Wild Duck

Henrik Ibsen
Summary

Act I: Part Two

Summary Act I: Part Two

Werle hardly appears as the tyrant of his son's imaginary any longer. In his old age, Werle is tired, lonely, and going blind, numbering among the play's other broken men. His fiancée will later insist that he has undergone a certain conversion and they begin their marriage honestly. Regardless of whether we take her thoughts in earnest, the disjuncture between Gregers's fantasmic father and Werle as he lives now is clear.

Pitting himself against his father, Gregers discovers his mission: to expose the truth of Hialmar's marriage, believing that this revelation will enable him to find what is noble within himself and begin his marriage anew on a foundation of truth. It is all too unnecessary to note how this missionary's more aggressive or vengeful intentions are not immediately accessible to him. Here Gregers primarily articulates his mission through the all-important metaphors of blindness and sight. He leaves his father to play blind man's bluff with his guests; he intends to bring illumination to the Ekdals. Blindness will function as the father's legacy. It serves as the mark that identifies Hedvig as "his." This exchange makes clear that while Gregers may accuse others of sightlessness, he is ignorant of his own. As Werle notes, Gregers sees through his mother's "clouded eyes."

As Ibsen's more history-centered critics have noted, the motif of blindness indicates the play's interest in contemporary discourses of pathology. Note in this respect Werle's repeated references to his first wife's sickly mental condition as well. The motif of blindness refers to a number of other salient tropes. As we will see in increasing detail, the trope of blindness also opens onto the dominant metaphoric economy of light/dark, ideal/vulgar, truth/lie that structures the play. Gregers would leave the gloom and blindness of his house to bring light, truth, and ideality to the Ekdals. The trope of an inherited blindness also recalls the notion of a mythic revenge discussed above: blindness does not only figure as a hereditary disease but the work of providence. Finally, blindness also serves as metaphor for certain psychological state as well. Note, for example, how Werle warns his son against the blindness of his Salvationist delusions.

Also of note in the father-son dialogue is the motif of the "tableau of filial affection." Paranoically, Gregers refuses to participate in any outward reconciliation with his father and assure his reputation. The motif of tableau prefigures our transition to the Ekdals' photographic studio, where the Ekdals form a tableau of happy family life that Gregers sets himself at unmasking.