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Wild Ducklin Essay

1318 words - 6 pages

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Act one: Part Two

Wild Duck
Henrik Ibsen

Themes, Motifs, and Symbols

Themes

The "claim of the Ideal" and the "life-illusion"

The play distributes these competing doctrines between the rivals Relling and Gregers, two "spiritual doctors" in conflict over Hialmar's destiny. Gregers's claim of the ideal relies on his belief that the soul must bring itself into the light and attain truth at all costs. Thus Greger preaches forgiveness, exaltation, redemption, martyrdom, confession, absolution, and sacrifice in spite of the ruin he brings to the Ekdal household.

In contrast, Relling speaks in terms of pathology, ...view middle of the document...

The play debunks this fantasy of idolatry throughout. The play also critiques the romantic hero by parodying his notions of creation and creativity. Though Hialmar cannot explain his invention at the moment, he is certain it will come. He only awaits inspiration.

Ibsen also unmasks the romantic hero by underling the everyday affairs of his household. The ever-practical Gina, who runs the household affairs, will methodically tabulate the day's expenses; Gina and Ekdal will fret about the rental of the spare room; and much of the action will revolve around domestic comforts, such as the serving of food. Such moments of domesticity function to ironize the lofty, romantic figure Hialmar would cut.

The Myth of the Fathers

The struggle with the figure of the father propels the action of the play. First, an almost mythically enigmatic crime committed by its two patriarchs, Werle and Ekdal, lurks in the backdrop, mysteriously establishing the relations between the two families. Thus Ekdal describes the tragedy that ultimately ensues as the woods revenge for this unspoken crime.

Within the fantasies of the sons, Werle figures as the "bad daddy" and Ekdal the good one. In fantasy, and Gregers's fantasy above all, Werle is a primal father, perverse and tyrannical, who intervenes freely into the sons' household. Thus the shadow of Werle supplants Hialmar as father and provider. Moreover, this fantasy Werle is guilty for ruining the rival patriarch, the good and, importantly, idealized Ekdal. Retrospectively Ekdal appears the brave lieutenant and stalwart hunter; undoubtedly his ruin makes this idealization all the more possible.

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...

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