Old Ekdal exits apologetically, and the party resumes. A dejected Hialmar excuses himself quietly. When Gregers mentions that he may visit him later, Hialmar forbids him from coming to his melancholic abode.
The guests return to the music room. Gregers remains at the fireplace while Werle searches his desk, wishing his son would go. Gregers insists that his father have a word with him. He asks how the Ekdals have come to ruin, wondering if Old Ekdal was to blame for the forestry scandal. Werle retorts that Ekdal was found guilty and asks what he could have done for his partner. Ekdal emerged from prison a broken man beyond all help. "There are people in the world who dive to the bottom the moment they get a couple of slugs in their body, and never come to the surface again" he remarks.
When Werle adds that he even overpays Ekdal for his work, Gregers presses him further, and asks about the payments he leaves unaccounted. Gregers also asks to explain his sudden interest in Ekdal's son and Gina. Gregers is certain that this interest lies in Werle's liaison with their former housemaid; his mother revealed his betrayal to him on her deathbed.
Werle rebukes him, accusing Gregers of being under the sway of a morbid, overstrained mother who prejudiced him against him from the first. It is time he took things more practically and joined him as a partner in their firm. Werle is lonely and his eyes have begun failing in his old age. Being so lonely, he has plans to marry Mrs. Sorby and hopes his son will lend his approval. Gregers is confirmed in his suspicion that his father wants to make use of him. The son of the dead, wronged mother will finally return home to help form a "tableau of filial affection." Werle notes coldly that Gregers sees him with his mother's eyes and speaks with her words.
Gregers moves to leave the house. He announces that he finally sees his mission in life, but thinks that his father would only laugh if he revealed it. Gregers observes that the guests are playing "blind man's bluff" and departs.
The conclusion of Act I consists almost entirely of the dialogue between Gregers and Werle. Here Gregers confronts his father on his long-buried betrayal of Ekdal and his affair with Gina. In Gregers's imaginary, Werle has come to function as a tyrannical and perverse patriarch, a "primal father" who insists on his mastery and claims access to all households, including those of rival clans. He ruins his partner, Ekdal, the father Hialmar takes as his ideal to assure his continued dominance and incestuously sleeps with Hialmar's wife. Indeed Werle has perhaps even fathered Hialmar's child. Note in this respect the importance of undocumented expenses and secret debts in the play. Werle replaces Hialmar within his own household as father and provider. For Gregers, Werle's affair betrays his own familial constellation as well, replacing his ailing mother with a house servant.
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