The Wild Duck: Act Four

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Summary – Act Four

The setting remains the same. A photograph has been taken recently and Gina is saying goodbye to a client outside. She shuts the door and she and Hedvig say how late Hjalmar is.


When he comes in, he does not look at Gina. He says for the future he means to do everything himself and wants no help from anyone. She says this will make him miserable as he can give himself over to the invention while she is taking the photographs. Hedvig also mentions the wild duck, hens and rabbits. He tells her to not talk nonsense and is never setting foot in the attic again. Hedvig reminds him of the planned festivity for her birthday and he says after this he will not go in there again. He also says he should have ‘great pleasure’ in wringing the wild duck’s neck. Hedvig screams and Gina questions this. He says he will not do this as it is Hedvig’s bird, but feels he should: ‘I ought not to tolerate under my roof a single creature that has been in that man’s hands.’


He tells Hedvig she must go out for a while as the atmosphere in the house is bad. She agrees to in the end, but makes him promise that he will not harm the duck and he says he will not hurt it.


When she leaves, he tells Gina that he will do the household books from the day after tomorrow. He says how well she does with the little they earn and asks if his father is ‘liberally paid’ for his copying work. She asks what ‘he’ (Gregers) has said about her and he asks if it is true if there was anything between her and Werle when she was in service. She says Werle was always after her when she worked there and his wife thought there was something in it. Gina was given no peace and this is why she left her position. She says that when he was a widower he was still after her and did not leave her alone until ‘he had his way’.


Hjalmar asks how she, ‘the mother of his child’, could conceal such a thing and she says it was wrong of her not to tell him sooner. He says she should have told him ‘at the first’ and then he would have known what sort of a woman she was. She asks if he would have still married her. He is surprised she says this and kicks a chair and says how he owes everything to ‘a favoured predecessor’. He refers to their home as ‘a swamp of deceit’. He says it was a delusion that he had a happy home and wonders where he will find the incentive to bring his invention into existence.


He says it is all over and Gregers asks to come in. He asks Hjalmar if he has done it yet; he says he has and that it was the bitterest moment. Gregers says he expects it was the most elevating too, and after such enlightenment ‘a real companionship’ may come about. Gregers also says he expected to see ‘the light of transfiguration in their faces’ and Gina takes off the lampshade and says ‘quite so’.


Gregers talks of the ‘happiness of forgiveness’ and Hjalmar says to not rush him. Gregers says he has a lot of the wild duck in him.


Relling enters and asks Gregers what he thinks he is doing. Gregers explains he is trying to ‘lay the foundations of a true marriage’. Relling asks that Hedvig be left out of it or ‘a great mischief’ might be done to her. Gina asks what he knows about this and he says she is at a ‘critical age’ and may take ‘strange fancies’ into her head. Gina agrees and says Hedvig has become fond of meddling with the fire in the kitchen. Gregers asks him to explain this and Relling says she is becoming a woman.


Mrs. Sörby comes to the door and has come to see Gina to chat with her and to say goodbye. She is leaving tomorrow to meet Werle in Höidal. Gregers says she and his father are to marry, and Relling leaves to join Molvik. After he goes, Gregers says that Mrs Sörby and Doctor Relling seem to know each other ‘pretty well’. She confirms this and says it was not more than friendship and she has always been wary of being impulsive: ‘A woman mustn’t absolutely throw herself away, either.’


She also says she has told Werle about this ‘acquaintance’ and has told him absolutely everything. He has done the same as he knew he would not be given ‘sermons on his sins’ as when he was younger. Despite Gregers asking her not to, she goes on to say how Werle will be ‘helpless’ soon as he is going blind. Hjalmar says this is extraordinary that he is going blind too and Gina says, ‘a great many people do’.


Analysis – Act Four

Gregers’ desire to be the ‘clever dog’ that saves the ‘wild duck’, which is both Hjalmar and Hjalmar’s marriage, is brought to some fruition as Hjalmar returns home full of anger at the thought of Gina having sex with Werle.


Now Hjalmar is enlightened, Gregers naively thinks their marriage will be stronger and truer. Gina’s reaction to his professed hope of seeing the ‘light of transfiguration’ in their faces is to take the shade from the lamp, and this mocks the received morality he preaches and undermines the Christian ethos of forgiveness that underpins his sermons.




