Illusions and Realities in Ibsen’s Plays The Wild Duck and Ghosts
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 Ibsen’s art of realism, which was a staging of the complicated threads that hold ordinary lives together.
Within the ordinary lives of the families in Ghosts and The Wild Duck are tales of infidelity, corruption, greed, lust, disease, and other afflictions that characterize family secrets. For example, in Ghosts, the mother, Mrs. Alving, reveals the ways she has protected her son Oswald from the truths of her unhappy marriage. She tells her friend and priest, Manders, “…Yes, I was always swayed by duty and consideration for others; that was why I lied to my son, year in and year out. Oh, what a coward I have been” (315).
Manders responds, “You have built up a happy illusion in your son’s mind, Mrs. Alving – and that is a thing you certainly ought not...