Summary

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Last Updated on January 11, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1688

First produced: 1893

First published: Bandet, 1897 (English translation, 1960)

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Social criticism

Time of work: Late nineteenth century

Locale: Sweden

Principal Characters:

Baron Sprengel

Baroness Sprengel, his wife

The Judge

The Pastor

Alexandersson, a farmer

Twelve Jurors

Critique:

THE LINK ...

(The entire section contains 1688 words.)

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First produced: 1893

First published: Bandet, 1897 (English translation, 1960)

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Social criticism

Time of work: Late nineteenth century

Locale: Sweden

Principal Characters:

Baron Sprengel

Baroness Sprengel, his wife

The Judge

The Pastor

Alexandersson, a farmer

Twelve Jurors

Critique:

THE LINK, a one-act play in sixteen scenes, is one of Strindberg's briefer attempts to deal dramatically with the problems of marriage and divorce—problems which concerned him personally throughput his adult life. (He had experienced the first of his three divorces in 1891, and there are undoubtedly autobiographical connections here.) The "link," which gives the play its title, is the child of the two people who wish to be separated. The child holds them together when everything else is gone between them; the desire to prevent the child from becoming a ward of the court unites them, their old antagonisms still alive, in a common bond of enmity against the unfeeling powers of the state. In this, the play becomes something more than merely a commentary on divorce. It becomes an expose of modern justice. Once the conflict of Baron Sprengel and his wife is placed before the court, it is no longer theirs. In the hands of the youthful Judge and the callous jurors, it is stripped of its human qualities and reduced to the cold terms of abstract argument. This is a social evil, but the ever-present moralist in Strindberg seems to imply that it is fit punishment for the sins of the erring husband and wife.

The Story:

The courtroom was crowded, for popular interest in the two cases about to be heard—a false accusation charge brought against the farmer Alexandersson by his servant girl, Alma Jonsson, and a separation suit between Baron and Baroness Sprengel—was running high. The young Judge, only twenty-seven years old, was uneasy: he was taking the bench for the first time. He conferred at length with the Pastor before opening the proceedings.

The Alexandersson-Jonsson case was first. The old farmer admitted accusing the girl of theft; he had, he claimed, caught her red-handed. There were, however, no witnesses; and, as the charges could not be proved, his accusations were false—so the girl's lawyer asserted. While the court was cleared, Judge and jury conferred. All agreed that the farmer, though actually in the right, was nevertheless technically guilty. Had he denied accusing the girl, nothing could have been done to him; by being honest, however, he had lost his case. Finally the Judge called Alexandersson in and sentenced him to a fine of a hundred crowns—enough, Alexandersson claimed, to cause the loss of his farm.

The divorce case came next. The Sprengels had planned to handle things as amicably as possible. The baron was to bring the complaint against his wife, charging her with a disposition incompatible with his. She was to have a sizable annuity and the custody of their one child, a son. The baron, however, was to retain the right to supervise the child's education. These were to be the terms, and none of the personal details of their quarrel were to be brought out.

Such was their agreement; but, once the proceedings began, they found that the agreement was not to be honored. The court, the young Judge curtly informed them, would decide the disposition of the child. Meanwhile, the separation case must be decided: the husband, as complainant, must substantiate his claim.

Confused by the attitude of the court and sensing the possibility of losing her child, the baroness responded emotionally to the planned charges of her husband. The baron, realizing that his right to have charge of the boy's education was threatened by the attitude of the court, asserted that the baroness, by her feminine methods of child-rearing, was undermining the boy's masculinity.

Here the agreement for an amicable settlement broke down completely. Under the goading of the court, the two became overt enemies. All of the sordid details were dragged into the open. The baroness, turning complainant, charged the baron with adultery and produced letters to prove her accusation. The baron met this charge with a stream of vilification, which the baroness emotionally returned. Enraged, the baron announced a countercharge of adultery. The baroness defied him to prove his accusation. The baron promised that he would.

At that point the young Judge adjourned the proceedings and sought help from the elderly Pastor. The Judge, despairing of doing justice, threatened to give up his profession. The Pastor advised him always to adhere to the strict, abstract letter of the law and never to consider the human involvements in a case—else he would go mad. Meanwhile, the baron and the baroness were exchanging personal vituperations.

