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Julie enters alone, surveys the kitchen, and powders her face. Jean follows in high spirits. Jean says that because of the crowd's rumors, it is impossible to stay at the manor. He dreams of traveling to Como in northern Italy and setting up a first-class hotel. Miss Julie will be the queen of the office, commanding her slaves. Julie begs Jean to declare his love for her and invites him to call her by her first name. It is clear that she has fallen for him. Jean cannot love her as long as they remain in the house. The specter of the Count weighs on him too heavily. He dreams of fleeing to a republic and perhaps becoming a count himself one day. Julie cares little for his plans. She only wants to be with him. Jean declares that they must be calm. He decides, to Julie's anguish, that they must behave as if nothing has happened. Julie asks if he will need money for his plan. She cannot help, she reveals, for she is penniless.
After a brief pause, Jean announces that the plans are off. Suddenly it is clear that he wanted her for her money. Julie becomes hysterical, wondering how she can stay on with everyone sneering at her behind her back. Jean is cynical and unsympathetic. When Julie accuses him of vulgarity, he retorts that she cannot play the fine lady with him, and that they are now eating off the same platter. He takes out the bottle of burgundy he stole from the wine cellar, and Julie calls him "a petty house thief." Jean calls her a whore. Cruelly, the increasingly sleepy Jean reveals that when he first saw her on the rose terrace, his mind was full of dirty thoughts. He also stole the story of the oat bin from some newspaper article. He says he told her these stories to win her over. Jean says Julie is of the same class as animals and prostitutes. Julie submits to his abuse.
Jean slept with Julie too easily, and is disappointed to see his ideal fallen. Suddenly becoming passionate again, Jean resumes his seduction, complimenting her beauty and refinement and lamenting that she could never love him. Julie is unmoved but cannot tear herself from him. Jean proposes anew that they flee together. Julie pauses: she wants to tell him her life before they become traveling companions. Jean warns her against confessing her secrets.
After Julie and Jean have sex, their idyllic fantasy of Italian summers quickly becomes an ugly unmasking of Jean's intentions. Transformed from "mistress" (as in woman of the house) to "mistress" (as in concubine), Julie finds herself sinking in "awful filth." She wonders at her own behavior. Faced with Jean's accusation that she has acted like a beast and a whore, Julie is prostrate, masochistically imploring her servant to at once punish her and help her. She simultaneously hates and desires her lover. Julie's submission to Jean reflects Strindberg's notions of evolution. He suggests that Julie must fall to Jean, because women are men's evolutionary inferiors. This mythical conception of evolution is central to each of the characters' fates. As Strindberg notes in the preface to Miss Julie, he has "added a little evolutionary history [to the play] by making the weaker steal and repeat the words of the stronger." The play takes pleasure in Julie's humiliation. We find ourselves in a bind, too, because although we may find ourselves sympathizing with Julie, that sympathy is characteristic of the sadistic Jean. He pities Julie as we probably do.
Class conflict persist, a conflict also informed by Strindberg's understanding of evolutionary history. The play imagines servants imitating and aspiring to become their masters. Jean's dreams of being a Count himself one day reflect Strindberg's idea that strong people want to clamber up some evolutionary ladder. Though Jean abuses his mistress here, declaring that they now eat on the same platter, he remains aware of his lower status. Still, Julie has put herself at his mercy by sleeping with him. When she insults Jean, he can retort that whatever he is, she is worse, for she has slept with the man she insults. In his fantasies of Como, Jean initially imagines Miss Julie as a slave-mistress and then appears to mourn genuinely the loss of Julie as his idealized class superior. Though relations of power have reversed between Jean and Julie, fantasies of the class structure persist in the background. Jean's inferior class position will continually compromise his apparent mastery over the fallen Julie.
Jean, unable to fully command Julie, describes the effects of the Count's authority: "I've only got to see [the Count's] gloves lying on the table and I shrivel up. I only have to hear that bell ring and I shy like a frightened horse. I only have to look at his boots standing there so stiff and proud and I feel my spine bending." Jean is sent into instant submission by a physical reminder of his master's presence. The symbols of the Count unman Jean (he shrivels up), reduce him to a workhorse, and bend his spine. He reacts to the Count in what Strindberg likely means for us to see as a feminine manner.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Miss Julie!