Peer Gynt, the title character, is a man in search of himself. His problem is that he misunderstands “self-realization” and seeks fulfillment in his poetic dreams because he fears life and love. In order to show the full range of his negative development, Ibsen shows Peer first as a feckless young man of twenty, then as a middle-aged tycoon, and finally as a broken old man returning to his native Norway.
As a youth, Peer lives fictional adventures so vividly in his imagination that they almost become his own life experiences. He dreams of being an emperor but is never ready when opportunity knocks. While he has been playing hooky in the uplands, Ingrid of Hegstad, an heiress whom he might have married, has been betrothed to another young man. Looking for trouble, Peer sets off for Hegstad to engage in belated courtship. Among the wedding guests is Solveig, a pure young woman whom Peer instantly loves. When Solveig refuses to dance with him, he gets drunk and steals the bride. Abducting Ingrid makes Peer an outlaw. Though Ingrid is quite willing to marry Peer, he sends her back to her father because he loves Solveig. In what may be a dream sequence, he encounters a woman in green, the daughter of the Troll King, who takes him to her father’s kingdom, where everything is reversed: Black seems white and foul looks pure. Peer is a candidate for the hand of this troll princess, a negative counterpart of Solveig, but in order to win her father’s full approval he must wear a tail and accept selfishness as a way of life. Peer is quite willing to accept these conditions, until he learns that in doing so he can never return to humanity.
After his narrow escape from the trolls, Peer’s path is blocked by a languid monster called the Boyg, who tells him to “go roundabout.” The Boyg seems to be a...
(The entire section is 746 words.)