has built in the garret and parading about in his old military uniform when at home.
(Pronounced "Cheena") Ekdal's wife and the former house servant of the Werles. By far the most practical members of the family, she refrains from her relatives' flights into fancy and occupies herself with the management of the household and photographic studio. She has suppressed her past with Werle to ensure the survival of her marriage.
Werle's housekeeper and fiancée. A charming and sociable woman, she believes that she and Werle will build their marriage—a second for them both—on a foundation of truth and honesty. Thus the threats of exposure and revelation that torment so many of the play's characters apparently do not concern her.
Like Relling, Molvik is a tenant who lives below the Ekdals. A drunken student of theology, he lives under the care of Relling, keeping himself alive through a "life-illusion" of demonic possession. Only this illusion keeps him from sinking into self-contempt. He subtly functions as a double for the other preacher of the play—Gregers.
(Pronounced "Groberg") Werle's bookkeeper. He crosses the study during Werle's party in Act I with Ekdal in tow.
Werle's servant and appears at the dinner party in Act I.
(Pronounced "Yensen") A hired waiter who appears at the dinner party in Act I.