The Wild Duck


In the Wild Duck, Henrik Ibsen begins his play by emphasizing the 
value of color and light. He uses the theme of light to contrast Old 
Werle, a stingy rich man, with Old Ekdal, a poor helpless man. Ibsen 
connects the color green with the loss of eyesight of Old Werle. A 
possible affair between Old Werle and Gina, Hedvig's mother, may 
suggest the cause of Hedvig's loss of sight. By using sun and moon, 
Ibsen establishes the atmosphere of the scene. The story line 
deteriorates from peaceful to tragic. Similarly, does the setting in 
the last four acts. In the Wild Duck, Henrik Ibsen employs the image 
of light to portray certain characteristics in order to construct the 
plot and to adjust the mood of the scene. 

 F.L. Lucas analyzes the opening arrangement and writes "In the 
outer room the lamps are dimmed, with green shades, in contrast to the 
brilliance of the room behind"(190). We understand that this meant 
that the outer room, lit with soft and shaded light, implies poverty, 
where as the inner room, illuminated with bright candles, expresses 
wealth. The darkened room, insinuating poverty, is the office in which 
the poor Old Ekdal 'does some extra copying,' and in return receives a 
small income. The inside room, representing wealth, is Old Werle's 
dining room where he was hosting a party. The distinctions of these 
two lit rooms contrast Old Ekdal and Old Werle. 

 "In contrast to Werle's party, the lighting is of comparative 
poverty 'on the table a lighted lamp'"(190), explains critic, F.L.
Lucas. Unlike Old Werle's expensive and exquisite illumination, a 
small inexpensive lamp lights the Ekdals home, displaying poverty. 
This dissimilarity shows another significant distinction between Old 
Werle and Old Ekdal. 

 The distinctions of the light between Old Ekdal's and Old Werle's 
homes is illustrated in the following incident.It is brought to the 
reader's attention that in the following quotation Old Werle and Old 
Ekdal were partners in crime. "[Old Werle] escaped by the skin of his 
teeth," while they sentenced Old Ekdal to prison. This incident 
resulted in extreme hatred toward Old Werle for his poor aid to Old 
Ekdal. Being that Werle had a vast amount of money, Old Ekdal, 
Hjalmar, and Werle's son, Gregers felt tremendous feelings of 
animosity. Gregers recognized the miserable support his father has 
given to the Ekdals. As a result Gregers moves in with the Ekdals and 
attempts to enrich the marriage of Gina and Hjalmir, due to the fact 
that his parents didn't get along. Gregers takes the approach of truth 
to improve the marriage, which is another major theme of the Wild 
duck. "A time to keep silence, and a time to speak," was wisely stated 
by Ecclesiastes. Unfortunately, here it was 'a time to keep silence'
and Gregers did not. 

 F.L. Lucas examines the color green. "Why green shades? Because 
Old Werle is beginning to lose his sight. And that eye trouble links 
him significantly, by hereditary with little Hedvig, likewise 
threatened by blindness"(190). He also explains that green is known to 
be the most helpful colored shade to prevent blindness. This lighting 
early in the Wild Duck hints that '[Old Werle] is going blind' which 
relates him to Hedvig, where 'there is every probability that she will 
lose her eyesight.' "Further, green is the color of romantic 
unreality-the world of the Wild Duck caught in the seaweed below the 
waters of the fjord"(190), adds Lucas. The color green, a symbol of 
fantasy, is comparable to the world of the wild duck, which the 
characters use to "diverge themselves" from reality. The shade green 
is a link of two plots of the Wild Duck. One understanding of the 
color green hints to the loss of sight which suggests an affair 
between Old Werle and Hedvig's mother, Gina. Another explanation of
the green display is to correlate fantasy with the wild duck. The 
latter understanding involves Old Ekdal who is an angry man living in 
the past on the hunting grounds of the duck. The first explanation of 
green results in Hedvig commiting suicide because of her anger. 
Hjalmir finding out that Hedvig is not his daughter, disregards 
Hedvig; this provokes her suicide. Green, symbolizing anger, hints two 
separate plots which end in fury. 

