Author: Henrik Ibsen
First published: Vildanden, 1884 (English translation, 1891)
Plot: Social realism
Time: Nineteenth century
Hjalmar Ekdal, a photographer. After his father's imprisonment for making and using a false map to fell timber on government land, his father's former partner, Werle, a businessman, set Hjalmar up as a photographer. He got Hjalmar a room in a house run by the mother of the Werles' former maid, Gina Hansen, who knows how to retouch photographs, and encouraged the two to marry. They have been married for some years when the play opens, and Hedvig, their fourteen-year-old daughter, is Hjalmar's chief joy. In addition to his photography, Hjalmar is working on an invention. Since old Ekdal's release from prison, he has lived with Hjalmar and his family. Hjalmar and old Ekdal have a strange attic filled with rabbits, doves, and a wild duck wounded by Werle and given to them. Hedvig claims it as a pet. Old Ekdal and his son, who “hunt” in the attic, shoot the rabbits and doves. They do not kill the duck because it is Hedvig's pet. Although Gina's bad grammar annoys Hjalmar, he is happy with her and with his life. Grateful for Werle's aid, he thinks that Werle helped him because he and Werle's son, Gregers, had been boyhood friends. When Gregers, who has been away for many years, returns and realizes that his father has tricked Hjalmar into marrying Gina and caring for Hedvig, who is probably Werle's child, he says that Hjalmar is a wild duck that has been wounded, but that he will cure him. The knowledge he gives Hjalmar wrecks his friend's happiness. Because Gina is not sure who the father of Hedvig is, he cannot bear to talk to the child. When Hedvig kills herself after her father rejects her, Hjalmar is horrified. Over the child's dead body, he and Gina are reconciled. Relling, a skeptical doctor who has known Hjalmar since college days, says that his grief is not very deep and that he will be spouting sentimental poetry about Hedvig in a few months.
Gregers Werle, a son of the merchant Werle, a thwarted idealist disillusioned by his father. He can never convince people that his ideas are valid. After he has enlightened Hjalmar, he expects happiness to follow the truth. He is baffled by Gina's and Hjalmar's reaction; Gina seems indifferent, and Hjalmar is crushed. When Hedvig shoots herself, Gregers feels that she did not die in vain because sorrow has ennobled Hjalmar.
Old Werle, a merchant and manufacturer. Acquitted of implication in the map fraud that sent Ekdal to jail, he continues to pay the Ekdal family, apparently from conscience. About to marry Mrs. Sorby, his present housekeeper, he sends Hedvig a note telling her that he will pay her grandfather a hundred crowns a month for life and that after his death Hedvig will continue to receive that amount for her lifetime. Hedvig has weak eyes, like Werle, and will become blind. Although Werle has put everyone in a situation of vulnerability, he tries to support them. His misguided son hastens their downfall.
Gina Ekdal, Hjalmar's wife. Gina says that she married Hjalmar because she loved him and that she deceived him about old Werle only because she was afraid he would not marry her if he knew of the affair. A good wife, she takes life calmly and apparently has no feeling of guilt for her past mis-behavior. After Hedvig's death, she is able to comfort Hjalmar. She is a primitive, uncomplicated, and nearly peasant woman.
Hedvig, the young daughter, a loving child with weak eyes. Always confused by the adult world, she is driven to desperation when her supposed father turns against her. After Gregers has convinced Hedvig that to sacrifice her wild duck to her father would win his approval, Hedvig takes his pistol and goes into the attic. There, she shoots herself. Because there are powder burns on her dress and her grandfather has just told her that the way to kill a duck is to shoot it in the breast, her death is clearly intentional.
Old Ekdal, Hjalmar's father, a picturesque character given to scurrying around at the wrong time, drinking in his room, and game hunting in the attic. Everyone seems to be fond of old Ekdal.
Mrs. Sorby, Werle's housekeeper, a protective, efficient woman. She evidently has a past, but she and Werle have told each other everything and look forward to a happy marriage.
Relling, a doctor with no illusions who lives in Hjalmar's house. He tells Gregers that Hjalmar's sorrow for Hedvig is temporary.
Molvik, a student of theology, Relling's drinking companion.