Peer Gynt by Henrik Ibsen (1828 – 1906) Peer Gynt by Henrik Ibsen (1828 – 1906) Type of Work: Poetic drama Setting Norway, Morocco and Egypt; nineteenth century Principal Characters Peer Gynt, a non-heroic Norwegian farm boy Aase, his mother Solveighis faithful love The Troll King The Button Molder, a “judge” of humanity Story Overveiw “Peer, you’re lying!” cried Aase to her son – and he was lying. He had been weaving a fantastic tale of a ride he’d taken on a runaway reindeer when Aase realized that the story was one she had beard as a young woman. She berated Peer and wept. Aase had hoped that her son would win the heart of pretty Ingrid Hegstad, a local farm girt. However, Peer hadn’t shown much interest in Ingrid – until he discovered that her wedding was to take place that very evening; it was only then that he resolved to attend the marriage and talk the girl’s father into letting him take the place of the intended bridegroom.
When his mother protested, he seized her, placed her on the millhouse roof, and went merrily off, leaving her screaming. Rescued by neighbors, Aase, fearing trouble, followed after him. At the wedding, Peer was shunned by all except a young girt named Solveig, with whom he danced during the festivities. Her innocence attracted him. But sadly, as the celebration wore on, Peer, now quite drunk, kidnapped the bride, shamed her ‘ and then abandoned her.This brought down thewrath of the entire community on his head, but in characteristic fashion, Peer simply ran away into the forest. Meanwhile, Aase managed to convince Solveig and her family that her son was in grave danger, and Christian duty dictated that they look for him. During the search, Aase spoke about her son: The lout! Why the devil has to tease him ?/ .
. Oh, we’ve had to sick close in misery!/ Because, you know, my man – he drank! .. And we -well, we took fairy tales/ Of princes and trolls and strange animals/ Stolen brides too.
But who’d have thought/ Those internal stories would be in him yet? Hearing Aase’s longings for Peer, Solveig began to both pity and love the scamp. Peer continued to blunder and bluster about, spending one riotous night with three farm girls, and the next with the Troll King’s daughter. While visiting there, Peer was delighted to find that if he married the troll-girl he could obtain quite a dowry. But his prospective father-in-law warned that there was quite a difference between a troll and a man: Among men under the shinning sky/ They say. “Man to yourself be true!” while here, under our mountain roof/ We say: “Troll, to yourself be – enough!” Only when Peer found that if he stayed with the trolls he could “never die decently as a human” nor “go home the way the book says,” did he give up the idea of becoming one of them.
Indignantly, the King then turned the troll-children on him, and they would have killed him except, as he pleaded, “Help, Mother, I’ll die!” immediately church bells rang, the children fled shrieking, and the troll hall collapsed and vanished.After a frustrating encounter with The Great Boyg, an enigmatic troll monster, Peer fled into the high mountains and built a hut. It was winter when Solveig appeared, she having left her family to be with him. Peer was overjoyed. It seemed that now, with a princess at his side, his adventures might end as a genuine fairy tale. But after he hoisted his ax and started off to chop roots for a fire, Peer was accosted by an old woman and her “ugly brat” of a child.He soon discovered the woman to be the troll princess he had previously deserted – and the child was his own sonl At last Peer’s conscience roused itself enough to realize that his many sins were what stood between him and his love of faithful Solveig. “Be patient, my sweet .
. . you must wait,” Peer said to her as he entered the forest. “Yes, I’ll wait!” Solveig called back to him.Peer felt compelled to leave the country in order to avoid being punished for his crimes. Before departing, however, he stopped to say good-bye to his mother.
He found that the troubles he had caused his mother had broken the poor woman she was dying. The son tenderly tucked Aase into her bed, just as she had always done to him. After journeying far from home, Peer made his fortune in the American slave-trade and by selling idols in China.In Morocco, now middle-aged, he lost most of his money to other unscrupulous businessmen, and found himself wandering alone in a desert, where he stumbled on an emperor’s horse, clothing, jewels, and sword, all of which had been forsaken by frightened thieves. With these treasures, he pawned himself off as an Arab sheik-prophet and rounded up a company of dancing girls for his harem. One girl, the main dancer, Anitra, soon became his special protege. But she was not taken in by his charade and finally tricked him and galloped off with his mount and money alike. Recognizing that he had been duped by the clever girl, Peer was at first solemn and thoughtful; but soon he burst out laughing at his foolishness.
He had had his fun, he reasoned, but like a hen often does, he ended up “by getting plucked.” Still, he was glad he’d kept a little money set aside – some in his pocket, some in America.”In short, I’m on top of the situation,” he gloated. “Now what should I choose? .
