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Act Summaries With Notes
This act opens with a party being held in the home of Werle, a
wealthy businessman who is both merchant and manufacturer. The
party is in honor of his prodigal son Gregers, who has come home
after seventeen years. During the party, Werle gives a toast. To
everyone's surprise it is not made in honor of Gregers; instead
Werle toasts Mrs. Sorby, his housekeeper, who is to become his
future wife. She is already completely at ease in the Werle
household and assumes the role of a gracious hostess, carrying on
light-hearted, flirtatious conversations with the guests.
Old Ekdal arrives at the Werle residence, but not as a guest. He
wants to go to the office, supposedly to do some work. Werle's
servant, Pettersen, reluctantly allows him to enter. He does not
trust Ekdal, because he has spent time in prison.
Werle tells his son that there will be thirteen people seated for
dinner. Hialmar Ekdal, Gregers' friend and Old Ekdal's son,
overhears this unlucky number and tells Gregers that he should not
have invited him; it is obvious that the young man feels out of
place at the party. Gregers disagrees; he tells Hialmar that this may
be the only time they have to visit since he is not staying in town
for long. Gregers also explains to Hialmar that he himself will be
the thirteenth person at the table.
The two friends try to catch up on the seventeen years of their
separation. Hialmar states that his father has lived with him since
the shame and disgrace of his imprisonment. He also tells Gregers
that he has become a photographer in order to support his family.
Werle, Gregers' father, has been generous enough to advance him
money to get started in business. He also encouraged him to marry
Gina Hausen, who had been the Werle housekeeper during the last
year of Gregers' mother's illness. Hialmar assures Gregers that
Gina has gained a lot of culture since her housekeeping days; he
gives himself credit for her advancements.
Mrs. Sorby and the chamberlains enter the room and begin to
patronize Hialmar, making him feel even more out of place. At
about the same time, Graberg, Werle's bookkeeper, and Old Ekdal
walk together to the front door. Hialmar refuses to recognize his
father, turning his back to him. When someone asks if he knows
the old man, Hialmar lies and says he did not notice him at all.
Gregers is shocked that his friend can deny his father. He shames
Hialmar by saying, "(You) deny that you knew him!"
As Hialmar is leaving after dinner, Mrs. Sorby asks him to say
hello to his wife, Gina; she promises that she will come for a visit
soon. Gregers tells him that he also plans to pay him a visit at his
house. Hialmar tells him not to do so, claiming that his house is a
"melancholy abode;" this is the first foreshadowing on the terrible
events that will later occur at Hialmar's house.
Gregers forces his father to have a private talk with him; it is
obvious that father and son do not get along very well together.
Gregers tells Werle that he does not consider Old Ekdal to be the
only one responsible for the illegal felling of timber on government
land. He implies that his father was equally to blame even though
he escaped jail time and nothing was legally proved against him.
Werle, in self-defense, says that he has done everything he can for
the Ekdals. He explains how he has given Old Ekdal a job and pays
him more than he is worth. Gregers then accuses his father of
casting off his mistress, Gina Hansen, to Hialmar. Werle denies
that Gina was his mistress and accuses Hialmar of telling tales.
Gregers, however, informs him that his mother had told him about
the liaison between Werle and Gina. Werle tells his son that he
should find something more useful to do than dig out all sorts of
slander against his own father.
Werle tells Gregers that his eyes are growing weak with age and
asks his son to join the family firm as a partner. Gregers refuses the
offer because he feels his father has some ulterior motive, as
always. When Werle tells him that he is going to marry Mrs.
Sorby, Gregers thinks this is why he has offered him a partnership.
Werle wants to show the world, and Mrs. Sorby, that father and
son are no longer estranged. But Gregers refuses to accommodate
his father and to approve of his upcoming marriage. Werle tells his
son not to judge him through his mother's eyes. The remark
infuriates Gregers. He then accuses his father of being responsible
for his mother's death. He also accuses him of taking advantage of
Hialmar, who is childlike and trusting, never suspecting Werle of
treachery or fraud.
At the end of the scene, an angry Gregers announces that he is
going to leave his father's house forever, for he has found his
mission in life. He does not state what the mission is.
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