The Wild Duck: Act Three

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Summary – Act Three

The setting is in Hjalmar’s studio the following morning. He is retouching a photograph and Gina comes in from outside after a few moments and is carrying a covered basket. She says she has looked in on Gregers’ room and he has already accidentally filled it with smoke and when he tried to put the fire out he flooded the floor.


While she prepares lunch, Hjalmar and Ekdal talk and go into the attic room and speak of getting ‘that’ off their hands and how ‘it’ must be ready for early tomorrow morning. In this room, the sun comes through the ‘top lights’ of the attic and some of the pigeons are flying about. Cackling hens can also be heard.


Hjalmar pulls a cord and this lowers the curtain. The bottom part is made of sailcloth and the upper part is a fisherman’s net. When it is down, the floor of the attic is no longer visible.


He returns to his work and Hedvig joins him. She says how Ekdal is making a new path to the water trough and he says he will not be able to do it himself and ‘what a nuisance’ it is that he has to sit here. She says she will help him (retouch the photographs) and at first he says it will hurt her eyes. She insists and he gives her the brush and tells her she is responsible for herself.


Hjalmar goes to his father and their voices can be heard ‘discussing something’. Hjalmar comes to the net and asks Hedvig to bring the pincers and the chisel. The men carry on working and when there is a knock at the door Hedvig does not hear it and Gregers enters. He talks to her as he waits for them to come out of the room and they discuss how it looks different at different times.


On being asked, she says she does not go to school anymore as her father is afraid she will hurt her eyes. Hjalmar promised to read with her, but she says he has not had time yet. Gregers says that she must have a lot of time to herself, and that the attic is ‘like a little world of its own’. She agrees and says there are ‘such a lot of wonderful things in there’, such as cupboards full of books, an old desk with drawers and a clock that no longer works. Gregers points out that time has ceased to exist in there ‘beside the wild duck’. She says she lends the duck to her father and grandfather and they ‘build places’ for it. She also refers to it as ‘poor thing’ as it has no friends and, as Gregers says, no brothers and sisters either.


He says it comes from the ‘ocean’s depths’ and she looks at him quickly, half smiles and asks why he said this and explains that this is what she thinks of when she thinks of what is in the attic. She also says it is nonsense as it is only an attic and he looks at her earnestly and asks if she is sure. Hedvig is astonished and he repeats the question. She looks at him open mouthed and in silence, and Gina enters.


Gregers talks to Gina and says it is handy that she can retouch photographs, given that Hjalmar is a photographer. Hedvig says her mother can take photographs too and Gregers supposes she runs the business. She says she does when Hjalmar is busy and also tells him he is not an ordinary photographer.


They hear a shot fired in the attic. Gregers is startled, but Gina is not and she says they are firing again. Hedvig explains ‘they go out shooting’. Hjalmar realizes Gregers is there and comes into the studio. He tells him they go after a rabbit or two, mainly to please his father. Gina says men must always have something to ‘bemuse them’ and Hjalmar says irritably, ‘quite so, quite so; men must always have something to amuse them’.


Hedvig says to Gregers that he can see the wild duck properly now. He points out that it trails a wing, which is where it was wounded, and it drags its foot from where the dog fixed his teeth.


While Gina and Hedvig go in the kitchen, Hjalmar closes the attic doors and he and Gregers talk. Hjalmar says how he hands over most of the ordinary business to his wife while he shuts himself away in the sitting room and thinks of ‘more important matters’. He expands and explains his idea of an invention that is concerned with photography, but not merely ordinary portraits.


He hopes this invention will bring ‘honour and dignity’ to his father and the name of Ekdal. He says his father has been ‘shipwrecked’ since ‘the storm broke over him’ and those investigations began. He also says the pistol played a part in the tragedy as (it is strongly suggested) he meant to kill himself when sentenced but did not dare. He also says he thought of shooting himself in the chest when his father was imprisoned. He says it made a call on his courage ‘to choose life under such conditions’. 


