How does the use of symbols represent female dominance in The Father by Strindberg?
Symbols like the rifles, military tunics etc. symbolize masculine power; however, the play is about assertion of female power through the use of deceit and deception. So, what symbols does Strindberg use to reflect this subversion in a patriarchal society?
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The main symbol Strindberg uses to represent female domination in a supposedly patriarchal society is the Captain's house itself, and particularly his supposedly "private study." He seems to be using this room as his redoubt, his last line of defense against a female invasion of his privacy and an assault on his sanity. He has his guns and game bags hanging on the walls. He has uniform jackets hanging on pegs by the door. However, it soon becomes obvious that this room is hardly his private domain. The stage directions indicate that there are three doors in three different walls, each opening to a different part of the house, which is full of females with conflicting interests and motives. The room is dominated by a big round table which is strewn with newspapers and magazines, many of which are apparently dedicated to feminine interests. The sheer presence of so many females is intended to symbolize their domination.
This last bastion of patriarchy is continually being invaded by females, including the Captain's wife, his daughter Bertha, and his old nurse Margaret. They all enter unexpectedly without knocking. They cannot seem to understand his need for solitude and privacy. The same setting is used in all three acts of the play. This fact alone suggests that the Captain is a prisoner in his own house. Anybody can invade his so-called "study," but he cannot go anywhere in the house without encountering females. The curtain rises on the first act, showing him in his study. It rises again on the same setting in the second act, and then again in the third act, creating a feeling of timeless solitary confinement.
The Captain is not only harassed by women, but he can hear women's voices offstage. They are constantly chattering and squabbling. The most annoying is the screams of his mentally deranged mother-in-law.
In Act I, the Pastor tells the Captain:
"There are too many women here governing the house."
To which the Captain replies:
"Yes, aren't there? It is like going into a cage full of tigers."
Ironically, the Captain's worst annoyance comes from his own wife Laura. According to Magill's Cyclopedia of Literary Places:
. . . she loathes her role as wife and takes vengeance on her husband by destroying him. In her efforts to prove him mad, she resorts to forgery and to misrepresen-tation of his scientific interests, which in fact she does not understand. She also exploits a suspicion that she has planted in his mind, that their daughter is not his.
The most blatant symbol of female dominance is the straitjacket. The Captain's wife succeeds in driving him to distraction and uses forgery to have him declared insane, which is not really the case. His old nurse Margaret, the one woman he trusts, manages to get him to put his arms into the straitjacket while she pretends to be soothing and comforting him. Too late, he discovers that he is now totally helpless and at the mercy of his wife.
This conclusion is somewhat reminiscent of Ken Kesey's novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and at times seems almost like a parody of such Jane Austen novels as Pride and Prejudice, in which the lord and master of the house is confined to one little room in a big house where he can do all the working and worrying about supporting a huge family of dependent females, not only while he is alive but after he is dead. Another literary work that Strindberg's play brings to mind is Leo Tolstoy's long story "The Kreutzer Sonata." All of these works are covered in eNotes.
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