Wild Duck

by: Henrik Ibsen

Themes

Light/dark

Materialized by the play of shadow and light in the mysterious garret, the opposition light/dark and its permutations provide the central motifs of the play. These motifs include: sight and blindness, ideal and vulgar, truth and lie. We should note its significance to Gregers's cause in particular. Unlike his near-blind father, Gregers believes that he "sees his mission in life," despite Werle's warning that he only looks through his sickly mother's "clouded eyes". Gregers is intent on bringing the "light of transfiguration" fails to shine forth from the couple after their confrontation. This light is the light of redemption according to the rigid claims of the ideal. Hialmar should rejoice in making himself noble and raise his wife to his own exalted level. As Relling will argue in the subsequent act, Gregers's fantasy of Hialmar as a "shining light" among men marks his neurosis: a disease of hero-worship and romantic idealization.

Instead of transfiguring light, Gregers only brings "dullness, oppression, and gloom" to the household. Gina responds to Gregers's language of light/dark, spiritual tumults, taints, and poisons by emphasizing "the practical." She delivers one of the more memorable jokes of the play in removing the lampshade in response to Gregers's exhortations. The joke operates by shifting from the plane of Salvationist allegory to physical comedy, from Gregers's impassioned rhetoric to the banal household object. The removal of the lampshade recalls how the petty concerns of the household function throughout the play to deflate the tirades of our would-be romantic heroes.

The Garret and Studio

The Wild Duck organizes the stage into a spatial metaphor. Hialmar's studio serves as the central playing space. As noted in the stage directions, it appears littered with photographic tools and apparatus. 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, opening onto a more enigmatic fantasy space at the rear—the wild duck's garret. The apartment would in some sense materialize a model of psychic topography.

A dialogue between Gregers and Hedvig in Act III offers a view into the wild duck's domain. Their conversation casts the garret—again, a space for the staging of fantasy—in magical and symbolic terms. Cluttered with the treasures of the "Flying Dutchman," the garret a fantastic seascape as well. As Gregers notes, no one can be certain that it is simply a spare room. Certainly the Flying Dutchman is a double for the household's own "shipwrecked man," Old Ekdal. Historical time has stopped entirely in this realm of fantasy. Instead, as suggested by Hedvig's image of death, the woman, the hourglass, a mythic or cosmic time prevails within.

The Tableau

The photograph that recurs continually in the Ekdals' studio 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, Dr. Relling will toast the family at the table as they attempt to form another heartwarming tableau. Gregers not only refuses to collude in his father's tableau of filial affection but will move to expose the deceit in Hialmar's as well.