 In the last four acts Ibsen uses natural light to set the mood of 
the play. In each scene the light conditions decrease, as does the
plot. In the first of these four acts, the gorgeous moon illuminates 
the stage and in the following scene the sun rises and reality of
the affair nears. However, in the fourth act of the Wild Duck the sun 
declines as does the story line. The last scene of the play describes 
a cold snowy day, in which the suicide of Hedvig occurs. 

 Lucas depicts act two as follows: "The wild duck's garret is 
opened 'clear moonbeams shine in on some parts of the great room': 
Note great not poky. This happy hunting ground of illusion is vast and 
shadowy; and lit by the beguiling magic of moonshine"(191). The 
majestic glow of the moon illuminates this setting. Though the room is 
small, in terms of space, he refers to it as 'great' because of the 
fantasy and illusion of the attic. The moon which symbolizes illusion 
lights the attic where the wild duck helps fullfill the escape to 
fantasy. Old Ekdal's hunting ground fantasy is also satisfied by the 
illuminating illusion of the moon. Not only are the settings of this 
scene significant, so are the contents of this act. He introduces the 
wild duck in this scene and so is the story of the 'clever dog' that 
'went down and got the duck up' from 'the grasses and roots and 
weeds.' This is an example of how Henrik Ibsen sets the mood of the 
scene and expresses primary themes through the display of light. 

 " 'The daylight falls through the large windows in the slanting 
roof.' Cold reality approaches"(191). Lucas' explanation of this
quotation is simply that 'cold reality' occurs during the daytime. The 
moon and sun differ, in that at night dreams are dreamed and at 
daytime they are reality. This contrasts the previous scene from the 
present scene, by means of setting and contents. During this scene 
Gregers tells his father that he has his father to 'thank for the fact 
that [he is] being haunted and driven by a guilty conscience.' 
Immediately after this scene, Gregers alerts Hjalmir of the affair 
between Old Werle and Gina. These examples of 'cold reality' also show 
Ibsens consistency of parallel scenery and content. 

 "Afternoon light; the sun is going down; a little later the scene 
begins to grow dark"(192), delineates Lucas. The sun, established to 
represent reality, was setting, but the moon, symbolizing fantasy, 
illusion, and dreams, was not yet shining; rather there was no source 
of light, the setting was dim and shaded, as the mood of the play 
deteriorated. Gina admitted her affair with Old Werle and explained 
that '[Old Werle] didn't give up till he had his way.' As the setting 
darkens, the plot follows, exhibiting Ibsen's flow of decline 
throughout the play. 

 The last scene of the play is a 'cold gray morning light. Wet 
snow lies on the big panes of the skylight.' The sunshine is grey
rather than yellow, foreshadowing tragedy. The snow and cold weather 
add to the day's gloom. This ugly illustrated setting is parallel to 
the grotesque suicide of Hedvig. The fact that this day was Hedvig's 
birthday may suggest that she was the perfect person, living an exact 
number of years. Why did she die at such ayoung age then? It was the 
fate of her father, Hjalmir, being 'the thirteenth man at the table' 
at Old werle's party. 

 Through the different types of illumination, the reader is able 
to contrast Old Ekdal from Old Werle, in order to begin the story.
Ibsen carefully uses the color green, to enable two plots to form. One 
implication of the color green, is the affair between Old Werle and 
Gina, through eye trouble. The second, is the sad life of ld Ekdal 
living in his past. In the last four acts Ibsen makes the setting 
correspond to the contents, the moon with happiness and daylight 
parallel to reality. The lack of light is analogous to darkness in the 
scene. Finally, grey sunlight, along with coldness and snow, 
correspond to Hedvig's death. In the Wild Duck, Henrik Ibsen applies 
the image of light to express certain attributes in order to assemble 
the story and to alter the mood of the play.


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