Gregers Werle, the son of a rich industrialist and a sensitive, high-minded mother, early in life develops a loathing for the unscrupulous means his father uses to amass his fortune. After his mother’s death, young Gregers leaves his father’s house for a time, but he eventually returns. His father, hoping to persuade his son to accept a partnership in the business, gives a large dinner party to which Gregers invites a thirteenth guest, his old school friend, Hjalmar Ekdal. This act displeases his father very much because Hjalmar does not belong in the Werles’ social set and because he is the son of a former business partner old Werle wronged. The older Ekdal now holds a menial position in Werle’s employ, to which he was reduced after a term in prison broke his mind and spirit.
Gregers is aware that his father’s machinations sent Ekdal to prison after a scandal in which both were involved, and he hated his father for this injury to his friend’s father. He discovers also that the older Werle arranged a marriage between Hjalmar and Gina Hansen, a former maid in the Werle household and, Gregers suspected, his father’s mistress. Gregers is therefore displeased both at his father’s offer of a partnership and at his father’s forthcoming marriage to Mrs. Sorby, his housekeeper. Gregers announces that his future mission in life is to open Hjalmar’s eyes to the lie he has been living for the past fifteen years.
The Ekdal home is shabby. Werle set Hjalmar up as a photographer after marrying him to Gina, but it is really Gina who runs the business while her husband works on an invention he hopes will enable his aged father to recoup some of his fortune. Old Ekdal himself, now practically out of his mind, spends most of his time in a garret where he keeps a curious assortment of animals. Ekdal believes that the garret is a forest like the one in which he hunted as a young man. He occasionally shoots a rabbit up there, and on holidays and special occasions he appears before the family dressed in his old military uniform.
Although based almost entirely on self-deception and illusion, the Ekdal home is a happy one....
(The entire section is 882 words.)