Summary and Analysis
It is late the next morning. Gina describes to her husband the havoc Gregers caused in his room. When he tried to put out the fire in the stove, he poured water on it, flooding the whole floor. She leaves him alone to work on retouching photographs. Ekdal's task is constantly interrupted by his father who discusses needed improvements in the garret. Such jobs as moving the watering trough and cutting a path to the duck's basket interest Hialmar, and he is tempted to leave his work. Seeing his divided attention, Hedvig offers to do the retouching for him, even though it might strain her eyes. Hialmar is overcome by the temptation, and he hands her the brush and proofs and joins his father in the attic.
Gregers enters and asks the child many questions. Hedvig informs him that her eyes are now too weak for her to attend school and Hialmar has promised to read with her at home, although he has never had time yet. Gregers also makes Gina uncomfortable by his searching questions. She is forced to admit that she carries on most of the business for her husband; besides having learned to retouch, she also takes the photographs. "You can't expect a man like Ekdal to do nothing but take pictures of Dick, Tom, and Harry," she says. "He's not like one of your common photographers." They hear a shot fired in the garret, and Hialmar emerges, embarrassed when Gregers remarks that "you have become a sportsman, too." Ekdal snappishly replies that he does "a little rabbit shooting now and then, mostly to please father, you understand."
Hialmar asks his wife to prepare lunch. Besides Gregers, he has invited Molvik and Relling, the clergyman and physician who live downstairs, to eat with them. Turning to Gregers, Hialmar now divulges why he leaves the "everyday business details" to Gina: He must "give his mind" to more important things — an invention that will "so exalt" photography that it will become both "an art and a science." It is not for his own sake, he continues, that he pursues this sacred mission. Through his invention he will restore his father's reputation by "restoring the name of Ekdal to honor and dignity." He can give no details about the nature of his invention as yet, but he spends time thinking about it — such work cannot be rushed nor can one be goaded to it, he says. "I almost think you have something of the wild duck in you," Gregers tells him. You have strayed into a "poisonous marsh" and now that "insidious disease has taken hold of you, you have sunk down to die in the dark."
Relling and Molvik arrive just as lunch is ready. The physician remembers Gregers from the Höidal works. "He went around to all the cottars' cabins presenting something he called "the claim of the ideal,'" Relling tells the company. He wonders whether Gregers has become less idealistic over the years. "Never when I have a true man to deal with," young Werle answers fervently. Changing the subject, Relling cheerfully announces that Molvik was disgustingly drunk the night before. He is demonic, you know, the doctor explains, "and demonic natures are not made to walk straight through the world; they must meander a little now and then."
As they dine, Hialmar makes a maudlin little speech about his devotion to Hedvig and tells Gina she is a "good helpmate on the path of life." Relling turns to Gregers remarking how pleasant to sit at a "well-spread table in a happy family circle." For my part, answers Werle, "I don't thrive in marsh vapors," and Gina is insulted for she gives the house a good airing every day. "No airing you can give will drive out the taint I mean," says Gregers and he leaves the table.
At a sudden knock at the door, old Mr. Werle enters, asking to speak with his son. After everyone discreetly departs, Werle informs Gregers that, with his marriage, his son's share of the property falls to him. Gregers refuses to accept the money; he wants for nothing, he says, and has only his "mission" to fulfill. He wants to cut all ties with his father.
After Werle leaves, Gregers asks Hialmar to join him for a long walk. Dr. Relling bitterly sees them go. "It's a thousand pities the fellow didn't go to hell through one of the Höidal mines," he says aloud. Gina remarks that Werle must be mad; his only disease, says Relling, is an "acute attack of integrity."
The significant feature of this act is that it establishes the points of opposition between Relling and Gregers. Both men feel responsible for the lives of others, but the physician's "mission" is contrary to that of Gregers. Ibsen shows that the realist is the one who encourages self-deception as a technique of facing life's disappointments (Relling provides Hialmar with an approving audience for Ekdal's empty pronouncements) while the idealist encourages truthfulness as a way to self-fulfillment.