Ibsen’s Phenomenology of Kindness and its Failure in The Wild Duck

Daniel Johnston


Henrik Ibsen’s The Wild Duck (Vildanden) explores a complex landscape of relationships surrounding Hjalmar Ekdal and his old friend Gregers Werle. In an apparent act of kindness, Gregers’ father, Haakon, sets Hjalmar and his wife Gina up to run a photographic business. In the loft above the studio are various animals rescued by the Ekdal family and amongst them is the prized wild duck previously shot by Haakon—a symbol of senseless destruction and existential salvation. When Gregers uncovers a secret connecting the two families, he seeks to expose the truth through what he thinks is an act of kindness. Drawing on phenomenology in this article, I offer a thematic consideration of “deep kindness” (and its failure) in The Wild Duck to explore complex material and intersubjective connections between self and world extending beyond psychology. Phenomenology examines lived experience in the world and the way it presents itself to consciousness. On this account, the self is always relational to others—as revealed by Gabriel Marcel’s concept of “disponibilité” (availableness) and Edith Stein’s account of “empathy”. Ibsen sets out a phenomenology of kindness by allowing the phenomenon to show itself in its manner of appearing through material specificity in the text.


Ibsen, The Wild Duck, phenomenology, kindness, acting

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