Analysis – Act Three

As Hedvig and Gregers talk, the attic takes on fairy-tale aspect that has already been suggested when Ekdal first revealed the different animals in there. Hedvig describes some of the contents, including the clock that does not work, and when Gregers talks about it as having the ‘ocean’s depths’ she has a shock of recognition as she too has considered this analogy.


The attic room is a refuge for Ekdal and for Hedvig it is also a place that signifies pleasure and endlessness. In addition, it is reminiscent of a dream and Ibsen pre-dates the surrealists in portraying this landscape of the unconscious.





Summary – Act Three continued

Hjalmar goes on to tell Gregers that his father ‘covets and yearns’ to be able to wear his uniform again and thinks his invention will bring this reward. Gregers asks if the attic is a distraction from his invention and he denies it. He says he cannot prevent the flash of inspiration when it comes. Gregers says he thinks he – Hjalmar – has something of the wild duck in him. He asks what he means and Gregers explains: ‘You have dived down and bitten yourself fast in the weeds.’


Gregers goes further and says he has ‘contracted an insidious disease’ and dived to bottom to die in the dark. He says he will help him find his way back to the surface and adds that he also has an object in life now and discovered it yesterday.


Relling and Molvik enter (as they have been invited to lunch). Relling says how Gregers used to go round the cottagers’ houses (near the works) and presented what he called ‘the demand of the ideal’ and Relling never knew of him getting anyone to meet it.


Gregers agrees and says he has not, but has not learned to reduce the amount of his demand. Knocking is heard on the door and Hedvig lets Ekdal in. He is holding a fresh rabbit skin.


They talk and Hjalmar says to Hedvig that he is determined to make her future safe. Relling says to Gregers how pleasant it is to be sat ‘in the midst of a happy family circle’ and Gregers questions this and alludes to there being ‘a poisonous atmosphere’. He also says that no airing will drive the foulness away. Relling suggests it is more likely that he brought it with him from the works and Gregers says it is just like him to say this. They argue further.


There is a knock on the outer door and Gina opens it to Werle. He has come to speak to Gregers in his room. On Hjalmar’s suggestion, they leave these two alone to talk. Gregers blames his father for his ‘guilt-laden conscience’ and says he should have taken a stand against him a long time ago, ‘when the trap was laid for Lieutenant Ekdal’ but did not have the courage then.


Gregers says now he is able to set Hjalmar free ‘from the falsehood and dissimulation that are dragging him down’. Werle says he will never cure his sick conscience as this is what he inherited from his mother, and was the only thing he inherited from her. Gregers asks bitterly if he has still not got over his miscalculation in thinking a fortune was coming to him (from his wife).


Gregers will not be persuaded to join his father and refuses the divided estate now his father is to re-marry and says he is no longer in his service. He is instead going to attain the object of his life, ‘nothing else’. When asked, he says he will live on his savings and although this is not much it ‘will last out’ his time. He refuses to explain and Werle leaves.


Gregers asks Hjalmar to come for a walk with him and Hjalmar agrees (and Gina says he ought not). The two leave and Relling says Gregers has a disease, and is suffering from ‘acute rectitudinal fever’. He continues and says it is a ‘national disease’.


Analysis – Act Three continued

The differing perspectives of Relling and Gregers are revealed here and expanded upon later in the play. In this instance, Relling demonstrates his antipathy to Gregers’ ‘demand of the ideal’ and more broadly to his moral certainty, which he refers to as ‘acute rectitudinal fever’.


This reference to fever is one of the many ways this text draws on illness and disease to discuss personality or, more generally, the idea of sin and challenging received morality. This ‘national disease’ of moral rectitude that Relling refers to has its counterpart in Gregers’ earlier accusation against Hjalmar that he has contracted an ‘insidious disease’ and will sink like the wild duck (unless he saves him, it is implied). Disease is also alluded to in the illness that affects the eyesight of Werle and Hedvig. It is never stated explicitly, but is strongly suggested that this could be connected to syphilis and, therefore, associated with the supposed sin of sexual transgression. The disease becomes the sign of the apparently unwholesome lifestyle. 

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