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Gregers believes that his father has helped the Eckdals because of
his guilty conscience, not just out of good will. It is obvious that he
is very cynical about his father. Hialmar also has a strained
relationship with his father. When Old Ekdal enters the room to
leave the house, the son turns his back on him. In fact, Hialmar
refuses to acknowledge that he knows him, much as Peter had
denied knowing Christ. Gregers is shocked at his friend's behavior
Gregers then turns and confronts his own father. He states that he
does not believe that it was only Ekdal who was responsible for
cutting the timber illegally; he is obviously accusing his father. He
also blames his dad for sending his mother to an early grave
because of his many affairs. Finally he says it is shameful that
Werle forced Gina off on Hialmar. Werle tries to defend himself.
Werle compares old Ekdal to the wild duck, which is unable to
help itself. He states that he has helped both Ekdal and Hialmar
financially, by giving the old man a job for which he is paid too
much and for helping Hialmar set up the studio.
Many critics think that Gregers suffers from an Oedipus complex.
It is obvious that he is strongly attached to his mother, almost
worshipping her memory. As he talks to his father, more and more
of the family history is revealed; it is a literary device known as
"retrospective technique," where the present is understood through
the past. When Werle tries to deny having an affair with Gina,
Gregers claims that his mother told him about his father's
unfaithfulness; it is no wonder that the son feels his mother was ill
treated. Then he is infuriated when Werle dares to compare Mrs.
Sorby, the housekeeper whom he is to marry, with Gregers'
Hoping to overcome their hostilities, Werle offers Gregers a
partnership in his firm. He tells his son that he is losing his
eyesight and needs his help in the business. The poor eyesight is an
important point for two reasons. First, Werle is now blinded both
physically and emotionally; he has no understanding of the pain he
has caused his son or his wife. Secondly, Hedvig's eyes are also
weak, indicating she is probably Werle's daughter, as Hialmar later
Not surprisingly, Gregers openly turns down his father's offer. He
is certain that the reason that Werle is being so nice is that he
wants to pretend to the world, especially to Mrs. Sorby, that there
is no animosity between the two of them. Gregers bitterly laughs,
"We are to get up a pretense at family life!" Gregers wants no part
in it. He decides he will leave his father's house forever.
By the end of Act I, the audience (or the reader) has been
introduced to the key characters and conflict of the play. Werle and
Mrs. Sorby are clearly established as realists, while Gregers and
Hialmar are presented as incurable idealists. The act has also
developed an image of the stuffy, provincial society of Ibsen's
time. Finally, it sets the mood of the entire drama and foreshadows
the tragic ending that will occur.
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