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Wild Duck

Henrik Ibsen

Act V: Part Two

Summary Act V: Part Two


The first of these final scenes stage Hialmar's comic return to the household. Once again, domesticity comes to deflate Hialmar's melodramatic exhortations. Despite his declarations that he cannot live among traitors and appeals to the ideal, Hialmar will settle into his domestic routine in the studio, accepting Gina's care and absently taking his breakfast as always. As Hialmar protests defensively to Gregers, "the body sometimes makes its claims felt too." Note the petty objects that pepper the scene of Hialmar's return: the missing hat, the bread, butter, and coffee on the breakfast tray, and the portmanteau. These objects bring Hialmar back into domestic routing. The fiery hero refuses to admit his capitulation. The welfare of Old Ekdal serves as a pretext as a return, his sighs of "poor father" allowing him even to repair Werle's letter. It is all too obvious that Hialmar cannot bring himself to leave his home, the private circle within which he figures as a "shining light" among men.

Hialmar's grudging, shamefaced return to the household heightens the dramatic irony of the act's climax—Hedvig's suicide. Hedvig kills herself in believing that father will never return. The final dialogue between Gregers and Hialmar, in which the former denounces Hedvig was a traitor, subtends this structure of irony as well. This climatic death also involves a delicate structure of suspense. Hialmar's repudiation of Hedvig sends her into the attic with the gun. This component of the action is then momentarily held in expectancy as Hialmar grudgingly returns home. Hialmar then denounces Hedvig to Gregers as a traitor. Hedvig's suicide violently intrudes into the playing space anew with the gunshot that interrupts their dialogue.

As noted above, Hedvig's death takes the metaphoric substitution of Hedvig and the wild duck to a lethal conclusion. Hedvig enters the garret to kill the duck and destroys herself instead. As Gregers notes, she has now truly retired to the depths of the sea. This death is the logical conclusion to Hedvig's martyrdom as the play's victimized innocent, and she literally appears the bloodless victim. Hedvig finally becomes the wild duck in substituting for her as an object of sacrifice. The chilling or even violent quality of the cast's pity for the martyred Hedvig becomes clear in Gina and Hialmar's reconciliation over her corpse. Though they could not mutually claim her in life, she is certainly theirs in death.

Finally the play ends with a dialogue between the play's two "spiritual doctors"—Gregers and Relling. This dialogue offers a closing commentary on Hedvig's demise. True to form, Gregers attempts to find redemption in Hedvig's demise and specifically the redemption of his idol, Hialmar. Hedvig's death would bring out what is noble in his friend. The sardonic Relling knows that Hedvig will become but another theme for Hialmar's endless declamations before the year is out. This final observation leaves Gregers thoroughly disillusioned. Thus, he stages the exit from the world in which he has little place, an exit he enigmatically alludes to early in the play in his conversations with his father.