Julie is a stage play in the form of a naturalistic tragedy. The drama
centers on a twenty-five-year-old aristocratic woman who becomes the victim
of hereditary and environmental forces.
action takes place in the kitchen of a count’s country estate in Sweden
on Midsummer Eve, June 23, and early Midsummer Day, June 24. Midsummer
Day is a secular and religious holiday in Europe, celebrating the summer
solstice, agricultural traditions, and the feast of St. John the Baptist.
Julie, because it is she who suffers the downfall
Jean; (2) Miss Julie’s inherited traits and aristocratic upbringing
Note: One may
argue that there is no protagonist or antagonist in keeping with Strindberg’s
intentions not to unduly emphasize one character over another. .
Miss Julie Twenty-five-year
old daughter of a count. She hates men, thanks to her mother’s influence
on her, and believes her high social station makes her superior to her
servants. Nevertheless, her instinctual female sexual urges drive her into
the arms of a valet, Jean, who is all that she despises–a man and a lowly
valet of the count. Though of the servant class, he is articulate and even
can pepper his speech with French phrases he learned while working as a
wine steward in Switzerland. He seems to represent the lower classes of
the late 19th Century in a world that was casting off class distinctions
and allowing the lowly to become equals of the high and the mighty.
When Miss Julie entices
him with her charms, he invites her to his room—and
the boundaries separating social classes, and Miss Julie’s clothes, droop
to the floor.
cook. Through her interaction with Miss Julie and Jean, she helps to define
them and illuminate their motives. Christine accepts her role as a menial
and entertains no notions of rising above her station.
Miss Julie's Mother:
Woman who reared Julie to hate men. (The mother does not appear on the
The Count: Miss Julie's
father. (The count does not appear on the stage.)
Count Attorney: Man
who broke off his engagement to Miss Julie. (The county attorney does not
appear on the stage.)
Servants (They do
not appear on the stage.)
Diana: Miss Julie's
Serena: Miss Julie's
of Completion .
completed Miss Julie in 1888 and staged its first production in
1889. The play, written in Swedish, was published in expurgated form in
Copenhagen in 1889 by Joseph Seligmann (1836-1904), a Swedish publisher.
The deleted passages have since been restored.
Julie is a one-act play capable of being performed in less than two
hours. Strindberg provides specific directions on how to set up the stage
to give it an authentic look. For example, the kitchen utensils are to
be of copper, iron, and tin, and the table at which servants eat is to
be of white pine. There are no scene changes or intermissions. However,
Strindberg includes two transitional scenes: a pantomime and a dance.
the pantomime, the count’s cook—alone on the
stage—carries out kitchen chores while listening
to violin music played outside, curls her hair with a heated hairpin, and
smells and folds a handkerchief Miss Julie has left behind. In the dance,
which Strindberg calls a ballet, peasants celebrating Midsummer Eve enter
the kitchen while Miss Julie and Jean are in the latter’s room. The peasants
place containers of beer and whiskey on the table and perform a ring dance
while singing. Strindberg directed that there should be no footlights and
that the actors should wear little or no makeup.
. Themes . Theme 1A woman’s
attempt to overcome the gender, cultural, and environmental forces acting
upon her brings about her downfall. Miss Julie first orders her fiancé
to perform a silly trick, like a trained dog, and loses him. She then crosses
forbidden social and sexual boundaries and ends up losing her life to her
own hysteria, paranoia, and panic. Theme 2The centuries-old
barrier between the aristocracy and the common folk is beginning to collapse.
Miss Julie, confused about her social and cultural identity, attends a
barn dance for servants, drinks beer instead of wine, and submits sexually
to a valet, Jean. Jean learns French, drinks wine, speaks of purchasing
a title to elevate his status, and sometimes treats Miss Julie as an inferior.
