Themes

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 852

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Absurdity
Because Peer Gynt was conceived of as poetical fantasy, Ibsen had little concern with creating reality. Many of the things that Peer does are unrealistic and absurd, beginning with Act I when the play opens to Peer's inventive and clearly exaggerated story of hunting, a story his mother believes. Another example occurs within a few lines when Peer picks up his mother and sets her atop the roof of her house. Still another sequence that is absurd is Peer's meeting with the trolls in the forest. Peer is willing to become one of the trolls, even wearing a tail and consuming the troll's natural food. Ibsen uses these absurd situations and characters to poke fun at society. The playwright makes clear that the situations Peer is placed in are as absurd as some of the elements within the society where Ibsen lives.

Love
Although Peer kidnaps Ingrid on her wedding day, it is clear that love is not the reason. In fact, Peer is too selfish to really be motivated by love of anything. In his selfishness, Peer wants Ingrid for the dowry she would bring, a dowry that would enable him to escape having to work. However, there is love in this play, and that is the love that motivates Solveig. She sacrifices her family, friends, and home to live with Peer, isolated and ostracized in the forest. And although she can only share his life briefly, Solveig waits patiently for him to return. Peer never tells her when he might return, and in fact, he is gone for many years. But still, Solveig waits, alone in the hut, and when Peer finally returns an old man, she quickly greets him with love and thanks him for having made her life fuller and happier. Solveig offers an example of enduring, committed love for someone who spends much of his life trying to escape any commitment.

Return to Nature
The trolls espousing organic nature mirrors a trend in the 19th century, a back to nature movement and a more natural life that Ibsen was satirizing. The trolls embrace a' 'simple, homey lifestyle'' of natural foods. The food may taste terrible, but the fact that it is ‘‘local produce’’ is more important than taste. The clothing can only be local, nothing imported, which the troll refers to as ‘‘Christian clothes.’’ Peer's beliefs are ok, because the trolls care only for outward appearance; if he agrees with the trolls on style, Peer may believe whatever he wants, even if it gives the trolls,' 'the creeps.’’ Ibsen creates a world where what is natural, regardless of taste or appearance, is more important than ideas or intellect.

Punishment and Revenge
Peer's kidnapping of the bride, Ingrid, results in condemnation and punishment. Much of this is simply revenge, directed toward someone whose bragging and outlandish behavior has flaunted accepted societal rules. The punishment, though, is also shared by Peer's mother, Ase, who loses everything to pay fines leveled toward the only member of Peer's family who is available for punishment, his mother. Ase loses her farm, inheritance, furnishings, everything she owns. She becomes subject to the charity of the town, when she is given a house to live in until her death. Peer can remain free only as long as he remains isolated in the forest. If he should leave the safety of the forest, Peer becomes vulnerable to capture. This means that Solveig, if she wants to share his life, will also have to share Peer's punishment.

Morality
Peer is constantly challenged to explain his moral identity. He quotes William Shakespeare's Hamlet, ‘‘To thine own self be true,’’ but he lives his life by the troll motto,' 'Be true to yourselfish.'' When he is an old man, Peer finally recognizes that while he has often quoted the former lines, he has lived the troll's lines. Peer has been selfish and selfcentered, thinking only of his own desires and needs. When he is confronted with Solveig's steadfastness and loyalty, he finally recognizes his own moral failure. Humanity, that trait that the trolls wished to eliminate from Peer, is largely defined by man's morality. Without morality, Peer loses much of his humanity and nearly succumbs to the Button Moulder's advances. Only the selflessness of Solveig's love could transform the troll's maxim for life into the adage that Peer needed to embrace for his moral survival—‘‘To thine own self be true.’’

Religion
Religion is represented by the allegorical figures of the Great Boyg and the Button Moulder. Both of these figures represent the future that Peer must face as he cannot find a moral compass by which to live his life. The Great Boyg represents the riddle of existence, which must be confronted and answered to live life as a moral human being. The Button Moulder represents Peer's fate when it appears that his life has been without meaning. When Peer lives his life by taking and never giving, he becomes vulnerable to the fate that the Button Moulder offers, a life of nothingness. It is a death worse than an eternity in hell.

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