The Wild Duck: Act Two
Summary – Act Two
The setting is in Hjalmar's studio, which is a large room. Gina and Hedvig are there and Hedvig is reading. She has her thumbs in her ears and is shading her eyes with her hands. Gina tells her to stop reading as her father does not like her to do this and Hedvig agrees and closes the book. They talk and it is made apparent that they do not have much money for food. Hedvig says she hopes her father comes home soon as he promised to ask Mrs Sörby ‘for something nice’ to bring back for her. She also says she is a bit hungry too.
Ekdal comes in with a parcel and tells them he has some copying to do. Hedvig says how she likes to have good news for her father as things go more pleasantly – Gina is thoughtful and agrees. When Ekdal goes into another room and then comes through for some hot water, they realize he must have some alcohol and Hedvig presumes he got the bottle on credit. Gina refers to him as ‘poor grandfather’ and says no one would give him credit.
When Hjalmar enters, Gina and Hedvig jump up to greet him and take off his coat. Ekdal enters and asks if he saw him (at Werle’s). Hjalmar says no, but was told he had gone through. Hjalmar talks about the dinner party and how men were there from the Court. He says he was asked to recite something, but declined. He also tells them he had an argument about Tokay and Gina says, ‘there isn't anything you don’t know, Hjalmar’. He adds that he does not want them to talk about it, though, as it passed off amicably. He takes off his suit coat and asks Gina to remember to return it to Molvik (a neighbor) tomorrow.
Hedvig asks to see what he has brought her and at first she thinks he is teasing when he says he has forgotten. He only brought back a bill of fare and tells her to read the list and he will describe the taste of the dishes to her. She gulps down her tears and says ‘thank you’, but does not read it. Gina makes signs to her and Hjalmar notices and says it is incredible what the father of the family is expected to remember.
He then stands by the stove by his father and asks if he has ‘taken a peep in there this evening’. Ekdal says he has and ‘she’ has gone into her basket and is beginning to get accustomed to it.
Gina says they have prints that need re-touching tomorrow. Hjalmar asks if there are any new appointments and if their room has been let yet. Gina says no to both points and he says this is to be expected if people do not keep their wits about them. He also tells her to pull herself together. After saying he does not want to play his flute, at Hedvig’s request he changes his mind and apologizes to her and Gina. He plays a Bohemian country dance ‘in a very slow time and very sentimentally’.
This is interrupted by a knock at the door. It is Gregers and he asks Gina if she recognizes him. She says ‘of course’ and he says he is like his mother, ‘and no doubt you remember her a little’. He goes on to explain that he has moved into a hotel and Hjalmar tells him to take his things off and sit down.
Analysis – Act Two
Hjalmar’s straitened circumstances are highlighted here, most notably when his daughter says how she is hungry. The setting also reminds us of the contrast between Werle’s environment and this of the struggling photography. The squabbles between Hjalmar and his wife and daughter also suggest a troubled existence, as does Hedvig’s point that it is more pleasant at home when father is happy.
There is also a mysterious element added here when Ekdal and Hjalmar discuss how ‘she’ is becoming accustomed to her basket. This is explained as the play moves on, but at this point this remains secret.
Summary – Act Two continued
When Hedvig leaves to fetch a beer from the kitchen, Gregers asks if she is their daughter. Hjalmar says she is, and is the source of their greatest happiness but also sorrow as ‘she is dangerously threatened with the loss of her sight’. Gregers sympathizes and asks what the cause is. Hjalmar says it is hereditary and Gregers starts at this. Gina says that Hjalmar’s mother also had weak eyes and Hjalmar adds that this is what his father has told him but he cannot remember. Gregers asks how Hedvig has taken the news and Hjalmar says they have not told her and she suspects nothing. Gregers asks Gina how old Gina is and she replies she is just 14; ‘her birthday is the day after tomorrow’.
He goes on to ask how long they have been married and she says just 15 years. She looks at him watchfully when he asks if it can be that long and says, ‘it is indeed’. Hjalmar agrees and say, ‘yes, that it is, fifteen years all but a few months’.
Ekdal enters and Gregers says how he used to be ‘a mighty hunter’. Ekdal is wearing an old military cap and when he notices Gregers look at it, he says he asks no one’s leave to wear it indoors, ‘so long as I don’t go into the street with it on’. Gregers continues and recalls how he was ‘a fine sportsman’ in the past and Ekdal asks if the forests are looking fine (at Höidal). Gregers says they are not so fine now as a lot have been cut down. Ekdal lowers his voice, as if afraid, and says this is dangerous and speaks of the forests avenging themselves.