But he, too, exhibits a measure of confusion about his role, indicated
by his willingness to snap to the commands of the count. The cook, Christine,
does not venture outside her traditional role as a menial, indicating that
the old system—though dying—is
dying grudgingly. Theme 3All men
and women are mercurial creatures, sometimes acting impulsively in response
to hereditary and environmental influences on them. Both Miss Julie
and Jean act unpredictably from time to time, suggesting a certain course
of action one moment and disavowing it the next. Theme 4Every
man and woman is psychologically and physiologically complex. This
theme is similar to Theme 3. Often, it is not clear which motive rules
a person at any given time. Is it lust that motivates Jean to invite Julie
to his room? Or does he want to lower her to a reduced social status? Is
it cruelty? Is it the desire to dominate? Does Miss Julie kill herself
out of fear of her father? Or does she do it out of wounded pride, loneliness,
or a feeling of powerlessness in a male-dominated world? Theme 5Only the
fittest survive. Unlike Jean and Christine, Miss Julie fails to adapt
to the circumstances over which, ultimately, she has little or no control.
This Darwinian motif is in keeping with Strindberg's literary naturalism.
climax of a play or another narrative work, such as a short story or a
novel, can be defined as (1) the turning point at which the conflict begins
to resolve itself for better or worse, or as (2) the final and most exciting
event in a series of events. The climax of Miss Julie occurs, according
to the first definition, when Miss Julie accepts Jean's invitation to go
to his room. (Their conversation when they later return to the kitchen
implies that they had sexual relations in the room. However, because Strindberg
does not depict this implied encounter on the stage, it cannot technically
be regarded as the climax of the play. Consequently, it is Julie's decision
to go to the room that is the turning point of the play.) According to
the second definition, the climax occurs when Miss Julie takes up Jean's
razor to commit suicide.
Symbols in Miss Julie
(according to Cummings Study Guides’ interpretation of the play)
include the following:
Miss Julie's Dog
Julie’s dog, Diana, mates with the gatekeeper’s pug and becomes pregnant.
Diana symbolizes Miss Julie, an aristocrat; the pug symbolizes Jean, a
commoner. The mating of the two dogs foreshadows the sexual union of Miss
Julie and Jean.
The Remedy for the Dog
makes a "remedy" for the dog. When Jean asks about it, Christine explains
in euphemistic language that the concoction she is cooking will abort the
unborn offspring that developed when Diana mated with the pug. The concoction
symbolizes the “easy way out" that Miss Julie seeks in order to overcome
the shame resulting from her sexual encounter with Jean.
Julie makes her fiancé jump over a horsewhip. This action symbolizes
hers desire to dominate men, whom her mother brought her up to despise.
drinks wine, a claret. It symbolizes the upper classes, to which he aspires.
Beer and Wine
Julie drinks beer, a lower-class drink, and wine, an upper-class drink,
symbolizing her confusion about her self-identity. Her mother came
from the lower class and her father, the count, from the upper class.
smells the handkerchief left behind by Miss Julie, then folds it, actions
symbolizing her curiosity about the upper classes (the smelling) and her
acceptance of her status as menial (the folding).
it soars above the earth looking for prey, the hawk symbolizes the status
of the upper class and its exploitation of the lower class.
The Caged Finch.
caged finch symbolizes Miss Julie, who is a prisoner of her heredity and
environment. Jean’s killing of the finch with an axe foreshadows Miss Julie’s
killing of herself with Jean’s razor.
Boots and the bell.
counts boots and bell are symbols of the authority of the count, to whom
both Miss Julie and Jean must answer.
razor with which Jean shaves and with which Miss Julie kills herself is
a male instrument that symbolizes the fatal power of males over Miss Julie.
These animals symbolize Miss
Julie. The dog, Diana, mates with a mongrel, representing Miss Julie's
sexual intercourse with Jean, a valet. Jean later kills the bird and provides
Miss Julie the razor that she uses to kill herself.
Julie says her mother believed strongly in women's rights and women's independence.
However, her mother appeared to be just as tyrannical as the men she despised
in her effort to force Julie into a precast mold. Julie tells Jean,
My mother wanted
to bring me up in a perfectly natural state, and at the same time I was
to learn everything that a boy is taught, so that I might prove that a
woman is just as good as a man. I was dressed as a boy, and was taught
how to handle a horse, but could have nothing to do with the cows. I had
to groom and harness and go hunting on horseback. I was even forced to
learn something about agriculture.
