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Old Wednesday, June 06, 2007
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Default The Wild Duck: Symbols of Lights and Colours

In “The Wild Duck”, Henrik Ibsen begins his play by emphasizing the value of color and light. He uses the theme of light to contrast Old Werle, a stingy rich man, with Old Ekdal, a poor helpless man. Ibsen connects the color green with the loss of eyesight of Old Werle. A possible affair between Old Werle and Gina, Hedvig's mother, may suggest the cause of Hedvig's loss of sight. By using sun and moon, Ibsen establishes the atmosphere of the scene. The story line deteriorates from peaceful to tragic. In the novel, Ibsen employs the image of light to portray certain characteristics in order to construct the plot and to adjust the mood of the scene.

F.L. Lucas analyzes the opening arrangement and writes:

"In the outer room the lamps are dimmed, with green shades, in contrast to the brilliance of the room behind."

We understand that this meant that the outer room, lit with soft and shaded light, implies poverty, where as the inner room, illuminated with bright candles, expresses wealth. The darkened room, insinuating poverty, is the office in which the poor Old Ekdal 'does some extra copying,' and in return receives a small income. The inside room, representing wealth, is Old Werle's dining room where he was hosting a party. The distinctions of these two lit rooms contrast Old Ekdal and Old Werle.

"In contrast to Werle's party, the lighting is of comparative poverty 'on the table a lighted lamp'"(190), explains critic, F.L. Lucas. Unlike Old Werle's expensive and exquisite illumination, a small inexpensive lamp lights the Ekdals home, displaying poverty. This dissimilarity shows another significant distinction between Old Werle and Old Ekdal.

The distinctions of the light between Old Ekdal’s and Old Werle’s homes are illustrated in the following incident. It is brought to the reader's attention that in the following quotation Old Werle and Old Ekdal were partners in crime. "[Old Werle] escaped by the skin of his teeth,” while they sentenced Old Ekdal to prison. This incident resulted in extreme hatred toward Old Werle for his poor aid to Old Ekdal. Being that Werle had a vast amount of money, Old Ekdal, Hjalmar, and Werle's son, Gregers felt tremendous feelings of animosity. Gregers recognized the miserable support his father has given to the Ekdals. As a result Gregers moves in with the Ekdals and attempts to enrich the marriage of Gina and Hjalmar, due to the fact that his parents didn't get along. Gregers takes the approach of truth to improve the marriage, which is another major theme of the Wild duck. “A time to keep silence, and a time to speak,” was wisely stated by Ecclesiastes. Unfortunately, here it was 'a time to keep silence' and Gregers did not.

F.L. Lucas examines the color green. "Why green shades? Because Old Werle is beginning to lose his sight. And that eye trouble links him significantly, by hereditary with little Hedvig, likewise threatened by blindness"(190). He also explains that green is known to be the most helpful colored shade to prevent blindness. This lighting early in the Wild Duck hints that '[Old Werle] is going blind' which relates him to Hedvig, where 'there is every probability that she will lose her eyesight.' "Further, green is the color of romantic unreality-the world of the Wild Duck caught in the seaweed below the waters of the fjord"(190), adds Lucas. The color green, a symbol of fantasy, is comparable to the world of the wild duck, which the characters use to "diverge themselves" from reality. The shade green is a link of two plots of the Wild Duck. One understanding of the color green hints to the loss of sight which suggests an affair between Old Werle and Hedvig's mother, Gina. Another explanation of the green display is to correlate fantasy with the wild duck. The latter understanding involves Old Ekdal who is an angry man living in the past on the hunting grounds of the duck. The first explanation of green results in Hedvig committing suicide because of her anger. Hjalmar finding out that Hedvig is not his daughter disregards Hedvig; this provokes her suicide. Green, symbolizing anger, hints two separate plots which end in fury.

In the last four acts Ibsen uses natural light to set the mood of the play. In each scene the light conditions decrease, as does the plot. In the first of these four acts, the gorgeous moon illuminates the stage and in the following scene the sun rises and reality of the affair nears. However, in the fourth act of the Wild Duck the sun declines as does the story line. The last scene of the play describes a cold snowy day, in which the suicide of Hedvig occurs.

Lucas depicts act two as follows: "The wild duck's garret is opened 'clear moonbeams shine in on some parts of the great room': Note great not poky. This happy hunting ground of illusion is vast and shadowy; and lit by the beguiling magic of moonshine. (191)" The majestic glow of the moon illuminates this setting. Though the room is small, in terms of space, he refers to it as 'great' because of the fantasy and illusion of the attic. The moon which symbolizes illusion lights the attic where the wild duck helps fulfill the escape to fantasy. Old Ekdal's hunting ground fantasy is also satisfied by the illuminating illusion of the moon. Not only are the settings of this scene significant, so are the contents of this act. He introduces the wild duck in this scene and so is the story of the 'clever dog' that 'went down and got the duck up' from 'the grasses and roots and weeds.' This is an example of how Henrik Ibsen sets the mood of the scene and expresses primary themes through the display of light.

“‘The daylight falls through the large windows in the slanting roof.' Cold reality approaches." (191) Lucas' explanation of this quotation is simply that 'cold reality' occurs during the daytime. The moon and sun differ, in that at night dreams are dreamed and at daytime they are reality. This contrasts the previous scene from the present scene, by means of setting and contents. During this scene Gregers tells his father that he has his father to 'thank for the fact that [he is] being haunted and driven by a guilty conscience.' Immediately after this scene, Gregers alerts Hjalmar of the affair between Old Werle and Gina. These examples of 'cold reality' also show Ibsen’s consistency of parallel scenery and content.

"Afternoon light; the sun is going down; a little later the scene begins to grow dark"(192), delineates Lucas. The sun, established to represent reality, was setting, but the moon, symbolizing fantasy, illusion, and dreams, was not yet shining; rather there was no source of light, the setting was dim and shaded, as the mood of the play deteriorated. Gina admitted her affair with Old Werle and explained that '[Old Werle] didn't give up till he had his way.' As the setting darkens, the plot follows, exhibiting Ibsen's flow of decline throughout the play.

The last scene of the play is a 'cold gray morning light. Wet snow lies on the big panes of the skylight.' The sunshine is grey rather than yellow, foreshadowing tragedy. The snow and cold weather add to the day's gloom. This ugly illustrated setting is parallel to the grotesque suicide of Hedvig. The fact that this day was Hedvig's birthday may suggest that she was the perfect person, living an exact number of years. Why did she die at such a young age then? It was the fate of her father, Hjalmar, being 'the thirteenth man at the table' at Old Werle’s party.

Ibsen carefully uses the color green; to enable two plots to form. One implication of the color green is the affair between Old Werle and Gina, through eye trouble. The second is the sad life of Old Ekdal living in his past. In the last four acts Ibsen makes the setting correspond to the contents, the moon with happiness and daylight parallel to reality. The lack of light is analogous to darkness in the scene. Finally, grey sunlight, along with coldness and snow, correspond to Hedvig's death. In the Wild Duck, Henrik Ibsen applies the image of light to express certain attributes in order to assemble the story and to alter the mood of the play.
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