The Wild Duck
by Henrik Ibsen
In the " Wild Duck", Henrik Ibsen begins his play by
emphasizing the value of color and light. He uses the theme
of light to contrast Old Werle, a stingy rich man, with Old
Ekdal, a poor helpless man. Ibsen connects the color green
with the loss of eyesight of Old Werle. A possible affair
between Old Werle and Gina, Hedvig's mother, may suggest
the cause of Hedvig's loss of sight. By using sun and moon,
Ibsen establishes the atmosphere of the scene. The story
line deteriorates from peaceful to tragic. Similarly, does
the setting in the last four acts. In the Wild Duck, Henrik
Ibsen employs the image of light to portray certain
characteristics in order to construct the plot and to
adjust the mood of the scene.
F.L. Lucas analyzes the opening arrangement and writes "In
the outer room the lamps are dimmed, with green shades, in
contrast to the brilliance of the room behind"(190). We
understand that this meant that the outer room, lit with
soft and shaded light, implies poverty, where as the inner
room, illuminated with bright candles, expresses wealth.
The darkened room, insinuating poverty, is the office in
which the poor Old Ekdal 'does some extra copying,' and in
return receives a small income. The inside room,
representing wealth, is Old Werle's dining room where he
was hosting a party. The distinctions of these two lit
rooms contrast Old Ekdal and Old Werle.
"In contrast to Werle's party, the lighting is of
comparative poverty 'on the table a lighted lamp'"(190),
explains critic, F.L. Lucas. Unlike Old Werle's expensive
and exquisite illumination, a small inexpensive lamp lights
the Ekdals home, displaying poverty. This dissimilarity
shows another significant distinction between Old Werle and
The distinctions of the light between Old Ekdal's and Old
Werle's homes is illustrated in the following incident. It
is brought to the reader's attention that in the following
quotation Old Werle and Old Ekdal were partners in crime.
"[Old Werle] escaped by the skin of his teeth," while they
sentenced Old Ekdal to prison. This incident resulted in
extreme hatred toward Old Werle for his poor aid to Old
Ekdal. Being that Werle had a vast amount of money, Old
Ekdal, Hjalmar, and Werle's son, Gregers felt tremendous
feelings of animosity. Gregers recognized the miserable
support his father has given to the Ekdals. As a result
Gregers moves in with the Ekdals and attempts to enrich the
marriage of Gina and Hjalmir, due to the fact that his
parents didn't get along. Gregers takes the approach of
truth to improve the marriage, which is another major theme
of the Wild duck. "A time to keep silence, and a time to
speak," was wisely stated by Ecclesiastes. Unfortunately,
here it was 'a time to keep silence' and Gregers did not.
F.L. Lucas examines the color green. "Why green shades?
Because Old Werle is beginning to lose his sight. And that
eye trouble links him significantly, by hereditary with
little Hedvig, likewise threatened by blindness"(190). He
also explains that green is known to be the most helpful
colored shade to prevent blindness. This lighting early in
the Wild Duck hints that '[Old Werle] is going blind' which
relates him to Hedvig, where 'there is every probability
that she will lose her eyesight.' "Further, green is the
color of romantic unreality-the world of the Wild Duck
caught in the seaweed below the waters of the fjord"(190),
adds Lucas. The color green, a symbol of fantasy, is
comparable to the world of the wild duck, which the
characters use to "diverge themselves" from reality. The
shade green is a link of two plots of the Wild Duck. One
understanding of the color green hints to the loss of sight
which suggests an affair between Old Werle and Hedvig's
mother, Gina. Another explanation of the green display is
to correlate fantasy with the wild duck. The latter
understanding involves Old Ekdal who is an angry man living
in the past on the hunting grounds of the duck. The first
explanation of green results in Hedvig committing suicide
because of her anger. Hjalmir finding out that Hedvig is
not his daughter, disregards Hedvig; this provokes her
suicide. Green, symbolizing anger, hints two separate plots
which end in fury.
In the last four acts Ibsen uses natural light to set the
mood of the play. In each scene the light conditions
decrease, as does the plot. In the first of these four
acts, the gorgeous moon illuminates the stage and in the
following scene the sun rises and reality of the affair
nears. However, in the fourth act of the Wild Duck the sun
declines as does the story line. The last scene of the play
describes a cold snowy day, in which the suicide of Hedvig
Lucas depicts act two as follows: "The wild duck's garret
is opened 'clear moonbeams shine in on some parts of the
great room': Note great not poky. This happy hunting ground
of illusion is vast and shadowy; and lit by the beguiling
magic of moonshine"(191). The majestic glow of the moon
illuminates this setting. Though the room is small, in
terms of space, he refers to it as 'great' because of the
fantasy and illusion of the attic. The moon which
symbolizes illusion lights the attic where the wild duck
helps fulfill the escape to fantasy. Old Ekdal's hunting
ground fantasy is also satisfied by the illuminating
illusion of the moon. Not only are the settings of this
scene significant, so are the contents of this act. He
introduces the wild duck in this scene and so is the story
of the 'clever dog' that 'went down and got the duck up'
from 'the grasses and roots and weeds.' This is an example
of how Henrik Ibsen sets the mood of the scene and
expresses primary themes through the display of light.
'The daylight falls through the large windows in the
slanting roof.' Cold reality approaches"(191). Lucas'
explanation of this quotation is simply that 'cold reality'
occurs during the daytime. The moon and sun differ, in that
at night dreams are dreamed and at daytime they are
reality. This contrasts the previous scene from the present
scene, by means of setting and contents. During this scene
Gregers tells his father that he has his father to 'thank
for the fact that [he is] being haunted and driven by a
guilty conscience.' Immediately after this scene, Gregers
alerts Hjalmir of the affair between Old Werle and Gina.
These examples of 'cold reality' also show Ibsen's
consistency of parallel scenery and content.
"Afternoon light; the sun is going down; a little later the
scene begins to grow dark"(192), delineates Lucas. The sun,
established to represent reality, was setting, but the
moon, symbolizing fantasy, illusion, and dreams, was not
yet shining; rather there was no source of light, the
setting was dim and shaded, as the mood of the play
deteriorated. Gina admitted her affair with Old Werle and
explained that '[Old Werle] didn't give up till he had his
way.' As the setting darkens, the plot follows, exhibiting
Ibsen's flow of decline throughout the play.
The last scene of the play is a 'cold gray morning light.
Wet snow lies on the big panes of the skylight.' The
sunshine is gray rather than yellow, foreshadowing tragedy.
The snow and cold weather add to the day's gloom. This ugly
illustrated setting is parallel to the grotesque suicide of
Hedvig. The fact that this day was Hedvig's birthday may
suggest that she was the perfect person, living an exact
number of years. Why did she die at such a young age then?
It was the fate of her father, Hjalmir, being 'the
thirteenth man at the table' at Old Werle's party.
Through the different types of illumination, the reader is
able to contrast Old Ekdal from Old Werle, in order to
begin the story. Ibsen carefully uses the color green, to
enable two plots to form. One implication of the color
green, is the affair between Old Werle and Gina, through
eye trouble. The second, is the sad life of Old Ekdal
living in his past. In the last four acts Ibsen makes the
setting correspond to the contents, the moon with happiness
and daylight parallel to reality. The lack of light is
analogous to darkness in the scene. Finally, grey sunlight,
along with coldness and snow, correspond to Hedvig's death.
In the Wild Duck, Henrik Ibsen applies the image of light
to express certain attributes in order to assemble the
story and to alter the mood of the play.
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