Don Juan, Joseph . .......While
Miss Julie trifles with Jean, she suggests that he may be a “Don Juan"
or a “Joseph." .......Don
Juan was a fictional womanizer in Spanish folk tales who seduced a young
woman of Seville and killed her father in a duel. Later, the spirit of
the father, springing to life from a statue of him, gained revenge by taking
Don Juan to hell. The first published account of the tale was a 1630 play,
Seducer of Seville, believed to have been written by Tirso de Molina.
Subsequently, Don Juan became the central character in numerous other works,
including Molière’s Don Juan, or The Stone Feast (1665),
Thomas Shadwell’s The Libertine (1675), Mozart’s
(1787), Lord Byron’s Don Juan (1819-1824), and Shaw’s Man and
Superman (1903). .......Joseph
is a biblical figure who refused to yield to a woman’s temptation. The
story of the incident and its consequences is in the Book of Genesis, Chapter
39, Verses 1-23. Here is what happened: While in Egypt, Joseph works for
Potiphar, the Pharaoh’s chief steward. Potiphar’s wife is attracted to
Joseph, a very handsome man, and repeatedly attempts to seduce him. Just
as often, he rejects her advances. In retaliation, Potiphar’s wife tells
her husband that Joseph tried to ravish her, and Potiphar imprisons Joseph.
Joseph later gains his freedom after interpreting the Pharaoh’s dream. .
Julie as a Naturalistic Tragedy . .......Strindberg
labeled Miss Julie a naturalistic tragedy–that is, a tragedy that
adheres to principles of a literary movement called naturalism.
developed in France in the 19th Century as an extreme form of realism.
It was inspired in part by the scientific determinism of Charles Darwin,
an Englishman, and the economic determinism of Karl Marx and Friedrich
Engels, both Germans. Four Frenchmen—Hippolyte
Taine, Edmond and Jules Goncourt, and Emile Zola—applied
the principles of scientific and economic determinism to literature to
create literary naturalism. According to its followers, literary naturalism
has the following basic tenets:
(1) Heredity and environment
are the major forces that shape human beings. In other words, like lower
animals, humans respond mainly to inborn instincts that influence behavior
in concert with—and sometimes in opposition
to—environmental influences, including economic,
social, cultural, and familial influences. Miss Julie, for example, responds
partly to her inborn female instinct for male companionship and partly
to her environmentally induced hatred of men. Consequently, she both desires
and despises Jean, causing her deep internal conflict.
(2) Human beings have no
free will, or very little of it, because heredity and environment are so
powerful in determining the course of human action.
(3) Human beings, like lower
animals, have no soul. Religion and morality are irrelevant. (Strindberg,
an atheist when he wrote Miss Julie, later converted to Christianity
under the influence of the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg.)
(4) A literary work should
present life exactly as it is, without preachment, judgment, or embellishment.
In this respect, naturalism is akin to realism. However, naturalism goes
further than realism in that it presents a more detailed picture of everyday
life. Whereas the realist writer omits insignificant details when depicting
a particular scene, a naturalist writer generally includes them. He wants
the scene to be as “natural" as possible. The naturalist writer also attempts
to be painstakingly objective and detached. Rather than manipulating characters
as if they were puppets, the naturalist writer prefers to observe the characters
as if they were animals in the wild and then report on their activity.
Finally, naturalism attempts to present dialogue as spoken in everyday
life. Rather than putting “unnatural" wording in the mouth of a character,
the naturalist writer attempts to reproduce the speech patterns of people
in a particular time and place.
writers generally achieve only limited success in adhering to Tenet 4.
The main problem is that it is next to impossible for a writer to remain
objective and detached, like a scientist in a laboratory. After all, a
scientist analyzes existing natural objects and phenomena. A naturalist
writer, on the other hand, analyzes characters he created; they may be
based on real people, but they themselves are not real. Thus, in bringing
these characters to the stage or the printed page, the naturalist writer
brings a part of himself—a subjective part.