Gregers asks how he can live as he does now, all boxed in a town and Ekdal says with a smile that it is not so bad. He asks Hjalmar if they can ‘show it to him’ and with some embarrassment Hjalmar says no. Gregers asks what he means, but Hjalmar remains vague.
Gregers then proposes to Ekdal that he comes back up to the works with him and do some copying there. He also says that he has not got ‘a single thing’ to give him pleasure or amuse him. Ekdal stares at him in amazement and insists Gregers shall ‘see it’. Hjalmar finally agrees and Hedvig is encouraging. Gina tells Gregers to not expect anything ‘very wonderful’.
Ekdal and Hjalmar go to the back of the stage and each push at a sliding door. Gregers remains standing and Gina sits quietly sewing. The two men reveal a large and irregularly shaped attic room. Ekdal tells Gregers to come closer and have a look. Gregers says he sees that they keep poultry. He notices they have pigeons too and Ekdal says they also have rabbits. Ekdal then shows him a basket with straw in and explains it is a duck, ‘a wild duck’. Hedvig says it belongs to her. Gregers asks if it is possible for it to live up here in the attic, and Ekdal says they are remarkable birds.
Gregers asks how they managed to catch it and gives a slight start when Ekdal says they have someone in town to thank for it. He guesses correctly that this was his father. He explains his guess as being because Hjalmar had told him he is indebted to him ‘for so many different things’. Gina says they did not get it from him directly, but Ekdal corrects her and says they have him to thank for it. Werle had been out in a boat and shot the bird, but his sight is not good and the bird was wounded rather than killed. Its wing was injured and so could not fly. Gregers supposes the duck dived to the bottom and Ekdal says ‘naturally’, in a thick voice, and says how wild ducks always do this and then ‘bite fast hold of the weed and wrack and all the rubbish that is down there’. Ekdal also explains that Werle’s ‘clever dog’ dived after it and hauled it up.
The duck was first taken to Werle’s house, but it did not thrive there and Ekdal got the duck from Pettersen. It has now ‘grown fat’ and according to Hjalmar it has been here for so long it has forgotten ‘all about its own wild life’. Gregers agrees, but also says to not let it see the sky or the water.
Gregers goes on to ask if he can rent their spare room and Gina says it will not suit him. Hjalmar disagrees and she says how the neighbors underneath (Relling and Molvik) are good for nothings. Gregers says he will get used to it and hopes to settle down ‘like the wild duck’. He also says he feels he is saddled with his name and would rather be a clever dog ‘than anything else’, the sort of dog that would dive down after a wild duck. Hjalmar says he does not understand and Gregers says, ‘no, and I dare say the meaning is not very pretty either’. He goes on, and says he will move in early tomorrow morning and tells Gina he will not give her any trouble and will do everything for himself.
He leaves and Hjalmar shows him out. Gina and Hedvig talk and Hedvig says she thinks Gregers meant something quite different to what he said (about wanting to be a dog). Gina says, ‘it was certainly queer’.
Hjalmar returns and when he and Gina talk he asks her why she does not like the idea of Gregers moving in. She says it is because Werle might think Hjalmar is at the bottom of things going wrong between them. It might also end in grandfather suffering and losing out on work. Hjalmar says he almost wishes this were the case and it is humiliating for him to see his father ‘treated like an outcast’. He also thinks this is almost at an end and thinks he has a mission in life and means to fulfil it. He adds that renting the room will give him more independence to do this. He asks Gina if she believes this, and she says ‘of course’ but they have to see about getting his father to bed first.
Analysis – Act Two continued
The mysterious conversation that was referred to earlier in Act Two is explained here as Ekdal shows Gregers the re-created forest and, specifically, the eponymous wild duck.
The story of the wild duck plummeting to the bottom of the lake when injured, and then biting fast on to the weeds, is a central feature of this play and is open to several interpretations such as sacrifice, suicide and escape. However this is read, this is a tale of suicide when injured and may be understood as a form of retreat from the world as is depicted in the microcosm created by Ekdal and Hjalmar in the attic. They may be interpreted as fellow wild ducks as they turn away from the reality that has damaged them.