At the beginning of Part One, Peer Gynt, a twenty-year-old young man, has returned from a reindeer hunt after several months away from home. His mother, Åse, scolds him for returning “in rags. No game. No gun” (32). She accuses her son of lying when he tells a wild tale of a massive deer that he nearly felled. Peer describes in vivid detail of the beast who he claims overpowered him, catching him in his antlers, and bolted with Peer still attached. Åse swoons as he recounts the story of the deer who ran along a dangerous cliff and then, surprised by a bird, leapt into the depths of the lake below. The deer swam north, pulling Peer along “until he struggled, safe and sound, to shore” (35), and Peer headed home. Åse blubbers, grateful for her son’s safe return and then stops, recognizing his account as an event in a fairy tale. Peer replies, “Must everything happen only once?” (36).
Weeping, Åse furiously calls Peer a pig, wailing about the family’s misfortunes. She laments: “Salt’s been sown where once our luck grew” (37). The Gynts were once a wealthy family, but Peer’s father spent all of the money left by Peer’s grandfather.