Summary – Act Four continued

Mrs. Sörby also has a message that if Mr. Werle can be of service, Mr. Ekdal is to call on Graaberg. Hjalmar says he will do so to ask for an account of how much he owes Graaberg’s employer. He calls it a ‘debt of honour’ and will add five percent interest. Gina says they do not have the money to do this and he says the proceeds of his invention will pay off the debt.


Mrs. Sörby leaves and Hjalmar tells Gina to go no further than the door (when she shows her out). Gregers approves of Hjalmar’s decision to pay back the money and Hjalmar says how at certain times it is ‘impossible to overlook the claim of the ideal’ and ‘the manhood in me demands its rights too’.


Hjalmar goes on to tell Gregers that he is aggravated that Werle rather than he will ‘realise the true marriage’ as he and his future wife are entering into it with a basis of ‘complete confidence’ and have forgiven each other’s sins. He also says this injures his sense of justice and it makes it look as though there is no such thing as Providence. He then counters the point by saying how Werle is going blind and this is a form of retribution for blinding ‘the eyes of a credulous fellow-creature’.


Hedvig enters and is happy. She has seen Mrs. Sörby and has been given something for her birthday. Gina is to give it to her tomorrow morning in bed. It is a letter and she shows it to Hjalmar. He sees the handwriting on the envelope is that of Werle and asks to read it. Gina says to wait, but Hedvig asks if he can and so he opens it.


He reads it and turns pale, and says it is a ‘deed of a gift’ for Hedvig. He lets her read it and he says ‘the eyes! The eyes! – and then this letter’.


Hedvig says it seems to her that it is grandfather who is getting the gift. Hjalmar explains to Gina that it says his father does not have to do anymore copying work and is entitled to five pounds a month paid from the office. After his death, the gift is transferred to Hedvig.


Gregers describes this as a trap and says that when his father was there this morning he said Hjalmar ‘is not the man you imagine he is’. Hedvig leaves the room and Hjalmar tears the letter in two and tells Gina, ‘no more lies now’. He asks why Werle put them in a position to marry. He also asks if her child, ‘has the right to live under my roof’.


Gina is angry and when he asks if Hedvig belongs to him, she says with ‘cold bravado’ that she does not know and how should she – ‘ a woman like me’. He says he has no part in the house and goes to leave. Gregers tells him to think about it. Hjalmar says he has no child and Hedvig enters from the kitchen and asks what he is saying. He tells her he cannot bear to see her and she clings to him screaming and asks him to not turn away from her.


Hjalmar leaves and Gregers says he meant ‘all for the best’ and asks Gina to believe him. Hedvig lies on the sofa and says she thinks this will kill her. Gina leaves to look for Hjalmar and Hedvig asks Gregers why her father wants nothing more to do with her. He says she must not ask this until she has grown up. She says she thinks she might not be his child and he is uneasy and asks why she would say this. She says her mother might have found her and adds that her father might love her more as they were given the wild duck as a present and she loves it dearly.


She continues and says she prays for the wild duck and also tells him her father wanted to kill it but changed his mind. Gregers asks her to suppose about sacrificing the duck, ‘of your own free will’ for her father’s sake, as this is her dearest possession. She asks if she thinks it will help and he says to try it. He also asks if she has the strength of mind.


She says she will ask her grandfather to shoot it. He says ‘yes’ but tells her to not say anything to her mother as she does not understand them. Hedvig says she will try this in the morning.


Gina returns and says she has heard that Hjalmar is with Relling and Molvik. She says he will return as she has a message for him.


Analysis – Act Four continued

When Hjalmar reads the deed of gift to his father and Hedvig, he ironically sees for the first time that Werle and Hedvig are potentially father and daughter. He notes the connection of the eye disease and sees the gift as further evidence of Werle’s paternity. Gregers has stopped short of showing him this, but up to this point it is as though he has been insisting on guiding Hjalmar to see more clearly. If sin is interpreted as being associated with disease and blindness, then Gregers is attempting to lead Hjalmar on the righteous path.


Gina’s response to Hjalmar’s questions as to whether he or Werle is Hedvig’s father is of note as she is used to question the sexual hypocrisy embedded in a patriarchal society. This is a minimal response, though, as Hjalmar dominates this and other scenes with his overbearing complaints of damaged masculine pride. In keeping with patriarchy, the male voice is the loudest in this play.

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