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Act II opens in Hialmar's studio. Gina sits at a table sewing while Hedvig reads on the sofa, her hand shading her eyes and her thumbs stuffed in her ears. Gina glances at her daughter with secret anxiety and commands her to stop reading, since her father does not like it. Gina tabulates the day's expenses and remarks that they still have yet to rent their extra room.
Hedvig thinks fondly of her father at the Werle's banquet and his promise to bring back her a gift. Old Ekdal appears carrying two parcels, ostensibly his new copying work. He peeps behind a sliding door at the back of the room and sees that they are fast asleep. He passes to and from his room with a jug of steaming water, preparing to get drunk on the cognac Peterssen gave him. The women look on pityingly.
Hialmar enters and reports on the party. He tells his father he did not see him but decided to come home once informed that he had passed through. Hedvig and Ekdal buzz around Hialmar, who rehearses the chamberlains' banter as his own speech. In his account of the party, Hialmar puts those chamberlains in their place with his wit and impresses them with his knowledge of wines. Gina remarks with quiet irony that they become terribly genteel in Werle's house.
Hedvig compliments her father's dress-coat. He playfully removes his formal wear. Hegvig searches his jacket for her gift. Realizing he has forgotten her entirely, Hialmar lamely fishes out the banquet menu from his pocket. Hegvig fights back her tears; Hialmar complains of expectations enforced on fathers.
Hialmar asks his father if he has checked on the back room. They begin to discuss the "necessary improvements." Hedvig brings her father a beer and, in remorse for his surly mood, Hialmar declares his love for his family. He plays a plaintive Bohemian peasant dance on his flute with his family members at his side.
A knock is heard, and Gina goes to the door. To her surprise, Gregers appears. Hedvig runs to fetch beer. When Gregers asks about her, Hialmar reveals that she suffers from a hereditary eye disease and may lose her eyesight. Gregers' questions make Gina suspicious.
Gregers offers a tipsy Ekdal greetings from Hoidal, his old hunting grounds. The woods have thinned a good deal. Ekdal remarks superstitiously that "bad things" come of forestry and the "woods revenge themselves."
Gregers sympathetically asks if he has opportunity to hunt any more. He cannot imagine how such a sportsman can live in such a stuffy town and invites him to return to the works with him. Ekdal smilingly replies that he misses nothing, playfully asking his son if they should let Gregers in on their secret. An embarrassed Hialmar suggests they postpone for another day. Ekdal insists, however, and the party moves to the back of the room.
Act II brings us to the play's central playing space: Hialmar's studio. This space is a setting for the staging of fantasy or, as Dr. Relling will describe them, "life-illusions." As noted in the stage directions, it appears littered with photographic tools and apparatuses. At a number of moments in the play, various characters will refer to their processing work, and appear retouching photographs. The playing space is literally a darkroom for the production and revision of the household's fantasies. This room opens onto the more mysterious space for the production of fantasy at the rear, the wild duck's garret. Thus the apartment would in some sense serve as a metaphor for a psychic topography, vaguely evoking the division between unconscious and conscious within the space of the home.
The fantasies of the Ekdal household are aesthetic productions above all, whether theatrical, photographic, or otherwise. The photographic fantasy that particularly recurs among them is what Gregers derisively describes in the act previous as the "tableau of filial affection." Note how the Ekdals frequently assume the poses of a happy household. Hialmar plays the flute as his family gathers around him. Later Relling will toast the family at the table as they attempt to form another heartwarming tableau. Gregers not only refuses decidedly to collude in his father's tableau of filial affection but will move to expose the deceit in Hialmar's as well.
The Ekdals would maintain this fantasy tableau at all costs. Appropriately, the act begins with a figure that appears deaf and blind in her reveries; a Hedvig who shades her faltering eyes and plugs her ears while reading. As we learn later, the books provide her with the images through which she takes fantastic journeys. Similarly are the dreamier Ekdals are characterized by their refusals to see and hear. For example, Hialmar will openly forbid Gregers by mentioning anything unpleasant to him within his home. Certainly Hialmar's exhortations to Gina that one must keep one's eyes open are ironic in this respect.
The effects of such fantasy make themselves manifest in what Gregers will later describe as a transfiguration. Such transfiguration is especially clear in Hialmar's move from the dinner party to his private domicile. The party is the scene of his humiliation. Hialmar cannot participate in the social theater of Werle's circles and must deny his own father in the presence of those to whom he is indebted. His class position makes it impossible to fulfill his role as father as the patriarch Werle does. Hialmar rather embarrassing recasting of the party banter and lame attempt to conceal his failure to remember Hedvig her gift make this impossibility all too clear.
In contrast, once in the space for the production of life illusions, Hialmar becomes the parody of the romantic hero—melodramatic, of fiery temperament, and prone to exclamations and great displays of emotion. Hialmar plays what Relling will term the "shining light" of the household and particularly to Hedvig's "daddy's girl."
What deflates Hialmar's exhortations is Ibsen's careful emphasis on the household's economics (Gr. oikos, management). The ever-practical Gina methodically tabulates the day's expenses; Gina and Ekdal fret about the rental of the spare room; and much of the action revolves domestic comforts, such as the serving of food. Ibsen will deploy these "petty concerns" to show the irony in the lofty, romantic figure Hialmar. For example, a sighing Hialmar will refuse a crust of bread only to take it with a show of reluctance.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Wild Duck!