For decades 'an ice-cold metal hand' of ambition has gripped by the heart the Napoleonic John Gabriel Borkman: 'the metal sings'. To this ambition, he sacrifices his love for Ella Rentheim and his marriage to her twin Gunhild - changing 'us two into shadows' - as well as his relationship to his son Erhart, and his own future happiness. All are held hostage to Borkmann's obsession: 'my vast, my infinite, inexhaustible kingdom'. Erhart is the first to escape to freedom leaving behind 'a dead man and two shadows'. Erhart takes along Frida, whose father, Foldal, also clings to an obsession relating to poetry and a failed tragedy, written long ago.
Having 'come out into the open air again' after 16 years in ‘prison’, Borkmann tells Ella, 'I will try if I cannot make my way to freedom, and life, and human beings again'. As he had said to Frida, ‘That you must not join in the dance, that is the hardest thing of all’. This freedom he fleetingly achieves when the 'hand of ice that clutched at my heart' - that which had long sustained him - finally lets him go.
Enduring life and a measure of freedom does follow when the twin sisters 'hold out our hands to each other' in reconciliation 'over the dead man'.
What have I missed?