The Wild Duck: Act Five
Summary – Act Five
The setting is the same, and it is the next morning and snow is on the ground outside.
Gina and Hedvig talk. Gregers comes in and asks if they have heard from Hjalmar yet. Gina supposes he is downstairs with Relling and Relling confirms this when he appears.
Gregers talks about Hjalmar and his personality, and Relling says this was ‘absolutely rooted’ out of him when he was a boy. Gregers questions this and says how Hjalmar was raised with loving care. Relling replies that he was raised by ‘two crazy hysterical aunts’ and also calls Ekdal senior ‘a simpleton’.
Gregers questions criticisms of Hjalmar and Relling says he (Gregers) is suffering from ‘rectitudinal fever’ and ‘a raving delirium of hero-worship’. Rellings says they are ‘poor invalids’ in this house and nearly all the world is sick. His treatment of Hjalmar is ‘trying to keep up the make-believe of life in him’. He also says he has hit on the cure by himself and the attic has become the forest he used to hunt in. He says Gregers should not use the word ‘ideals’ and should use ‘falsehoods’ instead. Gregers asks if he really thinks they are the same and Relling says ‘just as nearly as typhus and putrid fever are’.
Gregers says he will not give up until Hjalmar is released from his clutches and Relling tells him if he takes away his ‘make-believe’ he takes away his happiness too.
Hedvig enters and Relling calls her ‘wild duck mother’ and says he is going down for Hjalmar. Relling leaves and Gregers says he can tell by her face that she has not ‘done the deed’ yet. She says no and he says her courage failed her. She denies this and says his point seemed to strange to her this morning. Before he leaves, he says he still has faith in her.
Ekdal appears and Hedvig asks him if he ever feels like shooting something other than rabbits and asks about the wild duck. He says he would never do this. She pushes him (figuratively) and asks how he would do it, and he says he would shoot it in the breast.
He goes to his room and she takes the pistol but replaces it hastily when Gina enters. She is sent in the kitchen to watch the coffee and Hjalmar enters. Hedvig enters next and screams with joy and runs to him, and says ‘father! Father!’ He turns from her and tells her to go away. He then asks Gina to make her go away and Gina sends her out. Hjalmar says he is leaving and wants his journals. He also says he will take his father with him. He goes to the sitting room for his papers and diary and Hedvig comes out, and Gina tells her to go to her room. Alone, Hedvig says softly, ‘the wild duck’ and takes the pistol.
Hjalmar says to Gina how he cannot take everything and Gina tells him to just take a shirt and a pair of drawers for now. She encourages him to drink his coffee and says he will have a job finding an attic as big as this one for the rabbits and when he queries this she says how his father cannot live without them. She asks if he wants to take his flute and he says no, but will have the pistol.
Gina cannot find it and says grandfather must have taken it (as they both think he is in the attic). Gina then says if they had not let the room he could have stayed there and he replies ‘never’. She perseveres and asks if he could stay in the sitting room.
He says he must go. He also searches for the butter but says his dry bread will do. She brings fresh churned butter in for him and pours him another coffee. He asks if he stays in the sitting room for a day or two, could he do so without ‘intrusion on anyone’s part’. She says ‘of course’. He notices Werle’s letter and says it is no concern of his but she might as well not let it out of her sight. He continues and says how the gift is for his father, after all, and ‘for the sake of safety’ glues the pieces back together again.
Gregers enters and they talk a little. Gina asks Hjalmar with a little impatience if she should get the room ready or pack for him. He says to do both and looks at Gregers with irritation.
Gregers says he thought he would never leave and Hjalmar says he needs ‘security and peace’. Gregers tries to encourage him and reminds him of his invention. Hjalmar says Relling set him on to it. He remembers how he used to enjoy working on it, especially as Hedvig believed in it, ‘with a child’s whole hearted enthusiasm’. He now doubts her, though, and says she has taken the sunshine out of his life. He also questions whether she always loved him.
The wild duck’s cry is heard by Gregers and Hjalmar says his father is in the attic. Gregers looks happy and says he (Hjalmar) may have proof yet of Hedvig’s love. Hjalmar remains doubtful, though, and laughs derisively at the thought of Hedvig willing to sacrifice a life offered with more material wealth.
Immediately after this, a pistol shot is heard and Gregers gives a happy shout when he says Hjalmar’s name. He says it was a child’s act of sacrifice as she got her grandfather to shoot the duck as she believed it would make Hjalmar love her again.
They look for Hedvig and when they cannot find her they presume she has gone out. Hjalmar says he wants to let her know and believes they can begin life over again.
Ekdal enters in full uniform and has come from his room. They look at him in astonishment and Gregers says she has shot the wild duck herself. Hjalmar hurries to the attic and gives a loud scream and calls Hedvig’s name. She is lying on the floor and Hjalmar, Gina and Gregers carry her into the studio. She is still clasping the pistol, and Gina calls Relling for help. Ekdal says, ‘the forests avenge themselves’.
Relling comes in and examines her, and says the bullet has entered her breast. He also says she died on the spot and Hjalmar says he, ‘hunted her away from me’. He then says he can never make it right now and Gina quiets him. Relling tries to take the gun from her fingers, but she has held it too tight. Gina says to not hurt her, and says she can keep it. She and Hjalmar take her to her room. Hjalmar asks if she can ever get over this and she says they must help one another and they each have a share in her now.
Relling says to Gregers that he will not be persuaded this is an accident. Gregers looks terror stricken and says no one can say how it happened. Relling points out that her dress is scorched and so must have held the pistol to her chest.
Gregers says she did not die in vain as this has brought out the best in Hjalmar. Relling argues that ‘most people show their best side in the presence of death’ and this will not last. He adds that in eight or nine months she will be ‘no more to him than a beautiful theme to declaim upon’. Gregers asks how he dare say this about him, and Relling reiterates that Hjalmar will go on to wallow in ‘fits of self-admiration and self-compassion’. Gregers says if Relling is right and he is wrong, ‘life is no longer worth living’.
Relling says life would be alright if it was not for ‘infernal fools’ who come to poor people with their ‘demands of the ideal’. Gregers responds that if this is the case he is glad of his destiny, which is to be ‘the thirteenth at the table’.
Analysis – Act Five
Relling’s prescription of make-believe, for Hjalmar and Ekdal, is undone by Gregers’ interference and his insistence on idealism. Before Gregers, Ekdal and Hjalmar lived in the fiction of the attic and were in ignorance of Hedvig’s questionable paternity, and ultimately were happier.
Through the characterization of Relling, Gregers becomes all the more high handed as they contrast sharply with each other. Relling’s voice also makes it clear that Gregers’ hero worship of others, notably Hjalmar here, is dangerous as he fails to see as clearly as he claims and is instead influenced by his expectations.