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Gregers asks if Hialmar leaves the work of the studio to his wife. Hialmar is surprised that he has yet to hear of his "invention." Hialmar has dedicated himself to photography to produce a great invention and redeem the family's name. He cannot, however, explain the invention.
Gesturing toward the pistol, Hialmar reveals that Old Ekdal almost killed himself upon his prison sentence, but his courage failed him. Hialmar too put the pistol to his breast when his father went to jail. Ekdal's departure left existence "at a standstill—as if under an eclipse."
Gregers wonders if Hialmar's time in the garret does not distract from this supposed invention. Hialmar counters that the garret fills the time while he awaits his inspiration. Gregers remarks that Hialmar has something of the wild duck in him. He has dived down into the undergrowth and strayed into a "poisonous marsh." A disease has overtaken him, and he is sure to die. His contentment is an effect of the marsh poison. Hialmar moves to silence him. In his house, no one speaks to him of unpleasant things.
Gina and Hedvig bring lunch, and Relling and Molvik appear. Relling is an old foe of Gregers from the Hoidal works. Relling jests that he is lucky to have both priest and doctor under the same roof; Gregers replies that he might need them, as there were thirteen at the table last night. They begin lunch. Relling relates that Molvik was drunk last night. Molvik is apparently prone to demonic possessions. He disparagingly asks if Gregers ever managed to collect on that claim he was presenting throughout the works—the "claim of the ideal." The group toasts Ekdal and Relling cheers Hialmar and his family. Apparently it is Hedvig's birthday tomorrow. Saddened by the modesty of tomorrow's affair, Hialmar promises his daughter great prosperity upon the invention's completion.
Relling comments fondly on the "happy fondly circle." Gregers retorts that he does not thrive in "marsh vapors." Gina assures him that she airs the house everyday. Relling wonders if Gregers himself has brought the "taint" into the house with his "claim of the ideal" and threatens to throw him out. It is hardly appropriate for him to talk of vapors and taints considering the mess he made with his stove.
A knock is heard at the door, and Hakon Werle appears. He takes his son aside for a private talk. Gregers announces his mission to open Hialmar's eyes and show him his position as it really is. Stricken with guilt over his failure to save Ekdal from his father, he can now rescue Hialmar from the falsehoods that are bringing him to ruin. Werle warns that Gregers hardly does his friend a kindness. His conscience has been sickly from childhood; it is an inheritance from his mother.
Werle informs him that as he is re-marrying, Gregers's property will fall to him at once. Gregers refuses it, and his income will sustain him for his time. Werle departs. The other members of the household enter, discussing Gregers' possible madness. Relling remarks that Gregers suffers from a disease of integrity. Hedvig muses that all that has come to pass is very strange.
This scene continues the play's critique of the romantic hero by parodying his notions of creation and creativity. Hialmar toils away at an invention of which he has no concept. He is certain that he only awaits inspiration. Faced with a deluded friend, Gregers begins his conversion of Hialmar to the "claim of the ideal." Here he borrows a motif from the myth of the wild duck, rendering yet another of its features symbolic. Like the wild duck, Hialmar has dived into the "poisonous marshes" of fantasy in an attempt at survival. His house and its tableau of family life are tainted by his wife's betrayal—they reek of lethal and blinding vapors.
As Relling will ultimately make clear, Gregers is bent on Hialmar's salvation precisely because he idealizes him as a romantic hero. Hialmar functions as an object of projection for Gregers, a "shining light" to whom he would turn over and against his blind father. Gregers needs to position Hialmar as the noble individual attuned to the claims of the ideal that he would attain himself.
In undertaking Hialmar's supposed salvation, Gregers faces an old enemy who competes with him for Hialmar's fate, the cynical Dr. Relling. Here Relling counters Hialmar by shifting the terms of his allegory. In a dialogue that prefigures their extended encounter at the end of the play, Relling suggests that Gregers has introduced the vapors and taint into the house himself. The puddle in his room becomes the symbol of the ruin he introduces into the household. Again note how, despite the play's realist setting, the symbolism the play continually finds in the world lends it its mythic and supernatural mood.
This scene also includes the introduction of another of Gregers' doubles, the drunken Molvik. Molvik figures doubles Gregers as the play's other foolhardy priest. Therefore, it is significant that Molvik believes he is demonically possessed. As Relling observes grimly at the end of the play, Gregers also figures as a devil of sorts, bringing ruin to the household with his false gospel.
Also of note here is Hialmar's story of the pistol. An almost charmed object of sorts, it functions primarily to establish of parallels between the three scenes of suicide that mark the Ekdal line. It almost takes both Ekdal and Hialmar's lives; ultimately it will serve as the instrument of Hedvig's self-destruction. Along with the pistol, a number of other parallels occur between these scenes of suicide as well. When nearly driven to suicide, for example, Hialmar describes a sense of time standing still, as if during an eclipse; Hedvig will kill herself in the garret, a space where, according to Gregers, time has stopped and all light has been eclipsed. Ekdal, Hialmar, and Hedvig are also of course all cast as doubles for the "wild duck." We sense that a certain scene is repeating itself, exacting, at the level of myth, the revenge of the Hoidal woods. Thus Hedvig's death comes to figure as an elaboration for the near-suicides of her predecessors.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Wild Duck!