Comrades Essay - Further Critical Evaluation of the Work

August Strindberg, Axel Lundegård

Further Critical Evaluation of the Work

No author has dramatized the “battle of the sexes” more starkly and brutally than August Strindberg in his plays, novels, and autobiographical writings. To Strindberg, at least in the early part of his career, the sexual conflict was primal and constant, rooted in the nature of the species, and resolved only by victory or mutually destructive stalemate. However distorted and extreme such an attitude may seem, it accounts for much of the dramatic intensity and ferocity of his most famous sexual duels, THE FATHER (1887), MISS JULIE (1888), and THE DANCE OF DEATH (1901). COMRADES, completed shortly before THE FATHER, is his first treatment of the subject and, although it lacks the depth or impact of these others, it is the one play in which Strindberg confronts the issue of feminism in its social context.

Strindberg’s message in COMRADES is that the movement for female equality is, in fact, a strategy for primacy. A marriage, such as the one proposed for Axel and Bertha “to be as two comrades,” is basically impossible, because every couple must have its dominant figure. The illusion of comradeship, however, allows Bertha to claim equality wherever Axel has the edge, but to retain her female prerogatives whenever she wants to. Axel, being naive and taking the agreement at face value, encourages her painting, subsidizes her schooling, and pays for her model by neglecting his own work, and even enters his own painting under Bertha’s name to gain recognition for her. On her side, Bertha abuses him, demeans his efforts, takes presents...

(The entire section is 656 words.)