Throughout his collection of performances in Four Great Plays, Henrik Ibsen addresses many problems with society. Among these include society's ability to obtain and withhold idealistic morals, and apply them amidst other members of society. However, in the play "The Wild Duck," Ibsen touches upon another sensitive subject of society: the interference of one into the relationship of another. In this play, Ibsen uses this practical subject and transforms it into a serious conflict within a family; a conflict which eventually tears it apart. "The Wild Duck" portrays a section of society whose instinct is to follow their beliefs and do the right thing, however, it is this same right thing that tears apart other members of that very society.
Upon the opening of the play, we are presented with a very interesting setting. Ibsen places the action of his Norwegian production in his homeland, providing us with many native names that may seem rather interesting.
The first lines of the poem bring us to the house of Werle, where he seems to be making a toast to the return of his son Gregers whose absence has been prolonged for approximately seventeen years. However, the attending audience is shocked when he claims his toast is to Mrs. Sorby, his housekeeper and future wife. This initial action of the play immediately suggests the tale of wrongdoing about to ensue. As Gregers will interfere and destory the love between Hialmar, Hedvig, and Gina, Mrs. Sorby has now interfered with the love between Gregers and his father, Mr. Werle. This suggests a repeating theme in the story involving society, in that actions like this occur everyday, but only in smaller degrees.
Although Gregers return will drastically affect the lives of Hialmar and his family, one should investigate the family that Gregers, the idealist, wishes to virtually purify. Hialmar is a relatively young man who owns and operates a photography studio. He believes that one day, he will invent a great photographic technology, allowing his to bring respect to his family's name and money to his family's household. It is this mentality that prompts Hialmar to spend his days dreaming throughout the house instead of working the studio, a task done by his wife Gina and daughter Hedvig. Although his daughter and wife despise the work that they must do, it is evident that they certainly love Hialmar. However, Gina has not told Hialmar of her relationship with Mr. Werle before her marriage to Hialmar, which now associates this innocent family with Gergers. To avenge the past of his father, and to assist the Ekdals in forming a better relationship, he will reveal the frightening past of Gina to Hialmar, an action that will destroy every character.
In addition to the plot and initial setting of the play, the reader is familiarized with the actual wild duck that is brought to the Ekdal household. The duck, nursed back to health by Old Ekdal, seems to present redeeming qualities to the family through its ability to provide fantasy to them all. Injured by Werle, Old Ekdal brought the bird home in order to assist in its recovery, and serve as a sort of pet in his lonely, forest-like attic above Hialmar's photography studio. Hedvig seems to identify most with the duck, something that seems to be extremely ironic. As the duck was derived from the wrath of Werle, so Hedvig may have been born from Gina through her relationship with Werle. It is this connection that has formed that later leads to the downfall of Hedvig, sacrificing herself in order to prove her love for Hialmar.
After renting an open apartment in the Ekdal household, Gregers decides to make his informing motive towards Hialmar a reality. Since he is an idealist, he believes that informing Hialmar will improve their marriage into a trustworthier one, making it more ideal. He takes Hialmar for a long walk and informs him of Gina's pre-marriage relationship with Mr. Werle. The feeling that grows in Hialmar after learning the truth is extremely shocking. Immediately, Hialmar shows certain signs of hostility towards his wife and daughter, whom he believes know of her affair. After hearing the truth from the mouth of Gina, he begins to believe that Hedvig is not his daughter, but that of Mr. Werle. This is due to the money that she will receive monthly upon the death of Old Ekdal. Recognizing that his peaceful household was but a meager lie, he leaves Gina, Hedvig, and Gregers at the Ekdal household, as he stays elsewhere for the night. Upon his return, he again questions the dedication of Hedvig's love for him since she is not his true daughter. However, as soon as he asks the question to himself, he receives an answer in the form of a gunshot from the attic, which Hedvig used to commit suicide.
Throughout "The Wild Duck," we can witness the idealist tendencies possessed by Gregers. When Hialmar confronts his father in the first Act, Gregers is astonished that he fails to recognize his presence, an action that seems to lack ideal morals. It is this similar idealism that produces the fantasy in Gregers that the truth will assist Hialmar and his family in forming a healthier relationship. This is far from the truth, for as Hialmar realizes that his marriage and his daughter have been false, he collapses in a fit of rage. Since Gregers interfered with the love of Hialmar and Gina, and therefore allowed Hialmar to transgress, he is solely responsible for the death of Hedvig, and the tragedy of the play.