There are many similarities between Henry Ibsen and August Strindberg that can be shown in their works. The two plays I want to focus on are between Strindberg’s The Father and Ibsen’s The Wild Duck. Both of these plays have the restless search for the “truth” in both works. Both male characters (The Captain and Hialmar) relentlessly seek out what they strangely do not want to hear. What I mean by this is that they want to hear exactly what they do not want and won’t give up until ultimately something gives. Each one yearns and desires to be hurt, and it reflects on both Ibsen and Strindberg and their belief of the fragility of the human (mainly male) conscious and spirit. Perhaps both Strindberg and Ibsen believe that men cannot be satisfied within a society.
The Father is a psychological breakdown of our beloved main character “The Captain”. We are introduced to him as a militant man who seems very strong and sure of himself as well as his family in Act 1. This strong character in the Captain is slowly broken down with only a few words spoken by his wife, Laura. In an argument that happens between the Captain and Laura about the ownership of their daughter and if they are to have her stay at home or go live in the city, leads Laura to plant a seed that ultimately leads to the demise and fall of our main character. In the quarrel between the two, the Captain says, “As the law stands, children should be brought up in their father’s faith.” (Strindberg 10). The Captain here is claiming ownership of his own daughter because he in fact believes that she is his. Disagreeing with him Laura speaks the words, “Suppose the wife has been unfaithful?” (Strindberg 11). She is of course speaking about Nojd at the moment but these words in fact gets into the psyche of the Captain and strategically puts Laura in a higher position than him.
As Laura plugs this thought into the Captain’s conscious, she also places the thought into the minds of other characters such as the Doctor. She tells the Doctor that her husband is not well. She says to him, “Oh, he talked quite wildly and had the most bizarre ideas. Can you believe it – he got it into his head that he wasn’t his own child’s father.” (Strindberg 26). Laura plays it as though she has no idea how the Captain would have gotten that idea, but it was in fact she that lead him to believe it.
As the play goes on we find Laura – in a sense – teasing the Captain about the “truth” of whether or not he is in fact Bertha’s father. In act two we find the Captain at his most vulnerable stage of the play. The Captain and Laura are in the midst of an argument again about their daughter. The Captain demands to know who the real father is and Laura responds, “What can I do? I’ll swear in the name of God and everything I hold holy that you are Bertha’s father.” (Strindberg 36). Then the Captain replies, “What good is that when you’ve already said a mother can and should commit any crime for her child’s sake?” (Strindberg 36). The Captain wants to hear that he is in fact not the father because of what Laura had said to him in act one. He is yearning to hear the bad news that he believes is true and wants to hear that his marriage is a sham and that Bertha does not belong to him. Does he desire to be miserable in a sense? This torment leads to his “end” as the Captain has a stroke and he is mentally changed forever.
In Ibsen’s The Wild Duck the same theme occurs for our main character Hialmar. The truth comes about that perhaps his daughter, Hedvig, does not belong to him. He learns this through his friend Gregers who confesses that Hialmar’s wife, Gina, may have had relations with his own father. This search for the truth leads Hialmar through a question of self and misery. He is torn as if to leave Gina and Hedvig or to stay with them. Gina cannot recall who the father is of Hedvig and the search for this truth and the want to know tares the family apart. Hedvig, who is neglected by Hialmar, wants to prove herself and her love to Hialmar so she decides to take the life of the actual wild duck in the play which in fact ultimately leads to her own death (shoots herself in the process). Every character in this play has been affected somehow but given a second chance. Like the wild duck itself, nothing in this play can ever be whole again.
Now how can we reflect on these two plays in regards to Ibsen and Strindberg’s own psyche? Both male characters in both of these plays are faced with a predicament. They find or believe they have found uncertain truths to their lives but this truth leads to a tragic ending. I believe that both writers feel that men are in fact the weaker of the two sexes and also that women have this undeniable control over men. Both writers have this sense of belief that sex and being able to claim “property” or call something his own is how the male psyche operates. All it takes is a few questionable words for the “breadwinner” to come tumbling down.
What’s interesting about these two plays is that the women all have the final say in the end. Laura is in control of the Captain since the very beginning and it takes Hedvig’s own death for Hialmar to finally know that he loved his daughter. To me personally it seems as though Ibsen and Strindberg were miserable people. These searches for happiness in their characters they write are hopeless. When these characters cannot learn truth they are miserable and when they find truth it is something too much to bear.
Personal lives are reflected in a writer’s work somehow or another. Ibsen and Strindberg shared the thought that no matter what a man will be unhappy if he is searching for a type of truth. A man’s happiness is ultimately dependent on the women in their lives. I believe that both these writers shared the idea that the fate of a man’s life was controlled by nothing else than women and men’s own assurance of sex and calling a child his own.