Ibsen, Henrik. The Wild Duck. Boston: Walter H Baker & Co., 1890. Print.
by Tiffany Ahmed, Genesis Linan, Tanya Morales, Donna Ramirez,
Henrik Ibsen’s 1884 play The Wild Duck begins at Werle’s dinner party held at his home. Werle is a wealthy factory owner and his son, Gregers Werle, returns home from a long and timely absence. He attends the dinner party and there he sees Hjalmar Ekdal, a photographer and an old friend of Gregers. The old man Ekdal, Hjalmar’s father, shows up and forces himself into the office, but when he finds his way to the party Hjalmar denies he has any relation to him and acts as though he has never met him before. Later, through casual conversation, Gregers learns that Hjalmar married Gina Hansen, a name he is surprised to hear, and that his father supported him financially for his career in photography. He brushes his brief confusion off but firmly confronts his father for hiding this information from him. Werle does not understand his son’s anger, but Gregers tells him that his mother told him on her deathbed that Werle not only had affairs with many women but also with her caregiver, Gina. Werle denies this and says his mother has poisoned him against his own father, but Gregers insists that his dying mother’s words are true and proclaims that he has now “found a mission to live for.”
Act Two takes place in the Ekdal home which, compared to the Werle’s home, is shabby, crowded and not as upscale. Hjalmar, his wife Gina, their daughter Hedvig, and Ekdal senior all live in this small studio, along with poultry, pigeons, rabbits, and a wild duck that are hidden behind a wall. The wild duck in particular is very special to the family but most importantly to Ekdal. The wild duck was given to him by Werle after he shot it when hunting. The duck survived and was disabled, proving bothersome to Werle, so he passed it off as an apologetic gift to Ekdal. Besides sharing this studio with animals, the Ekdals’ have a vacant room that is available for rent because they’re in need of additional income. They live “check to check” and rely on Hjalmar’s photography business and the very few clients he has. We see Gina and Hedvig talk about money and worry about how much they’ve spent in the day. In hopes of helping them out Gregers asks if he can rent the vacant room, and although Gina seems hesitant they agree to welcome him the following morning as their new guest.
In Act Three, Gregers moves into the extra room. He makes a big mess by flooding the room with water. Gina gets upset and leaves him to clean the mess. At the same time, Hjalmar is working on the basket to hold their prized wild duck. Although Hedvig wants to help, it is risky to allow her to because he knew it could affect her eyes, and her vision was already troublesome. Gregers enters the room and asks Hedvig many questions about her eyes. Hedvig explains that her eyes are weak and that she cannot go to school because of her disability. She trusts that her father is going to help her read, but he never has time. Her father promises her that he’s going to help her with whatever she needs. Gina realizes that she doesn’t like Gregers asking her daughter questions. She tells him that she is the one mostly in charge of the business that they run together and that she helps Hjalmar a lot. Gregers realizes that Hjalmar leaves all the responsibility to Gina because he devotes his time to an invention in hopes of restoring his father’s dignity, which was lost when he was sentenced to jail after being wrongfully found guilty of fraud in a forestry scandal when Ekdal and Werle worked together as generals. Ekdal lost respect amongst the community and was looked down on when he was released from jail, even though Werle was guilty for the fraudulent business that took place. Hjalmar is also committed to leading Hedvig to a good path in life. When Werle shows up to the Ekdals’ home he wants to talk with his son. Werle tells Gregers he’s going to marry Bertha Sorby to keep his property under Gregers name. Gregers, however, decides that he wants nothing to do with his father and refuses everything he is offering him. In the end, both Hjalmar and Gregers decide to walk outside.
In Act Four, Hedvig and Gina are worried because Hjalmar is late for dinner. When he eventually shows up, he is angry. He tells Hedvig to go for her evening walk, and he confronts Gina about everything Gregers has told him. He mentions her affair with Werle and that she was deceitful. Gina confesses to her affair and says that Werle would not leave her alone until he had his way, and that she kept that secret from Hjalmar because he wouldn’t have married her if he had known. They argue and Gregers comes in proud of his “good deed” in releasing the truth, but he realizes that he’s done more harm than good. Mrs. Sorby stops by now and tells them that she is leaving and is off to marry Werle. Mrs. Sorby mentions her honest and open relationship with Werle about their pasts and advises Gina to do the same. A few moments later Hedvig comes in with a letter Mrs. Sorby had managed to give her on her way in. Hjalmar asks to see it after having suspicions that connect Werle losing his eyesight to Hedvig’s condition. He reads the letter and discovers that not only is Werle providing his father, Ekdal senior, with money but Hedvig too. He pieces the information together, discovers that Hedvig is not his daughter, and storms off leaving Gina worried and Hedvig crying. While Gina goes out looking for Hjalmar, Gregers convinces Hedvig to kill the wild duck in hopes of bringing her father back.
In Act Five Hjalmar has not returned home, so Gina and Hedvig begin to worry. Relling, a doctor and tenant to the Ekdals’, tells them that Hjalmar was home but was downstairs sleeping on his sofa. Gregers cannot believe that Relling does not see Hjalmar as the great man he sees him to be. Relling states that people see Hjalmar as a great man but he really is not and that Gregers is sick because he worships people he looks up to and “needs to admire something outside himself.” Relling also says that he is curing Hjalmar by not keeping his “life-lie” going. Relling is angry and will not rest until he relives Hjalmar of Gregers, prompting him to exit after telling Gregers that if he does tell Hjalmar the truth, he will instead ruin his happiness. Hedvig walks in with the wild duck and Gregers says he still has faith in Hedvig sacrificing the wild duck to prove her love for her father. Hedvig then asks her grandfather Ekdal how the wild duck should be killed and Ekdal says that shooting it under the breast is the safest and proper way to go about killing it. Hjalmar does not want to stay home with “interlopers,” so he decides to leave and take his father. Hedvig overhears and, deeply hurt by what he called her, takes the pistol and the wild duck. In attempting to move all his and Old Ekdal’s things Hjalmar becomes overwhelmed and decides to stay only for a couple days to have time to move. He sits and enjoys coffee and bread with butter and admits that the invention is nothing and only an idea that Dr. Relling put in his head and that he maintains it because of Hedvig. Hjalmar then expresses his love for Hedvig and mentions that her love for him is all an illusion and that maybe she “has never really and truly loved me.” Gregers tells him that she does love him and he will soon find out. They then hear a gunshot, which Gregers states was Ekdal shooting the wild duck because Hedvig asked him to, but when Ekdal walks out of his room asking who was hunting so they begin to worry. Hjalmar feels horrible about the things he said about Hedvig and looks for her to express his love for her, but instead finds her on the floor clenching the pistol to her chest. She shot herself in the chest, in the manner in which her grandfather said the wild duck should be killed. Relling examines her, but she is dead, and Hjalmar could not say the things he wanted to say to her. Gregers, realizing his involvement, says “Hedvig has not died in vain.”