Henrik Ibsen

Themes

In the plays Ghosts, An Enemy of the People, and Wild ducks by Henrik Ibsen there are many similar themes, which become evident to the reader. A theme, which is consistant though out these plays, is the opposing values of the Ideal and the Real. The views of the idealist versus the realists make for many duels between the two personalities.


The theme of idealism versus realism is also dealt with in the play The Wild Duck. Gregers Werle has avoided his father, whom he detests, by spending fifteen years in the family mining concern. Gregers is so unattractive in appearance that he has given up all hope of marrying and having a family. Instead he has become an idealist and goes about advocating and preaching a theme of truth and purity. He calls his mission the claim of the ideal. His father, Old Werle, has allegedly driven his sick wife to her death by carrying on love affairs in his own home. Once he had his serving girl, Gina, as his mistress. Arranging her marriage with Hialmar Ekdal, the son of his former partner, Werle also sets the couple up in the profession of photography. Hialmar is pleased with his marriage and believes that Ginas child is his own daughter. Lieutenant Ekdal, Werles former partner, is now a broken old man. He does odd jobs for Werle. He is now living with Hialmar and Gina. Gregers Werle comes to Hialmar and explains the claim of the ideal and tries to make Hialmar see that his marriage is based on a lie. But rather than making Hialmar happy by understanding the true nature of his marriage, Gregers only succeeds in turning Halmar against his daughter, Hedvig. The daughter, in order to prove her love for her father who is rejecting her, takes a pistol and kills herself.

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The Wild Duck is a play in which reality versus idealism becomes a structural feature. Each scene illustrates this dualism. First Gregers confronts his father, a realist, and accuses him of a life built on lies and deception. The conflict between Gregers and his father reveals a lot about the two. It shows that Gregers is obsessed with the truth and in changing the wrongs of the past. This is shown when he attacks his fathers ability to allow Ekdal to be found solely guilty for crimes in which both men were involved. He also attacks his father for his ulterior motives in having Hialmar and Gina married, for the death of his wife, and for his intended marriage to Mrs. Sorby. On the other hand, Old Werle defends himself by pointing out the good things that he has done for the family and he constantly keeps his ideas about his life realistic.
In the following scene, Gregers confronts Hialmar and begins to rescue his friend from a life of self-indelusion. Here is where Ibsen introduces the wild duck to the play. In the first place the wild duck represents the world of fantasy through which Hialmar and his father compensate for the drabness and mediocrity of their lives. The wild duck is the final touch, which brings their hunting ground in the garret to a state of perfection. Gregers, however, has a different interpretation of the wild duck myth. He believes that the bird symbolizes the entire Ekdal family who will drown in the ooze of fantasy and self-delusion. He feels that it is his mission to rescue the Ekdals from these dangerous depths, just as his fathers dog retrieved the duck from the suffocating seaweed.
In the play, Act III represents the antagonism between the realist Relling and young Werle, while Act IV exposes the paradox between Gregers principles and the impossibility of realizing them. Dr. Relling, the realist, first explains his friend Molviks drunkenness as part of him being a demoniac. He also talks down on Gregers idealism and wonders if he is still as idealistic as he once was. When Gregers and Relling confront each other you see there conflicting views on the Hialmar household. Relling comments on the happy family, but gregers calls it a poisonous atmosphere. Both men feel responsible for the lives of others, but Rellings mission is contrary to that of Gregers. Ibsen shows that the realist is the one who encourages self-deception as a technique of facing lifes disappointments while the idealist encourages truthfulness as a way to self-fulfillment.
The final act begins with a discussion between Relling and Gregers. Rellings happens to be the dominant force in this one. He explains his methods, telling the reader that all the world is sick, and the usual treatment is trying to keep up the make-believe of life in him. This gives the reader an insight to Rellings realistic character in that he believes that most people need some sort of self-delusion in order to be happy. In the final scene, the duality becomes rationalized with Hedvigs suicide indicating the failure of applying pure principles to inappropriate situations. Despite the sadness of the event Gregers believes that it has cured Hialmar, for he announces how much he loved her and seemed to see the truth. Relling, however, argues that this will pass in a few months, and a delusion will be created for Hialmar once again. The play ends with Gregers deciding to go off and continue the rest of his life as the thirteenth table. At the conclusion of this play it is unclear which side Ibsen wishes the reader to take. Gregers possesses righteous ideals of the truth, while Relling encourages a fantasy world. Under Rellings guidance Hialmar is happy but he quickly falls into a depression when Gregers shows him the truth about his life. Yet after Hedvigs sacrifice both men offer arguments, which further illustrate their views.
An Enemy of the People is a play about a doctor who discovered that the town he lives in, has become a cesspool. After discovering the towns beloved bath, which is supposedly helps people get better and is the main reason the town has visitors from across the county come visit it, has become polluted with bacteria that is caused from the water pipes underground. This resulted in visitors going away from the town with Typhoid and other sicknesses. Dr. Stockmann, which is the discoverer of the pollution, tries to tell the townspeople that they need to fix the water pipes and bath. He faced a large amount of resistance from his brother the mayor, Hovstad the newspaper editor, and many of the townspeople. This resulted in Dr. Stockmann lashing out at the whole town for its ignorance. He complains that the town is built on lies. This causes Dr. Stockmann to become an enemy of the people and to be out cast from the town that he loves. To present the problem in this play Ibsen creates an idealist in the person of Dr.Stockman and has him opposed by his own brother who is the man of extreme practicality. In other words, Dr. Stockmann represents private and public morality while his brother, the Burgomaster, represents the practical aspect of life.


