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Comparison of “The Wild Duck” and “The Death of a Salesman”

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If not all, the majority of the characters in Henrick Ibsen’s The Wild Duck and Arthur Miller’s The Death of a Salesman is presented to be morally blind and thus they are unable to recognize the flaws in their own characters, nor they could identify what the truth really is. It seems that Ibsen’s play asks the general question concerning human existence. Similarly, Miller’s play deals with this same universal issue and pays much attention to the idea about life without lies and illusions. The question of the truth and ideals, therefore, is a topic that is considered both by Ibsen and Miller. Throughout the courses of the plays, we, as the audience or the reader, not only witness the characters’ inner conflict, but also how they are defeated by the moral standards and values of the societies they live in.

In The Wild Duck, Gregers believes that he is a man with a mission, that is, to pass his idealistic perspective of human perfection on others. His idea of integrity is unfortunately false and he cannot comprehend the fact that his seemingly good intentions may bring destruction to others. He genuinely believes that his conception of the truth will bring good to the Ekdals. He says to Hjalmar “you’ve landed in a poisonous swamp, Hjalmar. You’ve got an insidious disease in you, and you’ve dived to the bottom to die in the dark”(94). So, Gregers sees himself as a savior, but what he doesn’t see is that Hjalmar is not strong enough to handle the truth. Although different in nature, Willy Loman, in The Death of a Salesman, has got a mission to accomplish too, just like Gregers. That is to achieve success which is defined in terms of money and fame. He constantly encourages his sons to believe that being “well-liked” is the one and only way to be successful in life: “Be liked and you will never want” (507). This seems to be his philosophy of life and it is exactly what brings his destruction. In contrast to Gregers, Willy seems to be aware of the fact that something is not quite right, but he never really understands what is wrong. He desperately tries to impose his own ideas to his older son, Biff, but he is unable to recognize that Biff, like himself, does not fit in the society. Ironically, Biff gets to see that they, as a family, have deceived themselves all their lives.

Realism, as a genre, renders reality closely with an emphasis on verisimilitude or lifelikeness, and objectivity becomes important. W.B. Worthen, in his “Modern Drama and The Rhetoric of Theater”, states that “the aim of realism is to produce an audience to legitimate its private acts of interpretation as objective”(127). The idea is that the audience views the stage from an objective standpoint, that is, “from a position of unstaged freedom”(126). However, it is hardly true that viewing is objective. It seems that Ibsen questions Realism’s claim to truth or objectivity in The Wild Duck. According to him, looking or viewing is never objective and thus, his play appears to be sceptical of the claim to truth. Similarly, Miller pays attention to the ways of looking and whether or not his characters are able to identify the truth or to recognize the lies that they have been telling themselves for so long. It is fair to say that mental blindness comes into question at this point since the perceptions of the characters in both plays often seem to be very limited. Moreover, it seems that each character is lost in their own delusional world. Taking all these into consideration, in this paper, I will argue how the characters are unable to see the reality and how the truth in both plays is unraveled in the eyes of the characters. I will also discuss the contribution of the audience, who looks at the stage from both objective and subjective point of view.

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Comparison of “The Wild Duck” and “The Death of a Salesman”. (2022, Apr 18). Retrieved from

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