Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

In The Pelican, August Strindberg intertwined a number of themes that had obsessed him for most of his career as a dramatist. Though naturalist in tone, the play is symbolic in its form. The characters are called Mother, Father, Son, Daughter. In this manner, Strindberg suggests the symbolic reconstruction of the human family in a world that is fallen and lost. In myth, the pelican is supposed to feed its young from its flesh. It not only symbolizes ideal mother love but also represents Jesus Christ as redeemer of the world. Strindberg’s use of this symbol is deeply ironic, for the human family is living in a post-lapsarian world. The mother does not nurture her young; instead, she skims the cream off their food, forces them to live in a freezing environment, abandons them when they are sick, gives her son over to a prostitute, and steals her daughter’s husband. In this world of perverted values, marriage is a hell. Axel is bored on his honeymoon and strikes his wife on her wedding day. Frederick sees the role of husband as that of a pimp for a tramp who will carve him up. Father and Mother’s silver wedding anniversary is a sideshow, for Father has been persecuted and has often abandoned his house to flee to barrooms.

The children of the marriage are stifled. Both Frederick and Gerda are bottle babies who have been undernourished on rye bread and vinegar. Gerda’s breasts have never developed and she is sterile: For the next generation, motherhood is an impossibility. Frederick is weak, sick, and weary of life. He will never marry and has given up pursuing a career.

In this fallen world, people commit psychic...

(The entire section is 678 words.)