Non Fiction

The Complexities of a Modern Woman: Casting Aside Dramatic Tradition

August Strindberg wrote Miss Julie in the context of his attempt at understanding women as a whole, which was not an easy endeavor, considering his own complicated love life. His critics claim that Strindberg was a misogynist, and his preface to the play would seemingly confirm that theory to first-time readers and staunch feminists. Yet ironically enough the man who belittled the woman would be one of the first dramatists to give her a fully rounded character- instead of the stilted, one-dimensional characters that pervaded melodramas and so-called well made plays that were so prevalent in late 19th century Europe. The title character, Miss Julie, was constructed as a reflection of what Strindberg believed to be the motives and passions of aristocratic women in his period, at least from his own perspective, because he had experienced an affair with a young woman with the same background, making him surmise that her naiveté’ and pompousness was applicable to all.

Strindberg represented his own views on why an aristocratic woman would act so trivial through Jean, when the character expressed his thoughts on Miss Julie being paradoxically snobbish while trying to act like a commoner: “She’s too stuck-up in some ways and not proud enough in others…” (and then goes on explaining how her mother was the same way). The irony in this description is that instead of demeaning her as a person, Jean is in a way justifying her wild actions to his fiancé, Christine, in that he does not write her off as static, but instead exemplifies the wavering characteristics of an aristocratic female. This characterization is in stark contrast to previous representations of women in literature and especially drama, as the female was widely portrayed as motivated by one trait, such as passion, lust, love, etc. -which became redundant as female characters in plays could easily be substituted with one another without any difference because of their shallowness and universal attributes. Another way Strindberg set Miss Julie apart from previous female characters was by using her mother that was wrought with tragedy as a prominent reason for Miss Julie’s mindset and actions.

Miss Julie would ultimately kill herself partly because her mother had taught her to hate men, and quixotically raised her as if she was a male, in order to prove that women could be just as good as them- another irony, but one that is profound in that such a thing was absolutely unheard of back then. The most intriguing aspect of her complex character was shown in the final pages of the play, as Miss Julie was subtly begging Jean to command her to off herself, “Who’s to blame for what has happened? My father, my mother, myself? Myself? I don’t have a self that’s my own. I don’t have a single thought I didn’t get from my father, not an emotion I didn’t get from my mother… What difference does it make who’s to blame? I’m still the one who has to bear the guilt, suffer the consequences-”. Thus, Strindberg, although apparently a misogynist, offered heartfelt sympathy for Miss Julie by explaining the reasons why she felt and acted so wildly while contradicting her aristocratic ideals. She was suffering from the guilt of her mother’s sins in the way that her mother had treated her father (mainly committing arson on his estate), and in the end, she astutely came to the conclusion that it did not matter who was to blame, but that she just did not want to live dealing with her uncontrollable emotions anymore.

Gainor, Ellen J., Stanton B. Garner, Jr., and Martin Puchner. The Nineteenth Century to the Present. Vol. 2. New York: W.W. Norton and, 2009. Print. The Norton Anthology of Drama.

Strindberg, August. Miss Julie. 1888

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