. Choice marks the Master from the fool.” He elected to become a scholar of history and travel the world as “the man, Peer Gynt, / Known as the Emperor of Human Life.” Peer’s planless plan next took him to Egypt, where he vainly sought to unravel the riddle and meaning of his wasted life. In time, he ended up in an insane asylum, and one might have assumed he would die there; but with amazing resilience he reappeared, this time as an old, hardened man on board a ship off the coast of Norway.
The ship was caught in a storm and sank, but Peer surfaced, clinging to a small capsized boat.The ship’s cook also emerged from the dark water on the other side of the boat. Peer ordered him to let go; the craft simply couldn’t hold them both.
“Sparc me, please!” begged the cook. “Think of my children, what they’ll lose!” But Peer, true to his baser nature, responded, “I’m more in need of life than you;/ I haven’t had children up till now.” With that, he grabbed the cook by the hair, jerked him from the boat and thrust him out to sea. Peer managed to reach shore and make his way toward his boyhood village.There, he discovered that Ingrid, his kidnapped bride of long ago, had died. Hearing this, the old man finally decided to go home and settle down. At a crossroads along the way, Peer met a Button Molder, whose office it was to melt down the souls ready for death; and more particularly, those whose sins hadn’t been great enough to qualify them for Hell but who couldn’t go to Heaven either. Peer was on the Button Molder’s list.
The very thing Peer had prided himself on all his life – being himself was “just what you’ve never been,” the Button Molder contended.He then began his preparations to melt Peer down. Frantically, Peer concluded that he’d rather go to Hell than become a non-entity boiling in a vat, and pleaded for time to find witnesses to testify how wicked his life had been. He would show he was worthy of Hell.
But Peer found that none of his former foes would testify against him. And, at the next crossroads Peer again tried desperately to convince the Button Molder that his kidnapping, his slave-trading, his cheating and lying, his drowning of another to save his own life – these surely had qualified him for Hell! “Mere trifles!” declared the Button Molder, waviiig his ladle. At last Peer was sufficiently humbled to ask, “What is it ‘to be yourself,’ in truth?” The Button Molder seized Peer and condemned his actions.”Put your house in order!” he shouted. Peer managed to twist free and race from the woods. As he stepped out into a clearing, suddenly he spied his forme’r hut. There before him was Solveig, stepping out of the doorway, on her way to church.
Old Peer hobbled toward her in desperation, threw himself down at her feet, and called on her to save him by repeating his many sins to the Button Molder.But instead Solveig praised God for Peer’s return and told him he’d sinned in nothing. “So then I’m lost!” Peer cried. “Lost unless you can solve a riddle!” he said, again turning to his wife. “Where have I been myself, whole and true?/ Where have I been, with God’s mark on my brow?” Solveig answered without hesitating: “in my faith, in my hope, and in my love.” Stunned by her answer, Peer moaned.. My wife! You innocent woman! / O, hide me, hide me within!” He clung to her, his face in her lap; and a long, peaceful silence followed until the sun rose over them.
Then the Button Molder’s voice came again from behind the hut: “We’ll meet at the final crossroads, Peer;/ And then we’ll see I won’t say more.” Solveig sang softly as she cradled her sobbing husband: ..
The boy has lain so near to my heart/ His whole life’s day. Now he’s tired out. Sleep, my dear .. I’ll watch over thee! Commentary For those whose only acquaintance with Peer Gynt is Edvard Grieg’s hauntingly beautiful opera music, lbsen’s play may come as a shock, especially if one realizes it was written in 1867 and presented to a European audience steeped in Victorianism. The drama is a satire on Man.
Peer is one of modern drama’s first anti-heroes, and Ibsen never tires of bringing out yet another flaw in his character. Starting out as a highly imaginative, irresponsible youth, Peer degenerates into a self-seeking opportunist. However, it is through his conversations – in which he often misquotes proverbs or scripture to justify his actions – that his hypocrisy begins to appear as uncomfortably symbolic of modern man. The underlying questions of the play are religious questions: What is man expected to do with his life? What sort of choices is he free to make? Early on, Ibsen defines the two poles of choice: Either develop yourself as a true man or become a Troll. Even with this advice, Peer moves steadily away from humanity, and never does quite understand life’s riddle.
It is only near the end of the play, when Peer questions the Button Molder for the second time, that his riddle is answered: To be yourself is to slay yourself./ But on you, that answer’s sure to fail;/ So let’s say: To make your life evolve/ From the Master’s meaning to the last detail Peer Gynt’s action, flavor, atmosphere, and characters are lifted from Norwegian folklore to function as shadows and types for Isben’s satirical view of the human condition. The trolls typify all that is base and ugly in human nature, while Solveig represents a, allegorical human figure of faith and loyalty. Even Peer, acting the scoundrel or fool, is not devoid of a certain charm, in part due to his eternal optimism and his often manipulative yet authentic congeniality.Perhaps in mirroring both the good and bad of modern man, Peer mirrors what we may all recognize in ourselves.