Also, in their use of literary devices—such
as Strindberg’s use of symbols in Miss Julie to support his
theme–naturalist writers again inject their subjective selves into the
play. In real life, would Miss Julie own a dog that mates with a pug, symbolizing
and foreshadowing her brief sexual encounter with Jean? Would she force
her fiancé to jump over a horsewhip that symbolizes her effort to
dominate him?. . Tragedy
Julie is a tragedy because Miss Julie suffers a downfall (suicide).
However, it is not a tragedy in the traditional sense. Here’s why. In a
classical Greek play, such as Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, a character
falls to ruin in part because of an error or lapse in moral judgment. But
in Strindberg’s play, Miss Julie’s downfall results from the irresistible
forces (heredity and environment) acting upon her. It can be argued that
she errs when she chooses to stray across sexual and social boundaries.
But Strindberg would probably counter that the error resulted from the
instinctual and environmental forces that drive her, not from a moral or
rational decision. She is like a moth attracted to a fatal flame.
Jean Incites Miss Julie to Suicide . .......Although
this question is open to interpretation, it appears at first glance that
Jean–who has proven himself intelligent and crafty–worries that the count
will find out about his sexual encounter with Miss Julie and fire him.
To save his job, Jean encourages the only witness to his misdeed to kill
herself. That Jean plans to remain in the employ of the count—and
refuse Christine’s invitation to go elsewhere to start a new life—is
supported by Jean’s deferential response to the count’s orders in the final
action of the play.
August Strindberg was born in Stockholm, Sweden, on January 22, 1849. He
was the fourth child of a once-prominent aristocrat who worked for a steamship
line after suffering financial reversals. His mother was a waitress who
had married Strindberg’s father after working for him as a servant. Strindberg
studied medicine and religion at the University of Uppsala but did not
graduate. While struggling to get published, he worked as a freelance journalist
and in various other jobs, including a prestigious position as a librarian
at the Swedish Royal Library. His first play, Mäster Olof,
was published in 1872 and his first novel, The Red Room, in 1879.
His major plays include
Lucky Peter’s Travels, 1881; The Father,
1887; Miss Julie, 1888; The Stronger, 1889; The Creditors,
1890; To Damascus, 1898-1904; There are Crimes and Crimes,
1899; The Dance of Death, 1901; A Dream Play, 1902; and The
Ghost Sonata, 1907. His autobiography, The Son of a Servant,
appeared in 1886 and 1887. Among his other novels are The People of
Hernsö, 1887; By the Open Sea, 1890; Black Banners,
1907; and The Great Highway, 1909.
his life, Strindberg suffered recurring mental problems—including
depression, anxiety, and paranoia—which he
wrote about in an autobiographical work, Inferno (1898). These problems
may have been caused by his repeated use of absinthe, a strong liquor made
from wormwood. Wormwood contains a poisonous chemical, thujone, which can
trigger all of the upsetting symptoms Strindberg experienced. Strindberg
was an avowed atheist at the time that he wrote Miss Julie. However,
he later converted to Christianity after studying works by the Swedish
scientist, theologian, philosopher, and mystic Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772).
Strindberg died in Stockholm on May 14, 1912.
Questions and Essay Topics
Why does Miss Julie want to
run away with Jean? (Your answer should consider whether she is seriously
interested in him or whether she simply wants to escape the wrath of her
father when he finds out that she was intimate with Jean.)
Read Theme 4. Then write an
essay that takes a stand on this question: Why did Miss Julie kill herself?
Support your thesis with quotations from the play and with library and
To what extent do you believe
hereditary and environmental forces influence your behavior and the decisions
you make. Explain your answer.
Write an essay that argues for
or against this naturalist tenet: Human beings have no free will, or very
little of it, because heredity and environment are so powerful in determining
the course of human action.
Write a short psychological
profile of Miss Julie. Support your views with quotations from the play
and with library and Internet research.