The theme of the play comes up in the second act when Dr. Stockmann finds out that the baths are unsanitary. He cant wait to announce it to the people because he wants to be a public hero. When Burgomaster appears, Dr. Stockman is shocked to find out that his proposal will cost so much money and will take so long to be put into effect. The Burgomaster then is seen as a practical man who believes that the men in authority should decide everything. His view is that the individual freedom should be subjected to the demands of the authorities.
In Act III of the play, the Burgomaster is attempting to save the town, but in doing so, he is also trying to preserve his image as the towns foremost citizen. If Stockmanns report is made public, it will destroy both the town and the Burgomasters reputation because he was responsible for the construction of the waterpipes, which would cause all the trouble. Thus for the benefit of the town and for his own personal integrity, he refuses to believe the truth of Dr. Stockmanns report and hints that the doctor has always been wild in his ideas. Dr. Stockmann is now seen as the impractical idealist. In striving to achieve the ideal or the perfectly moral solution, he ignores all practical advice and opposes everyone who stands in his way. He is ready to carry his idealism to absurd degrees.
The final act of the play is a test of Dr. Stockmanns idealism. This act confronts Dr. Stockmann with great personal losses if he continues to assert his views. Before he faces his test, he first learns that his views haves caused Captain Horster to lose his ship and Petra to lose her position in the school. Furthermore he has faced his own dismissal from the baths. Thus when Old Morton Kiil comes to him asking him to retract his charges or else all of his inheritance will go to charity, Dr. Stockmann is about ready to yield to the public opinion. He is prevented by the appearance by Hovstad and Aslaksen. When Dr. Stockmann sees that he can gain the admiration of his fellow townsmen by admitting that he engineered the entire plan so as to gain control of the stock of the baths, this accusation is worse than the rejection of the people. He therefore decides to stand by his idealistic views. Finally, we realize that Dr. Stockmanns idealism is not consistent. In Act IV he denied that the common curs could be of any value to society. But in Act V, he says he is going to take the common street-curs and educate them into leading men of society who will then drive out all the bureaucrats. His saving factor, however, is his strong belief in that which is right.


The play Ghosts is another play by Ibsen which illustrates the theme of idealism versus realism. The story of the play is that of a young man, Oswald, who returns home from the bohemian life of an artist because he is suffering from a mysterious illness. He has been brought up abroad, and has always believed, as the world in general has believed, that his father was a pillar of the community. He was sent away at a young age by his mother, to prevent him from becoming morally contaminated by his father, Captain Alving, who subsequently died of syphilis. When he returned home he decided to stay and marry the maid, Regine. But he is unaware that Regine is his half-sister, fathered by the profligate Captain Alving. His mother is extremely alarmed when she realises what is happening. She is the only one who really knows what her dead husband was like, and she knows that he was in fact the father of the serving girl. To make up for the past and to prove her love, Oswald asks his mother to give him a fatal dose of morphine when signs of dementia appear. At the end of the play it is not clear what she will do.

The first Act of the play Ghosts had many functions. It introduces the characters, illustrates the central problem of the play, and gives the reader the essential story line. Through this Ibsen carefully forewarns his audience of the themes he will develop in later acts. The protagonist, Mrs. Alving is shown to have somewhat of a dual personality. Although she reads controversial literature she continues to conform to the wishes of the church and community. She also speaks about her husband and his reckless life and how she hid the truth from her son, Oswald. Despite her husbands acts she wishes to hide these truths by creating an orphanage in his name.

Manders, is one of the characters who can be considered somewhat of a idealist. His ideals are not so righteous as those of Dr. Stockmann or Gregers Werle, however. Unlike the previous two plays this play has the most concrete message in that it definitely shows that Manders idealism is wrong and can no truly be realized. Manders idealism results in the destruction of the four major characters in this play.
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