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Wild Duck

Henrik Ibsen

Act III: Part One

Summary Act III: Part One


Act III opens with a usual day in the Ekdal household. Hialmar and Ekdal comically skirt their work to lose themselves in the diversions of the garret, the home of the wild duck. Note again Ibsen's satire of the would-be romantic hero. The restless Hialmar cannot be bothered with the petty concerns of the studio. His selfish flight from work becomes particularly ugly when Hedvig appears on the scene, Hialmar passing his tasks onto his daughter despite the danger to her eyes.

The centerpiece of this scene is the dialogue between Gregers and Hedvig, which offers a view into the imperfectly visible domain of the wild duck. Their conversation casts the garret, a space for the staging of fantasy, in magical and rather heavy-handedly symbolic terms. As Gregers notes, no one can be certain that it is simply a spare room. Cluttered with the treasures of the "Flying Dutchman," the garret is a fantastic seascape. Its former proprietor, the Flying Dutchman, is certainly a double for the household's own "shipwrecked man," Old Ekdal. Like the old captain, Ekdal has sunk into his delusions. The garret is what Relling dubs his "life-illusion," an illusion in which his son and granddaughter collude.

As symbolized by the broken clock, historical time has stopped entirely in this realm of life-illusions. Instead, a mythic time prevails, one symbolized in turn by the images of death, the woman, and the hourglass in Hedvig's book. This time perhaps recalls that of the revenge of the woods Ekdal invokes earlier. Note Hedvig's relation to the garret's history books: she does not so much consider them a chronicle than a point of departure for her flights of fancy. The garret is also a space for what Gregers will later describe as "transfiguration." Once in the garret, for example, Ekdal becomes the great hunter of his younger days. This shot from his hunting expedition in this act prefigures the most chilling transfiguration in the play: the ultimate substitution of Hedvig for the wild duck. Already the spectator senses this substitution at the level of myth of the duck. Hedvig is of uncertain parentage and will perhaps find herself bereft of her family. Hedvig's ultimate transfiguration into the duck, however, functions neither at the level of Ekdal's theatrics nor Gregers's rhetoric. Hedvig will enter to kill the duck only to kill herself. Her death indicates the danger of metaphoric substitution. In crossing the garret's threshold, Hedvig moves into the realm of myth, the realm in which the woods exact their revenge.

Also of note in these scenes is Gina's relative indifference to the garret's mysteries. Again Gina appears as the most practical member of the family. If Hialmar concerns himself with his fantasies of grandeur as son and father, Ekdal dreams nostalgically of his hunting days, and Gregers calls man to the judgment of the ideal, Gina interests herself in the maintenance of the household. Though Gina does not pick fights with her dreamy husband, she does content herself to mock him with pointed puns. Thus the pistol is a "pigstool," and the male "diversion" is almost always a "perversion." Above all Gina would suppress her compromising history and the revelation of the patronage that makes the maintenance of the household possible.