Analysis of Major Characters NEXT ►
Act one: Part Two
Themes, Motifs, and Symbols
The "claim of the Ideal" and the "life-illusion"
The play distributes these competing doctrines between the rivals Relling and Gregers, two "spiritual doctors" in conflict over Hialmar's destiny. Gregers's claim of the ideal relies on his belief that the soul must bring itself into the light and attain truth at all costs. Thus Greger preaches forgiveness, exaltation, redemption, martyrdom, confession, absolution, and sacrifice in spite of the ruin he brings to the Ekdal household.
In contrast, Relling speaks in terms of pathology, replacing Gregers's spiritual diagnoses Gregers with quasi-medical/psychological ones. This turn to psychology is one of the defining aspects of Ibsen's drama. Hialmar is not in spiritual tumult but suffers from illness. Gregers himself suffers from an "integrity- fever" and a "delirium of hero-worship." His "claim of the ideal" becomes a disorder rather than a moral or spiritual imperative. The ideal does not figure as some moral or spiritual imperative but is yet another pathology, as closely related to the lie as typhus is to putrid fever. What is imperative for Relling then is not the soul's attainment to truth but the treatment of mental disorder. Both men require a remedy, the "stimulating principle" of illusion. Hialmar can dream of his invention and sustain the faith of his family and the mirage of his happy household, and Ekdal can hunt in the garret.
The Romantic Hero
In The Wild Duck, the romantic hero—who finds his comic double in the fickle, melodramatic Hialmar—is most explicitly demystified in the exchange between Relling and Gregers in Act V. Hialmar's handsomeness, "superficially emotional temperament," "sympathetic voice," and talent for declaiming the verses and thoughts of others have always made him appear the "great light of the future" within his personal...