Ibsen has presented the European drama with a complete diverse set of modern analysis that is in stark contrast to the Romantic tradition and the melodramatic plot of the “well-made plays”. Therefore the play “wild duck” specifically illuminates the severely realistic realities and the problems of the middle class characters on stage and holds a mirror to the audience that we, like the play’s characters have entangled ourselves in a “poisonous marshes” of delusions and as a result have become blissfully ignorant of the lies upon which we have laid foundations of our supposedly happy lives.
To achieve such impact on the audience mindset, Ibsen throughout the play and particularly in Act 4 employs extremely simple and realistic dialogue delivery and articulation for the characters. In Act 4 when the action is at its peak, the truth unfolds before the self-deluded Hialmar, there is no rhetoric, no flourishes, no artifice and embellishment in speeches. Rather they are lifelike, natural and spontaneous to bluntness. Through their dialogues Ibsen cleverly allows the audience to peek inside the façade the characters have created to hide their inner self and through their speeches we see their true self becoming more obvious. Furthermore Ibsen also employs comic elements for the audience to decipher the nature of characters more clearly amidst the stifling atmosphere created in Act 4.
Audience laugh at the hyperbolic and melancholic declarations in Hialmer’s dialogue with his wife and his silly decision to wring the wild duck neck that displays his weak and un manly approach to face realities. So on the whole through Act 4 Ibsen succeeds in making the action of the play both serious and comic as the facade of each character unfolds, audience get to know how they will cope with reality with their subsequent reactions and how the symbol of wild duck become more pronounced. With the light and dark imagery flashing throughout the Act, pronounced action and penetrating dialogues along with irony and paradox, Ibsen prepares a rigorous though and speculation for the audience who not only awaits for the inevitable outcome but also see themselves in the mirror of the characters’ life as what should be the more realistic way to face bitter truths in life.
Gregers who has committed himself to the “claim of ideals” and is overwhelmed with his zeal of setting things rights in a right set of order by the principle of absolute truth, ended out worsening the relations between the couple and Hialmer family who was living a squalid yet a cheerful life. Although the main aim of the playwright was to show the audience the acute perception of reality, Gregers perception of reality is little farfetched and unrealistic because unlike his principles human do not conform to complete set of rules to cope with reality. Ibsen makes the audience realize that Gregers motive should not be given any suspicious air; he had no intention of ruining the supposedly happy family. He just wanted his friend to view his life realistically as it was to the core; by removing the curtain from Gina’s unsavory past, Gregers wanted his friend to perceive his life from a noble and a true Christian standpoint. In doing so he expected Hialmer to rise to nobility that stems from redemption followed by forgiving his wife’s immodesty and make her raise to his own noble level. However such idealistic perception of reality has a romantic air which is not the stance the playwright has taken to write his play. Audience knows that the play is highly realistic and therefore Ibsen criticizes the romantic, idealistic values in Gregers version of reality by his clever use of irony. The “claim of ideal” is directly opposed to stark reality; the couple did not emit the “light of transfiguration” as he had imagined rather the household became gloomy, oppressed and stifling.
Opposed to him was the realist Relling, who realized from the foremost Hialmers psychological problem and warns Gregers in Act 3 against meddling with the couple’s happy lives. By becoming Ibsen’s mouthpiece, his realistic approach was very much evident when he asserted the idea that every men needed a “saving lie” in life. Although the Hialmer’s family grounded their lives with the help of comforting delusions yet they were living a happy life and made a good earning. However Gregers fanatic with his doctrine of the “claim of ideal”, unwittingly snatched their happiness by taking “away the saving lie from the life of an average man”.
Even in Act 4 we see Relling being the more realistic because as the couple were confronting each other after the facade was effaced from their lives, he warned the couple that the consequences of their fight would be faced by none other but their daughter whose “mind is full of mischief”. Again by being Ibsen’s mouthpiece, Relling appears before us being the more logical and sensible character who knows the inevitable.
The practical and the realistic element in Act 4 also gained momentum and surprisingly it’s the women who take this stance along with Relling. As Gina emphasizes on the “practical”, she asserts her important contribution in keeping their marriage alive and the audience clearly get to know that without her practical and compromising nature, Hialmer’s excessiveness and fiery would have no limits.
