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Wild Duck

Henrik Ibsen
Summary

Act V: Part One

Summary Act V: Part One

Hedvig wanders the room. Ekdal emerges from the garret. She asks him how one goes about shooting wild ducks. He explains and shuffles off to his room. Hedvig reaches for the pistol on the bookshelf when Gina enters. She hastily lays it down, unobserved. Gina sends her into the kitchen to check on Hialmar's breakfast.

The door opens hesitantly and an unkempt Hialmar enters. He declares tonelessly that he will depart shortly. Hedvig sees and runs to him in joy; Hialmar rejects her anew. Hedwig retires without a word. Hialmar begins rummaging for his technical magazines; he requires them for the invention. Gina asks if he is still leaving. Hialmar cannot live among traitors and he plans to take Ekdal with him as well.

Analysis

As noted throughout, Ibsen is known for staging the destruction of the romantic hero and articulates as the claims of the ideal. Here the romantic hero, who finds his comic double in the fickle, melodramatic Hialmar, is most explicitly demystified in the exchange between Relling and Gregers. Hialmar's handsomeness, "superficially emotional temperament," "sympathetic voice," and talent for declaiming the verses and thoughts of others have always made him appear the "great light of the future" within his personal circles. The play debunks this fantasy of the romantic hero from his humiliation among his class betters at the banquet onward.

Over and against the spiritual quack Gregers, who colludes in the myth of this hero, the sardonic Dr. Relling functions here as a figure of critical knowledge. He sees Hialmar's delusions as well as the would-be prophet Gregers's stony blindness. Again note the crucial tropes of blindness and obscurity, light and dark. The shadows that pervade the household, metaphors for the delusions of its residents, now obscure the garret entirely. Gregers hopes to cast the light of transfiguration through the house's poisonous vapors. Though Hedvig will again intuitively doubt the merits of Gregers's gospel, in some sense waking up to their strangeness, Gregers will prevail upon her anew by accusing her of blindness to the claims of the ideal.

For Relling, this tropological economy of dark/light blindness/sight, vulgar/ideal, and lie/truth is precisely part of Hialmar and Gregers's problem. Hialmar has always played the shining ideal within his personal circles and remains blind to the world. Transfixed by his idol, Hialmar becomes "stone blind" himself.

Relling instead uses two alternative metaphors: the economic and the medical. Thus for Relling Gregers's "claim of the ideal" is not moral/spiritual but pecuniary. Gregers has come to cash in at the Ekdals only to discover that residents are insolvent. As we have seen, the appeal to economics, as in oikos or management of the household, has functioned to deflate the characters' grander claims.