When the proceedings resumed, the baroness agreed to testify under oath that she was not guilty of adultery. Technical quibblings on her right to testify followed. Then the farmer Alexandersson, probably as a false witness, piqued by the injustice done him, arose and claimed that he had actually observed the baroness' infidelities. While the validity of his testimony was being argued, the baron produced copies of incriminating letters, the originals of which the baroness had seen him destroy.

Again the court was cleared so that Judge and jury could confer. As they waited, the husband and wife realized that they both had lost, that they both had been defeated by the inhuman forces of a hostile society. Their child, they knew, would be taken from them and brought up ignobly in the name of peasant morality. This realization brought them temporarily together. The baron left to take the child to his mother, out of the court's hands.

He returned just in time to hear the verdict. The two were to be separated for a year and the child placed in the custody of a peasant couple. The baron informed his wife that he had not spirited the child away but had left him at the Pastor's house in preparation for appealing the verdict to a higher court. He predicted the wranglings and heartaches they would endure in the course of the appeal and suggested that it all was a judgment of God upon them for the years that they had lived together unmarried before the child had been born.

Further Critical Evaluation of the Work:

From the beginning of his career, the conflict between the sexes was one of August Strindberg's most constant, even obsessive, subjects, and he produced several of the most memorable dramas ever written on the topic, notably THE FATHER (1887), MISS JULIE (1888), and THE DANCE OF DEATH (1901-04). Although, as a one act play, THE LINK may lack the scope and depth of the above masterpieces, it is their equal in thematic directness and dramatic impact. Like other great Strindberg plays, it begins as a starkly naturalistic drama and then, by the sheer intensity of the presentation, assumes larger-than-life, even symbolic, stature.

In the early moments of the play, the inevitable inequity and arbitrariness of the law is demonstrated. The young Judge has no experience and little training for his job. The jury is made up of semi-educated local types who vote according to their provincial prejudices and personal likes and dislikes. The Attorneys have no regard for justice, only a facility in manipulating technicalities in order to collect their fees. But it is the law, itself, which is the major villain.

The injustice to the Baron and Baroness is clearly foreshadowed in the treatment accorded to the honest farmer Alexandersson. Because legal technicalities make it impossible for him to defend himself, and he is unwilling to lie to the court, the farmer is fined and ruined on a slander charge brought against him by an ex-employee—even though the employee was guilty of the accused crime and everyone knows it. All are helpless in the face of an impersonal, absurd judicial system. The legal process, in Strindberg's view, is not a quest for justice, but a contest between manipulators and liars.

Thus, as the Baron and Baroness contend for the custody of their child, it is a foregone conclusion that the court will act in the worst interests of both. But, as the play progresses, the legal contest becomes secondary to the elemental struggle between husband and wife. THE LINK becomes a profound exploration of the tensions, conflicts, and passions inherent in the love-hate relationship between men and women.

Both parties agree to part amicably and not let their private dispute erupt into public view. Most importantly, they promise not to argue about the custody of the boy lest he be taken away from both of them. But once they are face to face in the courtroom, their competitiveness and need for self-vindication provokes an intense clash. Each accuses the other of poisoning the child's mind and of trying to make the youngster over in their own image. Thus, the child is not only a "link" between them, but also an object of contention that separates them. As they argue they become oblivious to the court and concentrate only on exposing and probing the most vulnerable spots in each other.

But as they do so they also reveal their powerful attraction to each other. "Parting is hard," he laments to her, "living together is impossible." Each sex, in Strindberg's view, longs to emulate the other, hence the struggle for dominance. So once they are put into opposition, considerations of logic and strategy must give way to the primal struggle: "Do you know—do you know what we have been fighting against?" the Baron asks his wife. "You call it God—I call it Nature! And Nature drives us to hate each other, just as it impells us to love each other."

The struggle ends, of course, in a defeat for both of them. The child is lost to the Baron's ignorant, narrow enemies on the jury. The final impression the play leaves us with is that of people trapped—trapped in a maze of absurd legal rituals and procedures that will financially and emotionally ruin everyone involved; trapped even more thoroughly by their own powerful emotional needs, frustrations, and hates.

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