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Miss Julie

August Strindberg

Study Questions and Essay Topics

Key Facts

Quiz

How does the story of Saint John the Baptist function in the play?

Late in the play, Christine mentions to Jean that the priest will be discussing the story of Saint John the Baptist in church. We can connect this mention to other elements of the play. The name "Jean" is French for "John," which suggests a link between John, the beheaded saint, and Jean, the man emasculated by Julie. Soon thereafter, Jean decapitates Julie's pet canary, Serena. This suggests that Jean is reversing the story of Saint John by beheading a bird who symbolizes Julie, a woman. This reversal indicates the play's misogynist trajectory.

The subject of much late 19th-century literature, the stories of Saint John's execution vary greatly but almost all revolve around Salome, the daughter of Herodias and King Herod. Salome urges Herod to arrest the saint for his public invectives against the king's adultery. On his birthday feast, Herod, consumed with incestuous desire for his daughter, promises to grant Salome a wish if she performs the infamous dance of the seven veils. She performs the dance and then, at the request of her mother, demands the head of the saint on a platter. John is executed, and Salome presents her head to her mother. As interpreted by Freud and others, decapitation is often a symbol of castration. Thus the story of Salome has become a touchstone for fantasies of monstrous, castrating women.

Both Julie and her mother are, metaphorically, castrating women. Jean is Julie's would-be victim. Jean tries to reverse the Saint John parallel by playing the executioner to Serena, who is a double for Julie. Julie is the victim of this cruel execution. "Kill me too! Kill me!" Julie screams masochistically, making her identification with the bird clear. Miss Julie effectively inverts the gender dynamics of the biblical allegory: the woman who would castrate becomes the castrated woman.

At the end of the play, Julie asks Jean to pretend he is the Count. What is the significance of this request in terms of the power relations in the play?

As explained in the preface to the play, Jean's and Julie's battles reflect Strindberg's social Darwinist notions of evolutionary history and hierarchy. As he writes of the characters: "I have added a little evolutionary history by making the weaker steal and repeat the words of the stronger." The most explicit instance of mimicry occurs in the final moments of the play, when Julie asks Jean to imitate her father, commanding him to send her to her suicide. Because Jean commands Julie to kill herself, he has power over her. But because Julie commands Jean to command her, she has power over him. Because Jean must imitate his master in order to muster up the courage to command Julie, both Jean and Julie are under the power of the Count. Jean is better suited to evolve that Julie, because he has the will to live that Julie lacks. The Count is better suited to evolve than Jean, because the Count has the power to instill fear that Jean lacks.

A number of critics have identified Strindberg's tendency to at once idealize and degrade his female characters. Discuss one example of this in Miss Julie.

Strindbergian misogyny is characterized by the simultaneous idealization and degradation of woman, contradictory ideas which, to Strindberg, are two sides of the same coin. Jean embodies this attitude, at once scorning and idealizing Miss Julie. Miss Julie also has this attitude toward Jean, which suggests her own misogyny. She detests him, but she also longs for sex with him. She looks up to him as a man, and scorns him as a social inferior.

Suggested Essay Topics

Strindberg is known as a father of naturalism. Choose one formal element of Miss Julie (action, character, setting, etc.) and discuss how it might relate to Strindberg's understanding of the naturalistic theater.

Discuss how the figure of the mother informs Miss Julie's character.

In his preface to the play, Strindberg describes Miss Julie as obsessed with animals. Discuss the role of animals in the play.

Discuss the figure of the Count. How does he appear (or not appear) in the play? What is the function of the various objects that indicate his presence?

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Miss Julie's Sadomasochistic Character

by Ananya97th, June 17, 2013

Miss Julie's sadomasochism was actually the result of her upbringing. Her mother was a sadistic woman who enjoyed power and causing ill to men whereas her father was masochistic because by marrying the countess, he desired his own downfall. Miss Julie grew up witnessing her mother's antics as well as her father's and inherited their particular characteristics to become a sadomasochistic woman.

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