In Ibsen’s The Wild Duck, illusions and reality are set into a conflict within the story of a son’s personal desire to confront idealism. Throughout much of the play, the son, Greger, argues the value of truth with the reluctant Dr. Relling. Relling insists on the importance of illusions, but fails to discourage Greger’s intentions and a play that begins as a comedy quickly turns into a tragedy because of these conflicts. At the heart of the illusions in this play are the ways that people assume many roles in a family, impersonating multiple ideals as ways for managing their relationships. This theme of impersonation is also developed in Ibsen’s Ghosts, where family relations are slowly undone as the illusions and deceptions are stripped away. In both plays, deceptions are strategic and designed to protect the children from the pains and struggles of their families’ histories. Ultimately, in these plays, families are held together by illusions, yet torn apart by truths that have been concealed to protect the children.
In The Wild Duck, as Relling continues to discourage Greger from revealing damaging truths about family secrets, Relling insists, "If you take away make-believe from the average man, you take away happiness as well" (Ibsen, 294). Relling is referring to the ways the Ekdal family is structured on particular deceptions; however, these are designed to protect the innocent as well as the guilty. Hedvig, the fourteen year old daughter, represents one of the innocents, and Greger’s father, Old Werle, represents a part of the guilty side. The key to these dualisms of false and truth, innocent and guilty, illusion and reality, lies in...
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... necessary illusion.
Both The Wild Duck, and Ghosts are tragedies that involve what might be understood as “the sins of the fathers;” however, Ibsen seems to suggest that some truths are better maintained as illusions. In both plays, the truth destroys the lives of those who have been protected from the past and in both cases the past involves relationships that have indirect consequences on the children’s understandings of their lives. In the end, whether it is right or wrong to maintain the illusions is not as significant as the question of who has the right to determine what is real, and what is true for others.
Works CitedWorks Cited
Henrik Ibsen, “The Wild Duck,” Four Great Plays by Henrik Ibsen, NY: Bantam Books.
Henrik Ibsen, “Ghosts,” Playreader’s Repertory, M.R. White and F. Whiting, Eds., London: Foresom and Company.
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