Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
The Father is often seen as a tragedy in which larger-than-life characters engage in a life-or-death struggle centered on a family conflict. Like a Greek tragedy, The Father has a tight plot structure, a narrow time frame of twenty-four hours, one locale, and a hint of the fatalistic forces at work behind the scenes. It has often been compared to the story of Agamemnon, who was trapped and killed by his wife Clytemnestra because he had sacrificed their daughter. The Father is also similar to Euripides’ Bakchai (405 b.c.e.; The Bacchae, 1781). In The Bacchae, Pentheus rejects the god Dionysus and his women worshipers the Maenads, only to be torn to pieces by them. In The Father, the Captain rejects feminine forces, both spiritual and physical. Thus, a household of women turns against him and figuratively tears him to pieces. An evil or fatalistic force seems to haunt the house. The Captain senses the web of fate that is being spun around him. His daughter, Bertha, hears maternal ghosts in the attic mourning over a cradle. Bertha’s grandmother, who is antagonistic to her father, warns her that spirits who are ignored seek vengeance.
The Father not only examines the battle of the sexes but questions the patriarchy, the male power structure, by casting doubts on paternity or fatherhood. The Captain wishes to assert his rights as father and husband. He tells his wife that when she married she bartered her rights in exchange for his financial support of her. Marriage, according to the societal order, is an exchange in which the woman agrees to be mastered in order to be supported. Thus, masculine law gives the father the sole right to determine the...
(The entire section is 721 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
When Nöjd gets a servant girl named Emma in trouble, the captain sends an orderly to bring Nöjd to face the pastor. The culprit is vague about his affair and hints that the paternity of the child is uncertain and that it is possible that Ludwig is the real father. The pastor tells Nöjd that he will have to support the child, but the soldier claims that Ludwig should contribute also. The captain declares angrily that the case will go to court. After Nöjd leaves, the captain, who is married to the pastor’s sister Laura, berates the pastor for his gentleness. The pastor says he thinks it a pity to saddle Nöjd with the support of a child if he is not the real father.
In his house, complains the captain, there are too many women: his mother-in-law, a governess, old nurse Margaret, and his daughter Bertha. The captain, worried about his daughter’s education, which is being influenced in all different directions by the people around her, deplores the incessant struggle between men and women.
After the pastor leaves, Laura enters to collect her household money. Because his affairs are near bankruptcy, the captain asks her to keep an account of the money she spends. Laura asks what he has decided about Bertha’s education. Laura objects when he announces his intention to send her to town to board with Auditor Safberg, a freethinker, but the captain reminds her that a father has the sole control of his children. When Laura brings up the subject of Nöjd’s affair, the captain admits that the paternity will be difficult to determine. Laura scoffingly claims that if such were the case, even the child of a married woman could be any other man’s offspring.
Laura confides to Dr. Östermark, the new village doctor, her suspicion that her husband is mentally ill. He buys books he never reads, and he tries to fathom events on other planets by peering through a microscope. He has become a man who cannot stand by his decisions, although he is vehement when he first utters one. The captain, speaking confidentially with his old nurse, expresses his fear that his family is plotting against him and that something evil is about to happen.
The family quarrel is clearly outlined when Bertha complains to her father that her grandmother is trying to teach her spiritualism and has even told the girl that the captain, who is a meteorologist by profession, is a charlatan. Bertha agrees with her father that she ought to go away to study, but Laura boasts that she will be able to persuade Bertha to stay home. She hints again that she can prove the captain is not Bertha’s father.
Dr. Östermark explains to Laura...
(The entire section is 1083 words.)