Consul Werle holds a reception in honour of the homecoming of his son Gregers. At the
reception, Gregers meets his childhood friend, Hjalmar Ekdal, who is married to Gina, a former maid of the Werle family. Hjalmar is unaware that Werle had an affair with Gina and that their 14-year-old daughter Hedwig is not his child. Gregers moves in with the Ekdals with the intention of allowing unsuspecting Hjalmar and his family to share in the "happiness of truth". Hedwig is entirely devoted to a wild duck, which lives on a pond outside their house.
When Hjalmar learns the truth about his daughter, he wants to leave his family. Gregers advises Hedwig to kill the wild duck so that her father, impressed by this sacrifice, will return home. On the following day, Hedwig's birthday, she doesn't shoot the duck, but shoots herself instead.