Therefore, by removing the lampshade in response to Greger’s exhortations she not only gave a comic air to the serious environment but also allowed the audience to see her practical insight to situation. Mrs Sorby is yet another women whose practicality becomes more pronounced when she arrived at the Ekdal’s household to bid the family goodbye and give the birthday gift to the child. The fact that she completely leaves Gregers speechless about her declaration of laying a foundation of an honest marriage with old Werle furthers her upper hand in making adamant decision for choosing her own life partner and that old Werle requires her unwavering support to lead the later moments of his life with his blinded eyesight. Thus both the women are realistic and practical to the core as both know the paramount effort is expected from their side to maintain the stability of their marriage life something that the men are devoid of. They are responsible both for sustenance and rectifying the mess men are creating in their lives with their practical insight.
As the curtain drwas up from the façade of “tableau of familial affection” the audience gets a clearer insight to Hialmer’s character as weak and indecisive. Unable of cope with the bitter reality that befalls upon him, the audience in act 4 see his unmanly approach of his lack of composure and adjustment with the disclosure of facts. This heralds another comical situation in the play for the audience as they see Hialmer mimicking his friend’s advice of pertaining to the “claim of ideal” in a melodramatic and fooloish fashion. His shallow decisions of not visiting the garret ever and his appeals to a “breadwinner’s dream” of providing for a well to do widow is petty superficial and furthers his weak nature. His hyperbolic conjuring of his death to torment his wife is starkly contrasted to what Gregers had believed for his friend to act.
Hialmer is not an appealing father figure for his daughter even though Hedvig always awaits his presence and looks highly on him despite his lack of interest for her. The fact that he sends his daughter outside so that he and his wife can have a talk although going outside at that hour was harmful for her faltering eyes shows Hialmer’s inability to decide what is good for his daughter as he is self-centered in his world of fantasies and delusions. In the same act Ibsen consoles the pitied Hedvig and the audience breathes a sign of relief hedvig future is secured in monetary terms. She will not be a scapegoat of her father’s delusions and decisions which lack weight and importance. However, audience must cross their fingers for a lot more that is in store for them; will Hedvig be able to revitalize her future with the letter she receives or will she at last bear the consequences of the bitter truth? With the sinister air that hovers the act with dim lights and darkness and gloom, the audience dread for the latter.
The whole act is heavily laden with the symbolic implication of the wild Duck which is made a subject of sacrifice by both Hialmer and Gregers. For Hialmer, his surging vengeance will only find peace by ruthless twisting the ducks neck and for Gregers, advising the little girl to sacrifice her dearest asset will make her father realize her love. As weak they appear before us, they can only use the duck as pawn to further their principles and the audience stifle a giggle by their comical nonsensical approach. But in a deeper sense, Ibsen makes the audience see Hialmer, Hedvig and Ekdal both under the symbolic depiction of wild duck. So the duck serves a lot more purpose in the Act as a mere animal in the garret. Just as the wild ducks, when shot down by a ruthless hunter sink passively to the bottom of the sea, Hedvig appear too before the audience as the most pitiable character. She, like the wild duck has an uncertain origin and is so insecure at her own home that she could easily be dispossessed or made to suffer the consequences without any fault. She is wounded and shot down by the most pitiless hunter; her father. When the realist Gregers advices her to kill the Duck to prove her love for her father, the audience grimace at the idiosyncrasy of Gregers who despite holding idealist ideas in great esteem could penetrate such a wild and irrational thought in mind of the girl that is already “filled with mischief”. The audience will realize the dire implication of such advice when the poor girl tragically ends her life to amend the havoc created by her illicit parentage.
So, this particular act is very powerful in the play because we see a constant struggle between romanticism and realism in it. Characters especially gregers struggle with maintaining a realistic point of view but his approach is idealistic. This is where the irony is created as Gregers with “clouded eyes” destroys the “tableau of familial affection” which was a vital “saving lie” for the existence of Ekdal family.